|CHARLES M. QUINLAN JR.|
Charles M. Quinlan Jr., retired shipmaster, 82
Charles M. Quinlan Jr. dreamed of bringing Boston its first new clipper ship in more than 100 years. A retired shipmaster who was also a US Air Force pilot and a rodeo performer as a young man, Captain Quinlan rallied maritime history buffs and Boston business leaders behind the idea before plans for “Shining Sea’’ fizzled a decade ago.
“He was a class A sailor; his vision and his enthusiasm were very catching,’’ said his friend, charter captain Russell Tryder, who sails The Formidable out of Rockport.
Captain Quinlan, who died of cancer Aug. 27 in Portsmouth, N.H., at age 82, envisioned a proud American clipper standing 236 feet tall on the modern East Boston waterfront, where famed shipbuilder Donald McKay once launched his famous clippers in the mid-1800s.
But banking industry interest in sponsoring the project eventually cooled, and the nation’s economy went sour, leaving the Shining Sea Foundation kaput by the start of the new millennium.
“He was still always talking about clipper ships,’’ said his friend Louise Olsen, a former foundation board member.
“He thought America should not have a flagship that was a war prize from Nazi Germany,’’ she said, referring to the Horst Wessel, which was seized and rechristened Eagle in 1946 and serves as a Coast Guard Academy training vessel.
Captain Quinlan attended Tufts University before he joined the Air Force.
In 1990, he accepted a flag from the USS Constitution in a sunset ceremony onboard Old Ironsides marking the Shining Sea Foundation’s kickoff. He also met with actor Lloyd Bridges, who appeared in a fund-raising announcement for the project, which was estimated to cost more than $21 million then.
“He believed in the American clipper ship; he was extremely knowledgable and a real man of the sea,’’ said sculptor Armond LaMontagne of Scituate, R.I., who had agreed to create a female figurehead for the prow of the Shining Sea.
The foundation wanted a ship’s figurehead representing East Boston heroine Mary Patten, who navigated “Neptune’s Car’’ around Cape Horn to San Francisco in the 1850s after her husband, the ship’s captain, fell ill. Patten was 19 at the time and pregnant with their son.
Born in Highland Falls, N.Y., Captain Quinlan was a lanky sea captain whose wiry physique hinted at his early days in rodeo, including an appearance at the World Championship Rodeo at Madison Square Garden. He learned the art of trick roping from his father, who was a rodeo star and comic book illustrator.
Captain Quinlan spent nine years in the Air Force in the 1950s, where he attained the rank of captain. He also was a US Merchant Marine officer and was a licensed master of steam, motor, and auxiliary sail vessels. He worked as a licensed mariner in the British Virgin Islands and ran charter boats during the fledgling days of the industry in the islands, friends said.
He entertained friends with tales of his travels. He spoke of attending a bull fight in Mexico with author Ernest Hemingway sitting nearby and of surviving many storms at sea. He married once and was divorced.
“He had a great sense of humor; he was a fun guy,’’ said Jeremy D’Entremont of Portsmouth, who became one of Captain Quinlan’s friends through the Shining Sea dream. “He just was very inspirational and magnetic in the way he described his vision for this ship and maritime center. He believed in that so deeply. . . . It was a fantastic project and would have been so great for Boston and East Boston. It remains a great idea.’’
When the Shining Sea Foundation dissolved, Captain Quinlan focused on caring for his elderly mother, who recently died in her 90s, his friends said.
Captain Quinlan leaves his daughter, Elizabeth Gray of Eugene, Ore.; his sister, Diana Rugh of Fairfield, Iowa; and two granddaughters.
Services have been held. Burial was in Peacedale Cemetery in Highland Falls.