The search terms for this blog suggest that lots of people are looking for information on Robb White, boatbuilder, writer, and friend to many. He passed away suddenly, recently (see below). So, here's the text of his profile from WB No. 160, written after a visit with him in the winter of 2000-2001. This is among the most memorable encounters I've had during my time at WoodenBoat. ~MPM
The Evolution of Robb White
Boats and free thinking in south Georgia
by Matthew P. Murphy
Evolutionary biologists love islands. When populations of plants or animals become separated from others of their kind, as happens when they find themselves transported to an island, all sorts of weird and wonderful things can happen over time. Consider, for example, the Galapagos archipelago. These islands are home to many species found no place else on Earth. They may have origins in common with cousins on the mainland, but having lived in a distinct environment for several thousand years, they've evolved techniques of doing things in their own ways.
Now consider a boatbuilder. Consider a man who, because of some genetic predisposition or some force of early childhood development, must build boats. Put this man in Thomasville, Georgia. The place isn't an island in the geologic sense—quite the opposite, in fact—but for our purposes, it is. There are no other boatbuilders around here; ideas and inspiration will drift into the area on the pages of books and magazines, like a proto Galapagos iguana clinging to a log, but the day-to-day contact with boatbuilding masters and peers, typical of the apprentice, does not exist here.
So what happens? If the combination of genetic predisposition and environment is favorable, the boatbuilder, like the species on the island, thrives. If there's a wrong gene, unfavorable surroundings, or lack of ingenuity on the part of the boatbuilder, then the venture fails.
Thomasville's Robb White, the self-proclaimed “oldest boatbuilder in Georgia,” has been building small boats for the past 40 years. Most of them are lapstrake, and no two are alike, for Robb doesn't use molds. In fact, he uses hardly any of the conventional stuff found in most boatshops—from the wood he planks with to the tools that clamp his laps and the fastenings that secure them; from his procedures with epoxy to the way he fits his stems. He cuts and connects nearly everything in the boat by eye, in a process more like sculpting than boatbuilding.
“I ain't never been in another man's shop,” Robb White claims. But he's read just about everything that's come down the highway over those four decades. He has struggled. He has adapted. And he has survived.