He loves all things maritime, so much so that on one particular 6,000-mile road trip with his wife he visited 122 maritime museums throughout the U.S. and Canada, and eventually compiled and published a guide to some 650 museums in his book, “Maritime Museums of North America,” newly updated and about to be released in its eighth edition.
His name is Robert H. Smith, former fundraising assistant to UCSD Chancellor William McGill and vice president for development at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla.
As you might guess, Smith is a meticulous man, with a passion for collecting facts — combined with a love for the sea that led him to learn how to sail, to purchase a 38-foot cutter-rigged Down East sailboat and to try living aboard it with his wife when they moved to San Diego in the 1970s.
They sailed their “home” in the ocean waters around San Diego while he worked as a fundraiser at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation. To experience other waters, on vacations, they chartered vessels and sailed in Chesapeake Bay, the Virgin Islands and the Gulf Islands off Vancouver, British Columbia.
They lived aboard the Seaborne for about a year, or as his wife recalls, “for one year, one week, two days, and 20 minutes,” — until they realized living on a boat wouldn’t work while Smith had to put on a coat and tie every day to go to work.
They moved back on land to Del Mar.
About that time Smith also took to writing and visiting maritime museums in the U.S. and Canada that resulted in publication of his first guide to “Maritime Museums of North America,” published by the Naval Institute Press in 1988.
Subsequent updated and enlarged editions of the guide were published by Smith’s own company, C Books Publisher, Del Mar.
In addition to his maritime museum guides, Smith is the author of cruising guides for Southern and Northern California pleasure boaters (now out of print), a short history of the Erie Canal, (Clinton’s Ditch: the Erie Canal — 1825) and a soon-to-be published “Maritime History Short Stories of America’s West Coast” collection of 22 articles he wrote that originally appeared in California’s recreational boating newspaper The Log.
We interviewed the 82-year-old Smith in his Carmel Valley condo where he lives with his grown daughter, Rebecca Anne, and his wife of almost 63 years, Helen, whom he originally met in high school and reconnected with after he had served a hitch in the Navy during World War II. They married in 1948 and raised four children.
These days, although he no longer sails, you’ll find the tall, white-haired transplanted Midwesterner taking brisk, 2½-mile, 4:30 a.m. walks around Carmel Valley.
It’s been his health regimen for the past 15 years. “My doctor says, ‘Don’t ever stop.’”
Smith was born in Oak Park, Illinois, and was raised in Denver, Colorado. His father was an Iowa-born American Baptist minister of German heritage.