BRANFORD — They turned out, roughly 250 Creekers and Islanders, on the shore at Stony Creek’s Madeira Park, as part of a flotilla of boats bobbing on the sparkling waters of the Sound. They stood, as gulls swooped and cawed, on the opposite side of Thimble Islands Road, by the post office, and on the lawn of Stony Creek Church.
They turned out for Capt. Bob Milne, who never went to church, except, maybe, on Christmas Eve, or whenever a storm came in.
Then, according to long-time Stony Creek Church pastor Wayne Jacobson, who led the stirring memorial in Milne’s honor at Madeira Park last Saturday, Capt. Bob, as he was known, would be front and center.
Milne, the beloved captain of the Thimble Islands Cruise’s Volsunga IV, died in September 2018 at 58.
During Hurricane Irene, Pastor Jacobson told the assembly, he and Milne stood on the front lawn of the church overlooking The Sound.
There, they watched a sailboat break loose and head straight across the water, “taking bets on where it was going to end up,” he said.
“So were we,” someone from the crowd called out, as the breeze picked up, knocking down the floral sprays on either side of him.
Whereupon Pastor Wayne, after recruiting John “Mr. Stony Creek” Barnes and Peter Kusterer to hold up the sprays, encouraged the sharing of stories about Capt. Bob, with the winking assurance that “we are among friends.”
That kind of homespun familiarity seemed fitting for a place where, after injuries threatened the life of Milne when his motorcycle collided with a pickup truck in 2015, the small coastal community rallied around his daughter Anna and her mother Beth; where, as Anna, the latest captain of the Volsunga IV, has said, “everyone’s family, whether it’s blood family or not.”
It seemed right for a place that was, as Bob’s sister Jane Swanson put it, “every fiber of Bob’s body.”
He was “our curly, golden-haired baby brother,” said Swanson, one of his five siblings, who grew up a stone’s throw from the Stony Creek town dock with “an assortment of bikes and boats that for the most part worked,” “picnics on Hen Island,” and “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches gobbled down on the pink-topped granite rock that is Stony Creek.”
He was a figure who “oozed creativity,” as Creeker Barry Levine described him, and not just on the Volsunga, which he took over from Capt. Dwight Carter at 26; who, for close to three decades, entertained visitors and tourists with stories about the trials of Tom Thumb and Cut-in-Two Island “as intricately crafted as a New Yorker piece,” as Yankee Magazine put it.
He was a talented artist, as exhibited by a T-shirt worn by John Barnes depicting undersea King Triton, which Capt. Bob designed.
“It took an hour for me to find it in my attic this morning,” Barnes, who was also sporting a blue heron pin made by Capt. Bob, said after the ceremony.
He was a guitarist who recorded a CD of original songs, Levine said. He crafted poetry and prose from the impressions he jotted down in his daily log, about belted kingfisher with “the spiked hair of a punk rocker” and American oyster catchers “constantly calling to one another with a loud shrill kleep.” These he collected and published in his 2005 “Thimble Islands Storybook: A Captain’s View.”
He was a character, known for his impish sense of humor. He coined the Indian name for kayak as always-in-the-way, Creeker Denny Ghyssels recalled, and wryly included in his storybook an essay titled “I Want to Be a Captain,” written by a fifth-grader.
It was Mike Infantino, captain of the Sea Mist Thimble Island cruise boat and Milne’s childhood friend, who read aloud the reasons — among them, “it’s a fun job and easy to do,” and “captains make more money than they can spend” — as the wind swirled, riffling his papers, and boats bobbed and knocked against the moorings, and the sun flitted in and out of clouds.
It was Infantino, Milne’s direct competitor, along with sons Justin and Bryan, as well as Capt. Bob Lillquist, among others, who kept the Volsunga IV afloat during the one-and-a-half seasons it was without a captain.
It was all of them, “all of you,” Beth Milne, joined by Anna, told the assembly, who ensured “the legacy of the Volsunga and the legacy of her many captains,” thanking, in addition, Bruce & Johnson’s Marina, graphic designer and printer Romauldas “Romi” Kaminskas, and attorney Paul E. Farren.
“This is Bob,” said his brother-in-law Kevin Swanson, before a bagpipe wailed “Amazing Grace,” Creeker Josh Greenval tolled the bell from the Volsunga III eight times for the passing of a captain, and Pastor Wayne asked everyone to send the flowers from the sprays out to sea.
“This is who he is, this is the part that will live on, this is what has been here forever, and it’s going to be here forever, these boats, these people out here, are what Bob is.”