Sailors are a tight-knit group, crossing paths in harbors around the world, crewing together on boats of all sizes and listening to one another banter for days over the VHF radio at sea. It’s an exclusive fraternity of men and women with like-minded interests and a healthy sense of adventure that celebrates centuries-old traditions and a breezy nautical lifestyle.
When sailors aren’t busy facing off at the starting line of a Wednesday night “beer can” regatta or anchoring side-by-side in the crystal blue waters of some faraway island, they’re likely to be found exchanging rounds of grub ‘n grog in a musty, trophy-filled bar tucked away in the corner of their local yacht club. This is where stories are shared, egos are stroked and legends are born.
At the Santa Barbara Yacht Club, Robert “R.P.” Richards is a legend. Deemed the “unofficial mayor of Santa Barbara” by close friend Jimmy Lykes, R.P. was a staple figure at the club who used his jovial disposition and affinity for having a good time to foster the merriment of even the most hardened seafarer. From his beloved “God’s Corner” perch in the SBYC bar, R.P. could always be found playing host to an animated entourage of fellow members and their guests.
“He was full of life, a true yachtsman — one that really embodied the mission of our yacht club in gathering a community of friends who all shared the love for the ocean and respect of the sea,” said Tony Papa, SBYC staff commodore and chairman of the 2011 SBYC Charity Regatta committee.
In addition to owning the successful construction company bearing his name, R.P. was well known in the community for his philanthropy and activism. In particular, he was an avid supporter of the hospice movement and never failed to donate use of his 68-foot yacht, Taxi Dancer, to the Santa Barbara Yacht Club’s annual charity regatta benefiting Serenity House, a nonprofit hospice inpatient facility run by Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care. However, it wasn’t until he found himself on hospice last year that he fully appreciated what that support meant.
In late August 2010, R.P. was admitted to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital with blood clots in his heart. He had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure years earlier, and his heart was now failing at a rapid pace. After a three-week hospital stay, R.P. was transferred to a skilled nursing facility in Santa Barbara where he spent the next few weeks under its care and supervision.
However, the 24-hour clinical setting did not sit well with R.P. and he became increasingly agitated, even trying to escape one evening under the cover of night. While the care he received was outstanding, the unfamiliar surroundings left him fragile and demoralized. R.P. longed to be in his own bed, overlooking the ocean at his Montecito home, surrounded by family and friends. As his days appeared numbered, it seemed only fair that he got his wish.
Tom Parker, a close friend and one of the current owners of R.P.’s former yacht, Taxi Dancer, suggested the family contact VNHC to see if he qualified for in-home hospice care. Following a brief evaluation by their clinical team, R.P. was cleared to return home where he spent his remaining days in comfort and dignity.
“My brother, Brian, and I who were his basic caregivers were amazed with his immediate change of attitude. It was as if he had just recharged his batteries,” said Pete Richards, one of R.P.’s four sons. “It was clear that being home on the ocean at Fernald Cove was where Dad belonged. He was able to live his final days to the fullest knowing the medical care he was receiving was the best possible. Dad never passed up a moment to sit on the porch overlooking the ocean and we really feel he passed on his own terms.”
With the same enthusiasm and discipline of his once-devoted crew, VNHC’s team of specially trained doctors, nurses and support staff provided R.P. with individualized, compassionate care that helped support his physical, emotional and spiritual needs as he navigated the remaining days of his life.
“We often see patients make subtle, even remarkable improvements after they begin hospice care,” said Lynda Tanner, president and chief executive officer of VNHC. “Being in a comfortable, nurturing environment like a person’s own home or our Serenity House inpatient facility, provides individuals with a familiar setting that can actually prolong life, even if only for a short while.”
VNHC did everything possible to make both R.P. and his family feel comfortable and cared for during this difficult time — providing not only quality medical care but bereavement support and integrated treatments like Reiki and aromatherapy. And when the time finally came for him to say goodbye, he was ready.
Holding his son’s hand in a way that most children only dream of, R.P. died peacefully in his own bed looking west out over the deep blue sea flanking his cherished Fernald Cove. Ever the sailor, he looked up with a smile on his face and said, “I’m shoving off.”
Because of his support for VNHC and longtime relationship with the yacht club, R.P. is being remembered as part of Sunday’s seventh annual Santa Barbara Yacht Club Charity Regatta benefiting charitable care at VNHC’s new Serenity House hospice inpatient facility which opened this month thanks to generous support from the community.
The regatta takes place from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sunday and will feature a competitive sailboat race, barbecue and dozens of raffle prizes. The event is open to the public, and tickets may be purchased at the Santa Barbara Yacht Club, or click here to order online. The cost is $75 for adults and $25 for children under 18.
Major sponsors include The Bank of Santa Barbara, the Hutton Parker Foundation, Impulse Communications, American Riviera Bank, the Mithun Family Foundation, Venoco Inc. and Frank Schipper Construction, which served as the primary contractor for the new Serenity House.
— Greg Rogers is the communications officer for Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care.