During those first years of building Restless, a steel 50-foot cutter whose meticulous construction would take nearly half his life, Bob Kingsland contemplated the kinds of design decisions that pitted his perfectionism against the simple practicality of getting his boat onto the water.
“You have to decide whether it’s worth it to increase the quality 5 percent by investing 20 percent more time,” he told the Globe in 1981, when he thought completion was a few years away, not more than a quarter century.
He was never building just a boat, of course. An artist whose métier was metal, Mr. Kingsland created a sculpture that would ride the waves. And as years passed and reporters checked in to chart his progress, he seemed to be speaking as much about his life when he talked about his boat.
“You come to see the whole thing not as one project, but a series of independent projects that you just figure out as you’re doing them,” he told the Globe in May 2007, when launch day was just a few weeks away. “It’s like learning to learn. You learn how to solve problems and just get things done because you have to.”
Mr. Kingsland, who taught in Boston University’s Scientific Instruments Facility and spent years as a harpooner and spotter pilot for swordfishermen, died in his Scituate home on June 22 of lung cancer that had metastasized to the brain. He was 65.
‘Machinists are not mechanics, they are really artists. . . . And if you consider them as artists, Bob was one of the greatest.’
“He didn’t get to sail to the South Pacific,” said his wife, Sandy, “but he built this wonderful piece of art.”
Everything that passed through Mr. Kingsland’s hands seemed to acquire a sense of permanence and beauty. At Boston University, where he was a senior experimental machinist, his welding prowess dazzled as he crafted vacuum chambers for faculty members, and his teaching inspired students. “He wove the stories of his life into his class and he taught them that no problem is too large to find a solution,” his wife said.
Mr. Kingsland was so popular that a course he taught remains booked for the next year and a half, said Michael El-Batanouny, a physics professor at BU. “He was a great teacher,” El-Batanouny said. “And he was a great artist, not just a machinist. Machinists are not mechanics, they are really artists, they build beautiful things. And if you consider them as artists, Bob was one of the greatest.”
Mr. Kingsland brought no less care and attention to creating a life away from the classroom, the shop, and his boat.
“One thing I’ve been learning after his death is I had such a strong sense of him as my father, as a remarkable father,” said his daughter Brooke of Boston. “He was a friend and a confidant and an adviser, and so available as a dad.”
His other daughter, Haley of San Francisco, said in a eulogy that “though he was the person who understood me the most, I am still unraveling my father’s complexities.”
“I say with certainty that he was genuine, brilliant, a good shipmate. Yet he was also a blend of dualities. Decisive but deliberate. Self-respecting but humble. A meticulous dreamer. A man who slew swordfish with his bare hands but wept when our poodle went blind. A father whose parting advice to my sister and me was simply, ‘Be happy. Be yourself.’ ”
Robert Carey Kingsland was born in an elevator at Boston Lying-In Hospital while his mother was en route to a delivery room. “I think that probably started out his life of stories,” his wife said.
Before settling in Cohasset, his father was a physician in the Navy and US Foreign Service. Mr. Kingsland spent part of his childhood in Italy and Pakistan and “crossed the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific by ship before I was 10,” he wrote on www.sv-restless.com, a website devoted to his boat.
The third of five children, he graduated from Cohasset High School. At Brown University, he majored in anthropology, minored in metal sculpture, and graduated in 1970.
After a stint as a diver conducting underwater archaeological research at a Mayan site in a Guatemalan lake, he helped found a company that made metal sculptures and bells.
In 1971, he began working in commercial swordfishing, spending three weeks at a time at sea. After learning to pilot the spotter plane, he flew some 3,500 hours, scanning the ocean from an altitude of 500 feet.
On his 30th birthday, hospitalized after badly breaking a leg skiing, he decided to fulfill a childhood wish to build a boat. By the time he was out of the cast, he had a 15-page list of design requirements. In April 1979, he began.
Four years later, he married Sandy Smith. In addition to showing the gradual growth of the boat, photo galleries on its website bring his daughters from childhood to young adulthood on launch day, and Mr. Kingsland from his early 30s to 60.
“I’m still thinking in terms of a family cruise around the world,” he told the Globe in 1992.
“My dad was really fearless, I felt,” Brooke said. “He really didn’t perceive a lot of limits.”
Mr. Kingsland, Haley said in an interview, “was deeply drawn and very connected to the beauty in the world. He loved being at sea, and he loved looking at the light at sunrise, and he loved watching birds in flight. Outdoors, he loved being surrounded by beauty. And he was an artist, and loved creating beauty as well.”
A service has been held for Mr. Kingsland, who in addition to his wife and two daughters leaves two sisters, Margaret of Missoula, Mont., and Holly of Manhattan Beach, Calif.; and two brothers, Larry of Asheville, N.C., and Richard of Encinitas, Calif.
In a eulogy she and her sister delivered together, Brooke said her father “made living an extraordinary experience.”
Dying, she added, was as significant a journey for her father, who had dreamed of sailing his boat to warm water and palm trees.
“He found joy and meaning in life up until the end,” Brooke said in an interview. “He was happy to watch a little chickadee or sit and listen to his favorite music.”
can be reached