Alexander John Forbes was born in 1969 and died in the spring of 2021. Alex was a writer and a sailor, a scholar and keeper of traditional wooden boat ways, a horseman, a small plane pilot and a mountain climber, a patternmaker, a woodworker, a logistician and a teacher. He was a lover of language and story, of beauty and quiet. He was an inventor and an explorer of worlds.
Alex grew up on boats. For years his summer job was ferrying folks between Southwest Harbor and Greenings Island aboard the lobster boat Annie T. He was a rigger on the team at Mystic Seaport that recreated the Amistad, he served aboard the tall ship Californian and he skippered the classic schooner Voyager from Morocco to the Caribbean. And he was known for his own boat — all along the Downeast coast and the length of the Salish Sea people who didn’t know Alex personally knew the unforgettable sight of Bucephalus coming in under sail or walking away with a race the smallest of her class had no right to win or executing a graceful figure eight to get a better look at another pretty boat.
Alex paid attention to how things are made and what they mean — boats, clocks, stories, adventures, friendships. To him, loving something meant taking care of it, and he developed an extraordinary range of skills and knowledge in order to do right by the various people, places and passions he collected over the years. When he couldn’t find a fitting he needed for Bucephalus, Alex taught himself patternmaking and was so good at it, the foundry wound up hiring him to produce rare and one-of-a-kind pieces. Introduced to a passion for the outdoors through The Athenian School, Alex scaled Aconcagua in Argentina, sea kayaked off the coast of Baja and spent seasons climbing in the Sierras and in his beloved Death Valley. He went on to teach at the National Outdoor Leadership School and he returned to Athenian for many years to do logistical planning and field work for their wilderness program, leaving as lasting a positive impression on the school as it did on him. He first trained as an EMT at Meeks Bay Fire Department in Lake Tahoe and later also served as a member of the VFD in Southwest Harbor, helping to create an independent fire “station” on tiny Greenings Island. Wherever he went, in all these capacities and many more, Alex made deep and lasting connections.
He listened to the people others talk over — awkward children, old people, skittish animals. He learned a lot this way and it also made him an exceptional teacher. Generous, patient and encouraging, he was known for sharing the wealth of his knowledge, experience and humor in deep or passing conversations on the dock, in his shop, or as “Pitsligo” on the message boards for various esoteric interests and arcane crafts. Alex hardly ever accepted an invitation, but if you asked for a favor or information, he always responded at the very least with a well-researched referral. We all have stories of the irreplaceable part Alex played in our lives and we’ll all be a bit adrift without him.
It is notable that Alex didn’t draft his own obituary. He took care of just about every other detail and everyone knows he was a great writer. Maybe it was because he couldn’t bring himself to tout his own accomplishments; though objectively the list is too long and varied to do it justice here, Alex was allergic to hyperbole and could poke a hole in any compliment. Maybe he valued ability more than accomplishment. He was most able. Until he was not. Then he left this world.
Alex is survived by his parents, Peter Forbes, Patricia Nelson and Eric Nelson, his sisters Anne de Marcken and Allegra Forbes, Anne’s spouse Marilyn Freeman, his aunt Pamela Forbes and uncles Michael Forbes and John Marsh, cousins Sophia McLane and Charles Marsh, by a few essential others, including Erica Forbes and Mary Elizabeth Forbes, by a small handful of very close friends, and by a vast network of cherished acquaintances.
Remembrances can be shared at https://www.mykeeper.com/profile/AlexanderForbes and donations may be made to the Natural Resources Defense Council.