If you want the detailed account of my life you need to find my book. It’s all laid out there. So here, on my web site, I’ll give you the quick version.
My Dad was stationed in New Guinea during WWII. On r&r in Australia he met my Mom and they were quickly married. They moved back to the US after the war and I was born in Toledo, Ohio. When I was one year old we moved back to Australia. My Mom hated Toledo and my Dad liked Australia. We lived in a two bedroom flat in a suburb of Sydney, Ashfield. I lived there until I was almost 13 years old. I went to the exact same school as the boys from the band AC/DC. In 1957 my Dad made a trip back to the US to visit his ailing father. Dad came back to Australia and told us that we could live a better life if we moved to the US. Life in Australia, no car, no dog, no house, no bike was far from the American dream.
We came to the US on a Liberty ship the Lakemba. It took a month to make the trip due to being stuck in Fiji for two weeks waiting for a sugar refinery workers strike to end so the ship could be loaded with raw sugar. We landed in Vancouver and took the train to Seattle where we were met by my Aunt. We were intending to go on to Phoenix where my grandparents spent the winter but my Grampy was near the end so we stayed in Seattle.
I got interested in boats in the 8th grade. I had to do a presentation to the class using “visual aids”. For some odd reason I chose sailing. I had never sailed. We were not a boating family. But my dear old Dad had a reverence for boats and I guess he passed that along to me. Soon I was reading everything I could get my hands on about sailing. I became quite expert in the history of the clipper ships. I would make mock voyages and fill out a log entry every night noting another day’s record run. I began building models of sailing ships. I joined the Sea Scouts. A family I baby sat for had a small sailboat and they invited me to go sailing with them. They knew nothing about sailing. I knew what I had read and together we had a lot of fun on that bad boat.
I was soon buying sailing magazines and devouring them. One afternoon I picked up a copy of BOATING and on the cover was a nice photo of a Rhodes designed Chesapeake 32. Lightning struck. I had never seen a thing designed by man that had so much beauty. I decided I would not go into the Coast Guard after all. I’d become a yacht designer. I was very lucky that my high school geometry teacher, Don Miller, was an avid sailor and racer and adult supervisor to the Corinthian Yacht Club. “You should join the yacht club Bob” he said. I had a good job in a meat market after school so I could easily come up with the $10 joining fee. “I joined the yacht club Mom!” “ That’s nice dear now go make your bed.” Before long I was racing three days a week in the summer and crewing through the winter on big boats. My life revolved around sailing, girls and guitars. In that order. Don Miller suggested I call Bill Garden and arrange a visit. I did that. My Dad dropped me off at Bill’s office early one Saturday morning. I had 35 cents in my pocket and that would allow me to take a bus home. Bill was very gracious and patient with me and sent me off with a big armful of old prints, pure gold to me. He gave me one of his design catalogs and I still have that catalog today. Bill suggested we go to lunch. I was painfully aware of the 35 cents in my pocket. But there was no way I would pass up having lunch with Bill Garden. This was rarified atmosphere for a 15 year old.
Bill ordered his lunch and asked what I wanted. I had very carefully studied the menu and there it was: “French fries,,,,35 cents”. “ I’ll have the French fries Bill.” “ Is that all? Just French fries?” “Yes, Bill. I just love French fries and that’s what I want.” Those fries were marvelous. I was eating lunch with my idol. Of course Bill picked up the check and I felt a little bit stupid. I hitch hiked my way back into Seattle and caught the bus home, big roll of prints under my arm.
In high school I drew boats day and night. I turned my bedroom into a design office. I spent every spare penny on drafting gear. I carried a small pack of drafting tools with me to school every day. I would produce one complete preliminary design is each class period. I got quite good at it. I studied the famous designers and practiced producing design in their styles. I spent so much time drawing boats in high school that I ended up with a 1.69 GPA. I got straight A’s in mechanical drawing under the tutelage of Mr. Kibby a marvelous teacher and kind councilor to wildeyed boys like me. The principal told my parents that they really should not graduate me but they knew it would do no good to hold me back. So with that sterling GPA all the colleges for naval architecture were out of the question. It really didn’t matter anyway. There was no way my parents could have ever paid for those colleges. So I ended up at Seattle University, literally the only college in the area that would take me. It was a Jesuit school and they took me on “probation”. But I surprised them. I started as a mechanical engineering student and after two years I switched to become an English major. Literature was exciting. Mechanical engineering was not. I worked nights to pay for my own college education. I did not need help and I did not need a student loan. I played in a successful rock and roll band and I lived well, for a kid in the 60’s.
I worked at several jobs in the marine design field including a couple years with Jay Benford in Seattle and a year with Dick Carter in Boston. Benford gave me the chance to learn how to produce drawings detailed enough for home builders. My time at Carter’s office exposed me to the top end of the racing fleet and an international clientele. Probably the most important part of these formative years was the privilege of working at Carter’s alongside Chuck Paine, Yves Marie Tanton and Mark Lyndsay. I also did some moonlighting for Ted Brewer. It was good old Ted who said to me, “You are a yacht designer.” “Me?” “ Really?” I thought if Ted thinks I am a yacht designer then I must be. Ted should know. So busting with the ego and optimism of youth I quit Carter’s, moved back to Seattle and opened the door to Robert H. Perry Yacht Designers. I was already working on the Valiant series, the Islander 28 and the CT54. I had been working hard drawing at night laying down the foundation that would carry me through the first few rough years. But, once again I was lucky. Those years may have been financially rough but they were so exciting I didn’t even notice. I was on my way.