Remembering Rob Meek
19 August 1951 – 1 January 2014
Paying tribute to one of South Africa’s top skippers and navigators who was tragically killed on 1 January 2014.
Rob enjoyed a vibrant and varied life centred by sailing and the sea. His notebooks and diaries are filled with drawings of yachts and his highly successful career as an architect and urban designer focussing on waterfront and marina development provided opportunities to travel and sail worldwide.
His parents George and Peggy raced a beautiful double ender in Table Bay and Rob and his brothers Geoff and Steve were brought up as active members of Royal Cape and Zeekoevlei Yacht Clubs. Theirs was a family synonymous with South African sailing and most dinghy or keelboat regattas from the 70’s on would find all the Meeks campaigning different boats. All fiercely competitive, Rob loved sailing with his brothers as much as competing against them.
Rob’s log of his competitive offshore sailing experience locally and internationally from 1970 to the end of 2013 totalled 76 700 nautical miles. If his dedicated commitment to club championships and fun social events were added his log would be hundreds of times greater. Initially recorded for his RYA and SA yacht master’s certification, the log is typically understated and gives no indication of his many victories and achievements in some of the world’s most prestigious events, the respect he enjoyed as one of South Africa’s top skippers and navigators or his passion for a sport that gave him so much joy and lifelong friendships.
The log has subheadings for international, local and dinghy racing and a colour-coded key to indicate whether he competed as skipper, navigator or crew. The international events include four South Atlantic races between South Africa and Brazil, plus a trans-Atlantic delivery in 1998 from Cape Town to the British Virgin Isles with his brother Geoff and their respective families; four Cowes Weeks; two Admiral’s Cups and Fastnet Races in the UK; Cork Week, Ireland, the Sardinia Cup; the SORC in the US, four Mauritius to Durban races; and the Walvis Bay race from Cape Town to Namibia.
Local offshore overnight events list four Agulhas races; 20 West Coast Races (Sea Harvest and Mykonos); and 14 Double Cape races. Round-the-buoys offshore races in Cape Town include 22 RCYC summer regatta seasons in Table Bay, eleven Spring Regattas in False Bay and races to Cape Point, plus eight winter racing seasons in Durban. He represented South Africa at the Fireball World Championships in France and Ireland, and competed in the 1999 Mirror Worlds in South Africa with his daughter Louise.
He was awarded SA Colours for sailing four times
– 1977 Fireball World Championships, Cork, Ireland (skipper)
– 1981 Half Ton World Championships, Poole, UK, on yacht Gwaap (navigator)
– 1990 Winner – Sigma 39 Class Cowes Week, UK (navigator)
– 2006 Winner – handicap and line honours South Atlantic Race Cape to Bahia, Brazil on Windsong (skipper)
– Winning the 1968 Dabchick National Championships in a fleet of 81 competitors
– Safely finishing the 1979 Fastnet Race as navigator for the Irish Admirals Cup team aboard yacht Inishanier when extreme storm conditions took the lives of 15 sailors, sunk five boats and at least 75 boats flipped upside down
– Full time racing skipper in the UK and Mediterranean in 1980 for the top British Ed du Bois designed yacht Panda. Rob had input in the design of the yacht and was project manager for the build on Norderney island, Germany. Skippered British Sardinia Cup Team and Cork Week and many top South African sailors joined him as crew on Panda
– Navigator on the South African entry GWAAP in the 1980 half-ton World Championships skippered by Geoff Meek.
– 1994 winner of the Portuguese Navigators Award for being navigator on the winning yacht of six consecutive RCYC offshore overnight coastal events
– 1970, 1976 and 1993 Cape to Rio races on yachts Dabulamanzi and Panther
– 1987, 1989, 1991 and 2004 Mauritius to Durban races on Suburban Hardware and Warrior
– Winning handicap and line honours in the 2006 South Atlantic Cape to Bahia race from Cape Town to Salvador, Brazil as skipper on the Reichel Pugh 37-footer Windsong – on occasion notching up daily runs of nearly 300 miles and setting a time of 16 days, 2 hours and 46 minutes
– 1998 trans-Atlantic delivery from Cape Town to Tortola in the British Virgin Isles via St Helena and the Caribbean with his wife Di, daughters Louise and Claudia, brother Geoff and his wife Jenny and their son Jason
– 2010 Cowes Week on the Landmark 43 yacht, Windpower, with Phil Gutsche, Rick Nankin and crew
– 2013 co–skipper on the J111 yacht, Mwah, with Gordon Kling in RCYC Cape offshore racing
– teaching his daughters Louise and Claudia to sail and watching them grow into confident sailors
– campaigning his Laser, named after his mother Peggy
In 62 years Rob generously gave back to the sport as an administrator and volunteer. He was Rear Commodore Sailing for Royal Cape Yacht Club in 1989, Rear Commodore of Zeekoevlei Yacht Club from 2000 – 2002 and as an office bearer at both clubs he served on several race committees notably as race officer for the early west coast Mykonos Races and the RCYC Summer Season Crocs Regattas. He was passionate about re-introducing offshore overnight racing and instrumental in launching the annual West Coast Yachtport Overnight Race from Table Bay to Saldanha Bay which will now carry his name. Most recently he served on the RCYC sailing committee and sat on the board of the South African Ocean Racing Trust (SOART) which included awarding financial assistance to aspiring young racing sailors to develop their skills. He assisted with sail training for young Optimist dinghy sailors at ZVYC and mentored young keelboat sailors at RCYC. He assisted South Africa’s first ever America’s Cup challenger Team Shosholoza in Valencia, Spain as a volunteer during the 2007 America’s Cup.
Rob wrote a popular sailing column for the Cape Times for four years from 1982 and 1985. He wrote regularly for SA Yachting and SA Sailing Magazine until recently.
What Rob cherished most about sailing were the people. They were among his greatest companions. His achievements weren’t only limited to sailing or architecture and urban design as a founding partner and director of 32 years at GAPP Architects and Urban Designers. He competed in 19 Argus Cycle Tours, the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon and countless other marathons and half-marathons. He spent a lifetime hiking Table Mountain and other mountains; he qualified as a pilot and as a paratrooper he was an accomplished parachutist. He built his own hang glider. He loved surfing, canoeing, rowing and all things boating. He was a lifetime player of musical instruments and fan of Bob Dylan; a reciter of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and other poems. Highly intelligent with an almost photographic memory his wide ranging knowledge and interests spanning the arts and sciences produced an almost childlike wonder for the world and how it worked. He was always curious, imaginative and adventurous, softly spoken, humble and gentle. He was a loyal friend, the perfect father to Louise and Claudia, and the most loving husband to Di for over 31 years.
Tributes to Rob
Paul Mare, RCYC president/chairman SA Ocean Racing Trust :
“It is seldom in life that one makes the acquaintance of an individual endowed with the unique human qualities I discovered through knowing Rob Meek as a friend, colleague, fellow club member and trustee. Having worked with him as a colleague in the built environment, including the planning and development of the V&A Waterfront, had come to respect him for his structured, creative thinking. His passing is a great loss to our club, and to the greater community of Cape Town.”
Dale Kushner, RCYC commodore:
“Rob, a dear friend of all yachtsmen and women, a keen yachtsman, always there to help, encourage, invigorate and mentor. He served RCYC and the sport in many capacities and was always available. His peaceful approach created a calming effect, and his passion for safe offshore sailing has contributed to the sport and will continue to.”
Richard Crockett: Editor SA Sailing Magazine:
Rob was softly spoken, kind, gentle and exceptionally knowledgeable about every aspect of sailing. He was respected and admired as he was simply one of the best sailors around who sailed to win, yet played fair. Our sport is poorer for his loss and the wisdom he brought to it.
Rob’s racing record and achievements were many, including sailing and winning in some really prestigious and famous events around the World.
His seemingly laid back attitude belied the fact that he was a successful, competitive, driven person who was extremely capable and switched on about so many subjects.His friendly disposition and great humour showed you directly what a lovely person he was.”
Rob was one of South Africa’s most successful yachtsmen. He was modest, humble, yet so successful in sailing and in his life. Rob was respected as a true gentleman, as a sportsman, a fierce competitor, a great crewman, a skipper, a tactician, navigator, administrator and organizer of races and regattas. Above all, he was respected for his coolness and integrity.”
“I like to speak of Rob in the present tense because his overall brilliance, understanding, enthusiasm and mentorship make for a friendship that will endure forever.”
“Only a few of the people I’ve met over the last 60 years in sailing circles have left an indelible mark on me. Robbie was one. In fact, I never heard anyone say a bad thing about him – a hard-earned, enviable reputation!”
“Rob was such compelling company, with his acute mind and offbeat sense of humour. He was full of surprises and found unusual solutions to life’s challenges. Whenever I said goodbye to Robbie, I found myself looking forward to our next encounter.”
Andrew Flint, partner Gapp Architechts and Urban Designers:
“Rob has left a legacy that will be long remembered and respected. His life stands as a beacon to us all to live life to the full and strive to add our best through innovation, commitment and enthusiasm.”
Note: An edited version of this tribute was carried in the 2014 edition of the annual Royal Cape Yacht Club magazine “SAIL”
THE UN-EDITED TRIBUTES TO ROB
The following un-edited tributes to Rob were received from sailing friends in response to a request from the editor of RCYC’s annual magazine SAIL. Because of space constraints very few were carried by the magazine and even then they needed to be heavily edited.
Here, as un-edited tributes, they give a wonderful insight into Rob as a person, what he meant to such a wide range of people, and some of what the Meek family brought to sailing in South Africa.
Also included is the tribute from GAPP Architects and Urban Designers as sailing was such an integral part of Rob’s lifestyle that almost all of his work, family and social life, was invariably connected to the sea and sailing.
Rob’s funeral would have been held at RCYC if there hadn’t been the offer from St George’s Cathedral and even more gracious offer from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to help officiate. The “Arch” told us afterwards that he had only ever seen the Cathedral so packed full at a Christmas midnight mass a few years ago. He estimated close on 1 500 people were there to pay their respects to Rob. Even more filled the parking and courtyard areas outside.
We wouldn’t have got to know the Arch as well as we did or started attending his weekly Friday morning services at the Cathedral, which are always followed by breakfast together, if it wasn’t for sailing and Tutu agreeing to be the patron of South Africa’s America’s Cup challenger Team Shosholoza back in 2005. Being press officer for the team meant I was in close email contact with Tutu for a couple of years. He and Rob subsequently also developed a wonderful friendship.
“I have been passionately involved with sailing at RCYC for close on 60 years during which time my sailing career has spanned both local and international waters including having been privileged to meet thousands of fellow yachtsmen and women.
It would be factually correct for me to tell you that only a few of them have left an indelible mark on me. Robbie was absolutely one of those…..
He had a way about him that not many others had. He was always full of interesting new ideas – most of them with thinking “out of the box”.
His discussions with me were always quiet and down played. He NEVER forced his opinion on me, or anyone else that I know for that matter.
I was also fortunate enough to have worked with him on various marina and recreational water related schemes. He was so passionate about this.
It would be true to say that I have never heard anyone say a bad thing about Robbie. A hard earned and enviable reputation!!!!
I sailed with him on a number of occasions, but not regularly. This was such a pleasure as he was a deep thinking yachtsman. Totally committed to doing well but never at the expense of those on board enjoying themselves and wishing to come back and sail with him again.”
“I first came across Rob at RCYC, at the Community Chest Race, an annual pursuit race sailed to Barker Rock and back. Rob was probably 12 years old and crewing for his Dad George on a 12 foot Andy Dinghy, a tiny boat to be sailing offshore, very fast, planing with the bow high out the water like a modern skiff. Rob was a lean tall trapeze and spinnaker hand and the package of father, son and boat looked skilled and fast. As a young boy cutting my sailing teeth on a heavy Gunter rigged 12 footer at RCYC sailing up and down Duncan Docks and occasionally out into Table Bay I was highly impressed and influenced by what I’d seen. Hence my own sailing took a move to sailing dinghies at Zeekoevlei soon after that day.
A few years later, my friendship with Rob began when we started racing against each other, starting at the 1967 WP Champs at Hermanus when we sailed our home built Dabchicks.
Rob was very adventurous and displayed clearly, from these early teenager days his very special qualities. His insight into finding solutions to challenges set him apart at this young age and indeed throughout his life.
Rob was able to be friendly and engaging with almost everyone.
When he spoke or interacted with someone he focused on that other persons good attributes, not his own, and in that way “informed” people of their own possibilities and therefore was incredibly motivating to people of all ages, even to those as young as my 4 year old Joshua, who trusted and loved to interact with Rob.
Through everything Rob did, I believe that his uniqueness and intellect shone through brightly.
Sailing-wise, Rob was always ahead of the game when it came to knowing the best strategy of how to guess or calculate a seemingly risky but ultimately successful course, and almost always, so often, his decisions were spot on. Rob’s seemingly different approach may have sometimes appeared risky to others however these “risks” came home successfully so often that it could not be luck.
Rob managed to create these quite radical yet successful strategies through his intellect and knowledge of all the factors that impacted on finding a “best” solution to a challenge, a problem or a puzzle.
Sailing with Rob as the Navigator, I experienced how he made these decisions work.
His preparation and research and thought about a project that he was involved in, was deep and detailed.
This was highlighted in the RCYC events that Rob helped create and manage.
He would most often find an interesting, slightly different path to follow, a path that would invariably try out a new idea – often something quite left field. So there was always a kind of mental excitement in doing anything with Rob.
In the mid 2000’s the “powers” at RCYC decided to alter the dates of our most prominent regatta, Table Bay Week, formerly Rothmans Week, always held in mid- December, and for sure the most successful event of 30 years. Sadly, the date change resulted in that famous regatta’s demise.
Fortunately for all the sailors, Rob came up with a brilliant answer to this folly by organizing a new event over the same mid-December time slot. This became Crocs Week, now once again, arguably, the most prominent regatta in RSA for the larger sized boats from the Inshore Keelboat racing fleet.
Rob and friend Ralph Thomas tweaked the formula each year in search of an event structure most enjoyed by the sailors.
Rob also helped conceptualize the re-birth of West Coast overnight offshore races by running the first 2 Yachtport Overnight races from RCYC to Saldanha via “virtual” marks, a clever innovation typical of Rob’s lateral thinking and bold yet carefully thought out planning.
Rob was keen to sail as much as possible within the time limits that may constrain a busy family and business man.
He loved sailing at sea and supported the RCYC sailing committees over the years by participating in all kinds of races and club events and by offering his time on various committees.
Rob would not miss a meeting of interest at RCYC.
The Wednesday night Winter talks always found Rob as an interested, questioning person in the audience.
Rob’s racing record and achievements were many, including sailing and winning in some really prestigious and famous events around the World.
Rob’s lovely mild manner and seemingly laid back attitude belied the fact that he was a successful, competitive, driven person who was extremely capable and switched on about so many subjects.
His mild manner, friendly disposition and great humour told you directly what a lovely person he was.
*Humble yet rightly proud of his abilities, talents and achievements. He enjoyed the fact that he was accomplished/good at/successful in the many fields that he took part in, yet Rob was never one to push his own achievements.
He was confident in his own abilities yet extremely reserved about these talents. All the above descriptions may come across that he stood back but that was not the case at all – Rob was always ready to step in and “do the business” or take charge of a situation if that is what was required at the time.
*A superb “behind the limelight” leader – in the racing we did together whether as navigator or crewman, Rob was a strong, sure and insightful leader within the brains trust/back of the boat/strategy team.
*Obviously, in his own right, Rob was also a very good, insightful and successful “upfront” leader as well. He was quietly forceful yet ventured out for good quality input and used that to good effect while maintaining his own special , lateral thinking ideas.
This leadership quality was shown in teenage years in the scouting field, in his own sailing successes which were many including the Cape Rio Race win, in his organisational abilities when planning and “designing” a new event and pushing it through the “Admin Channels” to become a reality. He was creative always, coming up with new , well thought out, plans for running yacht racing in a slightly different manner.
He was an innovator of note.
In both yacht racing and yachting organisation he showed “big balls” to try out any intelligently guessed and calculated risk.
Seldom would he fall too far short even if the risk did not work out 100% but occasionally, in fact, quite often, he scored hugely with this calculated risk strategy of maximum leverage and gain.
In a racing situation, out of left field would pop out Rob with a seemingly unexpected course, wind, current or weather advantage. This was never luck in my opinion but always well thought out risk analyses and choices made with great insight and great use of his knowledge base and intellect.
He was a standout character that was always very happy and confident to quietly, yet not shyly, go down a new, yet well thought out path without having to wait for guidance. He was always ready for advice however and used that to good effect as well.
*Therefore Rob was always able, on his own, or as part of a “team”, to work out methodically the best way to approach a problem. He also had a lot of natural flair and talent and was very creative so this mix of attributes and skills made him formidable at finding solutions for any “problem” or challenge.
Rob the Navigator
All these qualities mentioned made Rob a great companion when tackling a project. One of his skills was Navigation on offshore races. He was very precise and prepared very well. He knew his subject very well and could operate in any conditions with good clear and accurate thinking.
He was humorous in so many ways and was a joy to spend time with as he had his own “style” which was seemingly very laid back yet everything was perfectly calculated and precise. He would arrive on board before a race with numerous bits of A4 graph paper with notes for himself and a few to stick up about the boat so the crew, skipper and helmsmen knew exactly where we were going, all the marks, leg bearings and distances. He would, before the start, brief everyone in precise detail about the course and anything pertinent he knew of the weather, points to note and think about for strategies down the road.
On these adventures he was always a calming influence and even in tight situations would calmly make accurate pronouncements in an almost humorous manner.
Rob would interact with people of all ages and types, and share important, yet sometimes small issues with them, and therefore become knowledgeable and close to that person in a special way.
Rob was for me a great friend who I knew could always be relied on. His friendship offered warmth and strength, offering one a confidence to go forward along a path without forcing anything. He had a quiet assurance. His friendship did not demand a lot, yet was always there.
A good friend of mine who knew Rob quite well, Hanno Tueteberg, just phoned me and explained that in Germany they would call Rob a real “mensch” – a complete man.”
“I always speak of Rob in the present tense because his overall brilliance, understanding, enthusiasm and mentorship that made for such a wonderful friendship will endure forever.
I knew Rob for 40 years, but it was only 8 years ago that he convinced me to get into his great passion, sailing in general and yacht racing in particular. His architectural work often took him to the Middle East, Nigeria, the Congo, Uganda, Kenya and other far flung destinations but if he was in Cape Town there were not many days when I didn’t have phone calls and e-mails from him – usually about yachting or shipping but often, too, concerning issues of the day. He was extremely well read and had an exceptional memory.
His skills as a yachtsman are legendary, and he was so highly respected that having him as the skipper on your boat meant you were certain to attract highly experienced racing crew. However, he also insisted on there being keen novices aboard and not a few social sailors in the case of less serious racing. An integral facet of his racing endeavours was development of crew. There was never a season that he didn’t come up with relatively young new crew that he felt showed promise.
At a time when he was sought after by top boats throughout South Africa he accorded me the great honour of skippering my first boat, an old Beneteau Oceanis 381, the cruising design of which should have meant it would have no chance in racing. Most of the crew were as green as could be but within a very short time we were winning races in social orientated events. He sought out and skippered our next boat, the IMX 40 “Lobelia” which became a top IRC Division 1 contender, IRC being the rating system applicable to the most serious racing regattas in SA.
One of my biggest concerns in the sport we were so passionate about was that the boats I could afford were not up the standard his skills and dedication deserved. Several times I told him I didn’t think I was being fair to him and that he should not hesitate to join better boats when the ever present opportunities came his way. His response was always the same: let’s just concentrate on being the best at what we do.
Rob had that special ability to make even young sailors in awe of his reputation feel comfortable about approaching him and, at times, question some of his decisions.
He literally fell in love with our new boat, a J111 “Mwah” which is a delicate but fast sport boat with a particularly tough IRC rating. His proclaimed aim at a meeting he called shortly after she arrived: “we must try to win the IRC Nationals” (due to be sailed in Cape Town in March). This struck most of us as an extremely tall order considering it had taken us some three years to regularly attain a podium position with “Lobelia”.
For at least one day just about every weekend and often during the week he could be found aboard “Mwah” tweeking the rigging or sorting the equipment, even cleaning. He was the most meticulous sailor you could ever meet, insisting that the boat always look proud, organised and sparkling clean. And he was quite disdainful, albeit in a considered way, about those who do not look after their boats.
His sense of humour and ability to easily cope with difficult situations was brilliant. I remember one very senior sailor remarking after an intense group discussion at RCYC: “He’s such a cool guy!”
Where skippers would leave comments in guest books after arduous long distance races, Rob would leave an appropriate drawing.”
A TRIBUTE TO A SPECIAL PERSON
“For a number of years Rob has been a regular member of our informal “Fish & Chips on Friday” lunch club at RCYC. We are now one short.
Many a time the lunch conversation was steered to one of his passions, be it yachting or great plans for the Waterfront (or a Waterfront somewhere else in the world) or cycling and planning cycle paths.
On one such occasion we were discussing the South African America’s Cup campaign. The general consensus was that this was a “Concorde” moment for yachting in SA. The set of circumstances prevailing were unlikely to ever come together as they had done again in our sailing careers. Given that Di was already in Valencia working with Team Shosholoza and that there were a lot of holidays stacked up at and around Easter this seemed an ideal opportunity. The deal was struck, if you go, I go. In the next couple of days I made some enquiries. My work partner assured me that the office would survive, Team Shosholoza sailing manager Paul Standbridge agreed that we couldn’t really do much harm as volunteers for the team and my wife said – remember your oilskins. So on the Wednesday I phoned Rob asking if he had thought about it. His comment was “I have booked my ticket”
To me this anecdote tells a number of things about the man
– Before starting a conversation he would know the answer to any question, but would ask anyway
– He was his own man, no one needs to make decisions on his behalf
– He was absolutely competent at anything put before him
– He would resolve problems in his own way
– He wanted to contribute to the success of the team
– Being a family man with three girls, alone at home without his special ones was not fun”
“The Meeks have meant a lot to me for my entire adult life, I used to visit Peggy (mother) while at university and drink tea with her waiting for Geoff or Rob to come home and George (father) used to give advice, usually trying to convince us youngsters to keep it simple, “there is no Magic required if you do it right” is a quip I remember well.
Rob sailed with me in 1975 and we have had a very good mutual respect for each other ever since and I have always felt uplifted after spending any time with him. Words that come to mind are calm, caring, intelligent, witty, thoughtful, humble and sorely missed, inspirational, dearly loved and my life at the yacht club is altered forever. I have the fondest memories of the time we sailed together on After You not so long ago. Rob’s memory will remain my calming agent.”
“For me, as I am sure for many, Rob’s untimely passing has made us reflect on Rob as a person and what made him such a truly amazing human being and why so many people just loved him.
I had been asking myself what made Rob so different. Why did so many people feel so close to him. The massive turnout for his funeral bore testimony to that. There would have been many more were it not for the fact that so many of his other sailing mates had already set sail on the Cape to Rio race..
The two facets of Rob’s life that struck me most were: Interpersonal relationships and sailing and the common thread that epitomized his approach to life.
The way I see it, Rob was so different to the majority of us in his interpersonal relationships. While many of us with valued friendships still identify negative points in our colleagues and friends, and maybe even comment or discuss these negative points with other friends or family from time to time, Rob had the ability to identify and focus on the good in other people. Almost as if the negative chinks in others did not exist. His seeking out the good in others was subconscious and allowed others to feel really special around him.
Just like his interpersonal relationships where Rob saw only the good in others, Rob had the ability to see the good in times of adversity.
One such time was when I committed to sailing Rothmans Week with Rob, Willie Temple, Louis Louw and crew on “Suburban Hardware”. In the lead up to the regatta we used Wednesday night racing as crew practice. One such Wednesday night we headed off to the yacht club in less than favourable conditions.
I remember as I drove over the elevated fly over at the Paarden Eiland side of the harbour entrance and glanced across the bay, all I saw was white horses and spindrift. Wow!!! No sailing tonight I thought to myself.
I pulled up in the RCYC car park and as I opened the car door all that could be heard was stomach wrenching sound of the South Easter whistling through the rigging. The boats rolled heavily on their moorings as the gusts ripped through their rigs .
I headed down to “Suburban Hardware” to meet the rest of the crew and I remember the overriding discussion was that there was no way that there could be racing that night. Shortly thereafter we heard that racing was in fact cancelled, much to the relief of the crew. Just as we were grabbing our bags to head off to the pub, Rob arrived and suggested that we should go out. Whaaat!! I remember we looked at him and thought that he must be crazy. Who of you have ever used a trysail he said. The crew all looked at one another rather bemused and we shook our heads. Most of us had seen the sailbag with trysail written on it, but had never even pulled it out of the bag, let alone fly the thing. Good, he said, then let’s go out and test the trysail and storm jib. With that we realized that he was actually serious.
Still reeling from the news of our impending mission we slowly dragged our Oilies on and then one by one crept through the companionway hatch to face our fate. Once all the crew were on deck Rob explained the workings of the trysail, how it hoisted how it sheeted and how you trimmed it.
Before we knew it we were out there in the teeth of the South Easter, Storm jib set, Trisail set , crew hiking on the rail and we were beating upwind to Woodstock with not another boat in sight.
We ended up staying out for ages having an absolute blast in these really gnarly conditions and returned to dock with the crew on an absolute high.
That sail just typified Rob. When everyone else saw doom and gloom, he just had the ability to see opportunity and good.”
“Rob Meek was a very special person. He had integrity, a desire to help others and enjoyed life. I remember those days many years ago (late 1970s) when we all sailed Fireballs, when many of us were taking our sailing far too seriously: Rob and Sean McLoughlin were obviously enjoying Fireball sailing very much and were winning as well. Their playful manner camouflaged Rob’s intelligence and commitment very well.
In recent years Rob became more involved in keel boat sailing, encouraging and helping other people. His intellect, natural ability and organising skills again showed through to create a winning boat.
We spent much time over Friday lunch at RCYC talking about the problems in the sport and what we could do to promote sailing. He had a very good insight into the sport and the problems facing the sport. He made the effort to work on new ideas, such as the new overnight race and using virtual marks. He showed leadership in this.
One of Rob’s best qualities was his ability to be even tempered and reasonable in situations where others were aggressive and argumentative, which often helped to reduce conflict between others. That is a remarkable skill that few people have, which helps to make the world a better place for everyone. We should all strive to follow this example. We should also strive to enjoy the sport and life as much as Rob did, and like him, at the same time have the courage to try new things.”
“The year was 1972 when I met Rob and consequentially all of his family. I had brought the 55 foot sailing yacht “Dabulamanzi” to Cape Town to compete in the Cape to Rio Race. We did a shake down and training cruise from Cape Town up to Mozambique with the boat in preparation and Rob became a good friend. We finally did the Rio Race and ended up coming in third and all had a great time. We have remained friends ever since and I sadly miss his senseless parting.
The one story I remember well with Rob is that he was the bow man at the downwind start of the Rio Race. I called for the spinnaker set and we were in an ideal position for a good start, but when the sail went up it was sideways! No one could believe it after all the training we had done, over 2,000miles up and down the coast and numerous sets before.
Unfortunately this was the biggest sporting event of the time and there were, I recall over 100,000 people watching so we got a lot of flack about that one. There was a photo taken at the start which was framed and put up in prime place in the RCYC for years after and showed Dabulamanzi far too clearly!!
Rest in peace Rob, you will always be remembered.”
- … our dear and beloved friend, fellow crewman, competitor, skipper and beer drinker We remember him as a yachtsman of note, a true yachtsman who stood out amongst his fellow yachtsmen.
- We all knew Rob as one of South Africa’s most successful yachtsmen respected by all, locally and internationally.
- Rob gathered friends from his early schooling days and also throughout his life.
- In particular he developed a close circle of dear friends.
- Rob was respected as a true gentleman, as sportsman, a fierce competitor, a great crewman, a skipper, a tactician, navigator, administrator and organizer of races and regattas, but above all he was respected for his coolness and integrity.
- He was human as well ….. “but winning was not the only thing to Rob’s sailing life – it was the building of friendships, the camaraderie.
- He loved to meet in the pub, have his one beer, exchange and discuss the highlights and mishaps – the events of the day ….
- He loved his family!
- In S.A. sailing he stood tall and I can state he was a man among men.
- We will miss his profile and silhouette at the helm of Gordon Kling’s “MWAH” and his presence in the RCYC pub surrounded by a group of fellow yachtsman.
- To Di, Claudia and Louise you can be deeply proud of having Rob as your father and husband and icon.
- He was modest, humble, yet so successful in sailing and in his life.
“Sailing is a sport that finds most of its magic in the way that it emulates life.
The sheer unpredictability of the elements and the need to harness these elements offers a challenge to our courage, our tenacity and our ingenuity. The fact that these challenges need to be faced with company (with the assistance of others and also often in opposition to others) offers a unique opportunity to excel as a human being, which opportunity, few actually grasp.
It is special to encounter a man who understands the art and craft of sailing, and who races as competitively as the rest, but who always maintains levels of humanity and humility. These characteristics illustrate a clear understanding of the relationship between an insignificant human and the awesome natural powers involved in the sport.
Sailing is nominally a gentleman’s sport, and it is special to encounter a sailor who, not only has a clear grasp of this concept, but also unequivocally acts in accordance with the prescripts of gentlemanly behaviour.
Rob Meek was such a man. It was special to know him.”
“Rob brought such reliable good humour and clear thinking to our ZVYC committee. If Rob had made his apologies for a committee meeting, we all had to work harder to make it fun and creative. For Rob looked at every obstacle and said “Oh reallly?”, and to every seeming impossibility he would respond “I wonder, mmmm, I wonder if…..” Rob was naturally creative, and he launched the regular Sponsored Series by personally speaking to and persuading companies in the Cape Town sailing world to part with sponsorships for dinghy racing as a first step towards increasing keelboat sailing. And how right he was – for now Lipton and RCYC Wednesday racing are awash with enthusiastic youth well skilled from their continuing dinghy sailing.
Once asked to take on something very daunting, I said I would do so only if Rob (and Pete Shaw) undertook to work alongside on it. You didn’t have to say “committedly” or “until the end, whether bitter or sweet”, for that was how Rob (they both) worked on everything. Indeed the meeting of top ZVYC sailors (just before Salvatore Sarno took half of them away to Team Shosholoza to campaign for the America’s Cup!) at which the need for 420s was nailed to the floor by Dale Hudson, took place under Rob’s auspices in his living room in May 2004 – and two years later the first RSA-built 420s were launched at ZVYC.
I know I am the poorer for never having sailed with Rob. When keelboat teams said “… and Rob is going to be with us…”, the joy and excitement was loud and clear. Certainly in every project, big or small, on land or water, Rob was a mind, a hand, a heart and a soul you always loved to have on board.
Rob was super-talented but, unlike too many of his super-talented peers in all walks of life, Rob also got the basics right – the human fundamentals for good and happy lives at home, at work, at play and as a community leader among the needy no less than the gifted. Rob set us such a giant example of gentle caring, clear honesty, straight talking, great generosity, and steady commitment to his own deep respect for all people and all life. Amen, Rob.”
Remembering the One Ton Worlds on Gwaap – 1987 – Geoff skipper, Rob navigator
“Imagine 3 days sitting in the middle of the English channel with not a breath of wind on a little boat called Gwaap with fog all around. We were in the middle of the shipping lane. We could only hear the ships then a few minutes later we would get the bow wave coming at us out of the fog very close. I climbed the mast and tied a radar reflector on the top. It was intense…. all hands on deck. Then Rob says. ” I’m bursting” and goes to hang off the stern…And he was the navigator!!
I remember seeing his chart when we were drifting around out in the channel. It was like a sine curve. Up and down as the current changed. Three days of 10 miles up then 10 miles down and one mile forward. It took us 4 days to finish that race (should have taken us 24 hours) we had NO food left but a bottle of rum and a can of coke that was in the bilge. I remember everyone taking a gulp of rum with a chaser of coke on the last mile in.
If I had to pick one thing about Rob but you know there were so many, it would be that he would always look for answers. Always question Always have a point of view. The conversation would always take a higher ground. We would always learn something. Sometimes even he would and we would always be better human beings after it
As an aside Rob and I went in search of Le Corbusier building just outside of Paris. We got lost so had to take a cab to find it. It was closed so we jumped the fence and had our own private tour for about an hour. Then suddenly a crazy French woman came running out screaming at us to GET OUT! GET out! POLICE POLICE. Well that’s what I think she was saying. We certainly knew what she meant. We jumped the fence again and ran for a mile down the road….. Lots of fun”
“I met Rob way back when as kids we sailed Andys at ZVYC,then onto when he designed our first house in Strawberry Lane, Then him sailing as navigator and tactician with Geoff and the boys and onto meeting up with him on our bicycles.
Rob was a great guy, always smiling and a with a good word for everyone.
He is sorely missed.
My memories of Rob are as a good friend and a happy face who loved life.
He was just a great guy to be around”
“I met Rob briefly in the army in ’70 when we gave him a lift from our army base in Bloemfontein to an inter provincial (Free State vs western Province) Sprog regatta in Hermanus. Rob was in the Parachute Battalion and I was in the Services Corps. We had also got to know each other from the 73 Rio Race, but our paths did not cross much as I was studying architecture at UCT and he at UPE.
Rob moved into my 3rd year class at UCT in January 73, and it was not long after that we started sailing together.
Rob resurrected the Meek Fireball , ‘Starfire’, that was made by his father George, probably with the help of Geoff as I think the boat was originally made for him. We had completely transformed the boat as it had become outdated in rig, had old sails and was not stiff enough to be competitive. Rob bought two mast sections and had them cut and welded to the desired shape and we bought all the rigging and rigged two masts. One was sold to pay for the other.
Geoff had just started the sail loft in Woodstock, so to get new sails we made the Bruce Banks logo for him and fixed them to the wall on the side of the building. We stiffened the boat by fixing struts between the centre board casing and the side deck and of course repainted and filled the bottom to have a competitive finish. I remember mixing talcum powder with the paint to thicken it so as to fill the indentations. All the work was carried out at our student digs in Claremont and the boat was moved into the lounge to be spray painted so as to have still conditions. The result was spray paint on everything in the lounge including the telephone, the hi fi set, the windows and was visible on any hard surface….but the boat was immaculately smooth.
Our first big outing on our ‘new boat’ was in East London where we came 13th in a light wind regatta with massive seas running. We borrowed the Meek regatta vehicle, the green Valiant station wagon, to tow the boat to East London. At that time there was a certain date that vehicle licences had to be displayed when annually renewed and we were aware that our trailer licence was out of date. Rob took his Vespa scooter licence that was valid rubbed a bit of dirty oil over it so that the vehicle type could not be read and put it in the display holder on the trailer. Sure enough just after midnight (on the 1st of whatever the month was), in the Ciskei on the way home we were stopped. The cop looked at the licences and was happy that all was in order.
We realised that to be competitive in the Fireball we had to put in a lot of practice. So whenever we had a spare moment from studies, weekdays or weekends, we would trail the boat to Simonstown and sail in the sea off Millers Point, sometimes in serious gales. Our boat handling improved and we became quite confident that we had some speed.
The next regatta off Durban in 76 or 77 was held in moderate breeze and huge seas, but by this time we could handle it adequately in spite of our desperate capsize downwind in the last race. We came second that regatta and went off to the Fireball Worlds in Ireland in 77.
Rob invented the concept of JIT (just in time) as he had so much on the go to fit in he was always late for the next activity. It was comical to watch him rig the Fireball in a hurry as he had the habit of running around the boat as fast as he could to get to the next job of rigging. As he was going so quickly he had to take a wide berth around the corners which he would have achieved equally at a slower pace. He ALWAYS wore a long sleeve wetsuit that he had to strip to the waist in the heat of the day.
Rob always used to say that races were won and lost in light and flukey conditions when those conditions prevailed. When the wind was blowing he would say that Races were always won and lost in windy conditions. If the seas were huge then races would always be won and lost in those conditions etc. He would never give up on a race no matter how cruel the conditions.
Rob loved sailing with the underdog. He never chose the rock stars to either sail with or for them to sail with him. He nurtured crews from scratch and built them up into competent crews. I was always amazed that he never (ever) thought himself better than any other crew member and as a skipper always listened to advice before making his decision. There was never a cross word spoken by Rob to his crew no matter how frustrated he might be at their shortcomings. He also loved inviting the old characters to sail with him. His favourite was to get Eric Budd to sail with him in the over 60’s race. Eric was always eccentric and I think Rob loved for that as his own tendency was to be a little eccentric in many ways.
What better place to be sailing with Rob in high winds and heavy seas. There was no better sea man and no safer hands to be in. When students we delivered a small boat from Mossel Bay to Cape Town for pocket money. We left Mossel Bay on a windless night and by the time we got to Cape Aghulas the wind was up. When we got to Cape Point it was a gale and by the time we were off Hout Bay the water was being ripped from the surface of the sea. We tore sails and couldn’t get the motor to start. Rob contacted Cape Town Radio to say that we were struggling up the coast and for them to be aware of our position. We managed to sail up into the harbour and struggle up onto the mooring without any further call to CTR.
In 1977 we were selected to represent South Africa at the Fireball World Championships in Cork, Ireland. Our boat (Fireball) Starfire 7035 was the second oldest boat at the worlds. The only older one was Les Nathanson’s…..7009. We tacked for the last mark in the last race and in our position would have come 10th overall. Unfortunately we capsized in the tack and once we had counted the boats that had passed us we realised it would be our worst race and therefore a discard. We sailed straight home disgusted with ourselves……..
When the boats were measured on the hard before the regatta Starfire was found to be too broad at the chain plates. We spent the night planing down the sides of the boat and giving it a quick coat of paint. It measured the next morning ready for the regatta. We were of the opinion that the pressure put on the boat by the ‘muscle box’, was deflecting the boat and moving the side decks out.
In one of the races in the pre regatta a boat capsized beside us and put its boom through our side gunnel. By next morning the hole was repaired and faired back to racing condition and we were back on the water.
All done at a stride.
I forgot to say that when we went to the regatta in Durban, we drove in convoy with JJ, Ali Serritslev and one or two others. We were in two cars, well actually a bakkie and a car. Rob went the whole way to Durban in the back of the bakkie in his sleeping bag. We also went through a couple of thunder storms with Rob in the back getting drenched.
We arrived at Springfontein, in the middle of the Free State, late at night and needed a place to sleep. We had heard the urban legend that if you needed to sleep in a Police station, they would lock you up for the night. So sure enough we slept the night in the Springfontein police station locked up in one cell complete with toilet bowl. At 6 in the morning they kicked us out and we were on our way again to Durban!!!”
“I remember Rob’s 60th birthday at the old Team Shosholoza base at the V&A Water front two years ago.
Rob singing Bob Dylan had us all falling to the ground laughing….He was absolutely wonderful.
One thing in my head is that he was one of my most wonderful Friends I have ever had.”
“Writing a tribute to Rob as a sailor, recollections of two yacht races spring to mind- our first and our last racing together on the same boat.
The 1989 Mauritius to Durban yacht race was the first. Our nine days at sea were full of adventure. We had a great top ten place despite the need for running repairs. The race was full of Rob’s larger than life contributions. His courage and seamanship as we pushed the boat relentlessly for days on end in winds ranging from 20 to 35 knots, his ingenuity in fixing a broken spinnaker pole to keep us in the race, his navigational skills, his wry sense of humour as he maintained our spirits and his fierce competitiveness as he kept us all focused on winning were all markers of the character of the man.
Somehow that race, despite all of its facets, does not give enough of an account of our great friend on the water.
The yacht race that truly captured all of the elements of Rob the sailor was the last one we shared in November of last year, the overnight YachtPort race to Saldanha Bay. Here was a race that Rob had conceived and driven. He was besotted with the idea of getting people to race a boat through the night so as to experience one of the great joys of sailing offshore. He was not content just ensuring his own boat was having fun but through his official duties at the Royal Cape Yacht Club was concerned that a fleet of sailors were on the ocean thrilled by the adventure of being at sea.
And we were blessed. We had glorious weather. We sailed in good breezes under a moonlit sky with a dazzling canopy of stars. Having rounded the imaginary mark in the early hours the next morning we picked our way back to Saldanha Bay around and through the rocks of numerous headlands jutting westward into the Atlantic with benign malevolence. The coastline gently bathed in early morning light equaled the beauty of the previous night’s spectacle.
And Rob was everywhere. He had promoted and helped organize the race, he prepared and directed Mwah, on the water he drove and trimmed the boat incessantly and meticulously and quietly he insisted that we were split into watches and took our allocated off watch rest to ensure a wakeful and fully alert boat at all times. And he laughed and he was exhilarated by the novelty of a racing fleet chasing along the West Coast for the first time in decades. In that excitement he saw all the possibilities of rejuvenating ocean racing as appetites were whet for more time at sea.
And that captures the essence of Rob. Nothing delighted him more than stimulating and challenging fellow travelers. Whether it was a fleet of yachtsmen or a nine year old tagging along with his dad on a Saturday afternoon race in Table Bay he engaged them all full on. His patience, thoughtful intellect, sympathetic exchanges and wonderful sense of humour meant that everyone came away with a life lesson and a skill learnt. And every step of the way had been fun.
It has been my privilege to have known Rob for 44 years. From a fifteen year old receiving steadying counsel on the eve of a major regatta to watching him taking my young son under his wing for his primary education in navigation our family has been gathered up by his friendship and will continue to be positively influenced by his values for a lifetime to come. He has been an inspiration to all privileged to have known him”.
“Rob was consistent, kind, considerate and friendly ALL the time.
Rob was one of those special guys; softly spoken, kind, gentle and exceptionally knowledgeable about every aspect of sailing. He was respected and admired as he was simply one of the best sailors around who sailed to win, yet played fair.
Our sport is poorer for his loss and the wisdom he brought to it.”
“ I sailed with Rob for 25 years. He had an extraordinary ability of always keeping a calm presence of mind that rubbed off on all of us. No matter what the conditions were, there was always an instinctive plan, sometimes out the box, that Rob had tucked up his sleeve. Iit made him a natural leader.
We all loved his casual approach. He was firm but encouraging, he always had the time to listen to the crew and use their input to the benefit of the boat.
I never heard him bad mouth a soul, he saw the best in everyone, inspired us all and taught a huge amount about people and boats
On the many long distance races from Mauritius and to Rio we would always arrive at the finish line a happy bunch. Rob could read people extremely well. He used this skill in selecting our crew that changed little over many years and many envied our always successful adventures. I was continuingly asked by all and sundry if there perhaps a spare berth on our boat
Rob always went the extra nautical mile with the young sailors. He always asked of my daughter Louise… and when would she be sailing again ? Would she join our crew? Would she like to meet so and so that would be a fun person for her to sail with. His approach to them all was that of genuine interest. You only had to see his interaction with the young sailors to know of their respect for him and to understand what an important role he played in sailing circles
We as a team miss him hugely. When the going gets tough I always ask myself now what would Rob have me do and the whispered reply is always- make small changes, trim up the boat, enjoy the moment.
So thanks to a great friend who was always there for us, gave everything of himself and made all the difference to all that he touched”
“Robbie was a lifelong friend.
He was such compelling company with an acute mind and an offbeat sense of humour. He was full of surprises and found unusual solutions to life’s day to day challenges. There was the occasion of his first outing in his proudly home made k1 canoe – on the Berg River in spate. Robbie eventually arrived at our destination on the back of a tandem bicycle, in his long john wetsuit, with the rear half of his canoe under his arm.
With Robbie, as with his brother Geoff, through the weeks, months and years of sailing together, there was never drama, nor disagreement – just beautiful synchronicity, peppered with surprises and dollops of humour.
Whenever I said goodbye to Robbie I found myself looking forward to our next encounter”
“Rob, my little humble Giant friend once said this to Dicky and myself,
“ You both looked like teenagers in your gold wigs even though you were falling around. “
That is how Rob look at life the glass was never empty it was always half full.”
Ettienne van Cuyck
I can remember Rob asking Steve Meek and I to take Panda over to deliver her to the USA in 1980. Both Steve and I did not know how to navigate so Rob who was one of the top navigators from South Africa taught us the basics – and that was how Steve and I managed to deliver Panda to America. Rob was so relaxed and gave us such positive ideas that we thought it would be no problem and that was what he had in him: to be able to say to yachties how anything can be done. My time sailing with Rob was always great. All the times that Fay and I spent with him in the UK and Europe in the 1980’s was at all times safe, fun and enjoyable, on the water and off. His humour was one of the best . We have lots of fond memories of him and still to this day we bring back stories of how much fun we had with him.
The most memorable time I had together with Rob was on ‘Windsong’ during the 2006 South Atlantic Yacht Race. As skipper he had both a relaxed and intellectual way about him. There was never a huge urgency, and somehow things got done without any fuss. He continuously queried all options and had an endearing quality of expressing an almost child-like wonderment at anything new that he had gleaned. Rob was also willing and able to impart his vast knowledge in a similar way, in doing so, maintaining a high level on enthusiasm amongst us.
Heading the crew in seniority, he still had a huge amount of energy, drive and tenacity. I can recall one incident in the early stages of the race, where the going was still quite tough in a strong South Easterly breeze, when he came down below into the cramped confines of our navigation station to discuss our options. He was dripping wet in his foul weather gear and stumbled over a stuffed spinnaker bag blocking the way on the cabin floor. After a short discussion he fell asleep still kneeling over the sail bag which earlier impeded his approach. An hour later he was back on the helm doing what he did best.
Challenges did not unsettle Rob, instead he made light of them and on this occasion resorted to poetry to express them. His favourite line for the trip was modified from Coleridge’s ‘The Ancient Mariner’
“Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink
Water water everywhere and our desalinator’s on the blink”
Rob was a dear friend and mentor who always looked at the positive side of any issue, and rather focused on that, than the negatives. He was a real team leader and always involved ever body on board the boat when decisions and tactics were discussed. He led by example and was never perceived as better than anyone else on the boat. He was happy to swop roles on board and would say at times “Today I will do the foredeck” or “I will go up the mast” when something needed to be fixed.
Rob never got flustered and always looked for solutions to the problem on hand. He was always calm and collected. He never had a bad word to say about anyone and was very popular at the club. He was always willing to give of his time to anyone who asked for advice. He was a true gentleman and friend and is sorely missed by all who knew him. His picture will remain on my wall for ever. My 27 years of sailing with Rob will always remain in my mind – we were so young then and enjoyed every moment of those races from Mauritius or to Rio together.
Rob Meek was always known as a gentleman and a giant in our society. For me, these qualities were further amplified in our childhood friendship where Rob had a profound influence on me.
My earliest sailing recollection was as a toddler being jammed beside the centreboard case of my father’s Sprog with a kapok lifejacket rendering me immobile. But my love for sailing really started at about 10 or 11 years of age when I crewed for Rob on his Dabchick at ZeekoeVlei. Rob’s brother Geoff and I were the same age, and Geoff crewed for Cheryl Warr on her Dabbie while I learnt the ropes with Rob. He was laid back, but at the same time a competitor in the true sense. It was a good mix for me which helped make sailing become my life’s pastime and spin off into my career as a boat builder.
Rob was also pretty quirky—I remember to this day Rob’s refrain which he sang each time the wind dropped: “When the wind drops, my brain stops. When my brain stops, the boat stops . . .” We were brought up in the Cape Southeaster and for my whole sailing life I remembered this chorus when the wind dropped and the Vaalies from upcountry overtook me.
Besides his well-known traits, what stuck out to me was that Rob “really had his stuff together.” And I mean really. As a youth I was a Sea Scout with the 2nd Plumstead troop and attended a Scout competition at Gilcape near Cape Town. We were pretty useless and I remember trying to build a bridge or whatever with staves lashed together with ropes. Our bridge and our campsite was not something to write home about—a shambles in fact. I remember walking around the compound and coming across the 2nd Pinelands camp. Rob was a leader of this group and wow, was there camp organized and their stave work absolutely perfect! I was so jealous! (We took our lives very seriously then . . .) Needless to say we were at the bottom of the competition while Rob’s team was first or second in the whole Western Cape. Believe me, they were organized and this has stuck in my head forever. This organizational skill has shone through during Rob’s life as a sailor, skipper, navigator, family man, architect, and anything else he touched.
It’s weird, of all of the great memories I have of a lifetime’s friendship with Rob, these two events from 50 years ago are burnt in my brain like a beacon—a shining example of who he was and his influence on me.
GAPP Architechts and Urban Designers
It is with profound shock and sadness that we record the sudden untimely death of Rob, who died from a gunshot wound as a result of an attempted armed robbery attack on New Year’s Eve whilst he was on holiday with his family at Mpande on the wild coast near Port St John’s. Rob’s gentle and empathetic nature makes this senseless act all the more bewildering and difficult to comprehend.
Born and brought up in Cape Town, Rob began his studies at the Nelson Mandela University (formerly UPE) and obtained his architectural degree at the University of Cape Town, before going on to specialise in Urban Design at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes University) in the UK. Rob was a founder member of GAPP Architects and Urban Designers, and before that a partner of Prinsloo Parker Flint Elliott and van Den Heever. Some of us have known Rob since university days and have worked in practice together for over 30 years, 20 of which have been with GAPP.
He embraced architecture and urban design with passion, care and a spirit of adventure. He brought a special touch to the practice of urban design with his unique understanding of everything maritime, which was firmly anchored in his deep love of sailing. Rob was also a practical and talented architect and his portfolio of projects demonstrates that he was able to combine the best of all his talents in the various waterfront developments with which he has been involved over the years.
During his career he worked on many iconic projects, possibly the most high-profile being the very successful Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town. He was integral to the pioneering design team that worked with the V&A Waterfront Company from its inception and right through to the present, some 22 years later. Quite apart from his innate feeling and love for urbanism, his passion for sailing meant that he was seldom happier than when designing marinas and waterfronts as tough, sensible places that never lost that romance of the sea and maritime charm.
In the early years of the V&A Waterfront GAPP were the Urban Designers, and Rob lead the project for the conversion of Quay 4 and the new facilities for the NSRI. Dave Jack, the first CEO, has acknowledged this as one of the original benchmark design projects that set the world class standard for the Cape Town Waterfront. Rob has more recently been involved in the Precinct Plan for Granger Bay, which will link the V&A Waterfront to the Atlantic Seaboard. In addition to this he has been a central player in motivating for a new small craft harbour with Provincial and Local Government, in order to provide a safe haven for small fishing and recreation craft in Granger Bay. Rob was also the lead Director on the Knysna Quays Marina development which stands as a successful model of a small town mixed use waterfront development.
Apart from his extensive involvement in tourism and leisure, much of his work was also devoted to lower-income housing and community-based design that saw housing less as an object or product and more as an integral piece of liveable places that engendered hope, local economy and urban prospect.
Rob travelled widely and his urban design work took him across Africa from Nigeria, Congo Brazzaville, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, the Middle East, Malaysia, the Indian Ocean Islands and around Southern Africa. Recently his work has included local housing and a new integrated community project on the Cape Flats at Oaklands.
People loved working with Rob – you never worked for Rob – and his belief in the teams he either led or participated in rubbed off on everyone and brought out the best in them. Everything he did was done thoughtfully, carefully, authentically and, above all, gently – he was a beautiful, gentle, talented and caring person. For all his gentleness, though, when he thought an idea or principle was worth fighting for, he had tenacity and courage second to none that made him a leader that people were prepared to follow.
Rob was beyond all else a team player and his vast circle of colleagues and friends attest to his open nature, enquiring mind and his abounding energy for an active life, lived to the full in the company of friends and family. He had a profound sense of fairness and, if anything, erred more on the side of being unfair to himself in his self-deprecating and humble demeanour. One found this in his humour too and, man, he was funny, and, very often, at his own expense.
Rob has touched so many in his rich and varied life that we rail at the thought of a contributing career cut so senselessly short but, with the passing of anger and hurt, we’ll come to see his contribution to architecture and urban design as complete, fulfilled and fulfilling.
Rob has left a legacy that will be long remembered and respected and he will be sorely missed. His life stands as a beacon to us all to live life to the full and to strive to add our best through individual innovation, commitment and enthusiasm.
It is seldom in life that one makes the acquaintance of a an individual endowed with the unique human qualities as was the case in my experience of knowing Rob Meek as a friend, professional colleague, fellow club member and fellow Trustee of the South African Ocean Racing Trust, a position he was invited to serve on in 2008. His brutal passing is difficult to absorb. Our thoughts go out to loving and brave Di, Louise and Claudia and the extended family.
For the club sailing community Rob was a consistent valuable resource over years for many of our events. Although a very busy professional in his field, he gave freely of his time for his beloved sport of sailing. To all who knew him he was a very fair-minded person willing always to give encouragement and advice to all levels and categories of sailing ability in the most humble manner. Rob could always be relied on to give input with a quiet, rational and even-handed approach to any situation. For those of us competing on the water it was not an unfamiliar sight to see Rob in the recent past, even given at his current age, doing foredeck duty on a 42 foot racer due to an inexplicable state of lack of crew in a club event. Even his activity “up front” could not dispel our concerns that normally, any boat having Rob aboard crewing in any position would have an unfair advantage!
Testament to the diligence and professionalism was that was typical of Rob, he would, on occasions, be too busy to return a call at a given moment. Nevertheless however, he would never fail to follow-up on returning the call even if it was way past, even for professionals, time to quit and call it a day. Sometimes even days would pass but eventually Rob would return that call.
It was hardly ever necessary to put out a repeat call. One such occasion was when I left a message for him on voicemail, not knowing that he was out of the country and, in a different time zone, when he returned the call to apologise in the typical calm and un-phased manner, even though it had caused him loss of sleep to make the call back in my wakeful time.
Rob gave gratis professional input over nearly 20 years into physical planning forward for the future of the yacht club. In 1998, together with architect and honorary life club member, John Adler, a future vision for the permanent establishment of RCYC in its present location, was presented to members. This vision is still feasible for implementation currently, provided that the conditions for the renewal of our lease with the NPA can be resolved to the club’s satisfaction. The loss of Rob’s skills in this regard is enormous. I was privileged to work with Rob on this proposal and having worked with him as a professional colleague in the built environment including the planning and early development phases of the V&A, had come to respect him for his structured, creative thinking and diligent dedication to the work at hand. Until his untimely passing Rob was engaged with further planning proposals for the V&A as well as future visions for the extended sea front into Moulle Point. Inasmuch as Rob was central to the creative thinking regarding this future vision his passing is a great loss not only to our club, in addition it is a loss to the extended community of greater Cape Town.
President: Royal Cape Yacht Club
Chairman: Board of Trustees – South African Ocean Racing Trust
Di Meek, wife and lifelong companion: “The amount of people that came to Rob’s funeral was overwhelming; a huge tribute to Rob. We’d have held it at RCYC, if Bishop Desmond Tutu hadn’t offered to have it at St George’s Cathedral. Tutu said he’d only ever seen the cathedral so full at a Christmas midnight mass a few years ago. We wouldn’t have got to know the Arch so well, or even gone to his Friday morning services and the breakfast that followed – if it wasn’t for sailing and Tutu agreeing to be the patron of Team Shosholoza in 2005. Being press officer for the team meant being in constant email contact with Tutu, and he and Rob developed a great relationship.”