Robert P. Slaff, a former marine-supply vendor and journalist who wrote widely on Chesapeake Bay maritime and environmental matters, died March 8 of congestive heart failure at Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center. The Epping Forest resident was 89.
The son of a newspaper distributor and a homemaker, Robert Paul Slaff was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and raised in Kingston, Pa., near Wilkes-Barre.
After graduating in 1940 from Wyoming Seminary Preparatory School in Kingston, Mr. Slaff began studies at the University of Michigan, where he also was a member of the Navy ROTC.
"It was the beginning of the war, and they were scratching around for all the warm bodies they could get," Mr. Slaff told The Capital newspaper in Annapolis in a 2009 interview. "They gave me the choice of parachute packer, or flying weather balloons or going to blimp school … and I went to blimps."
He enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and became a quartermaster aboard blimps.
Initially stationed near New Orleans, Mr. Slaff later flew 55 missions aboard blimps from bases in Trinidad and French and British Guyana in the Caribbean and South Atlantic, spotting German U-boats that were on the prowl for Allied ships.
After being discharged from the Navy with the rank of lieutenant, Mr. Slaff returned to Michigan, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1947 in political science.
His decorations, which he received in a 2009 ceremony at the Naval Academy, included the Navy Air Medal with gold and silver stars and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Mr. Slaff's lifelong affair with boats and boating began on a family vacation to Harvey's Lake near Wilkes-Barre, when he tried unsuccessfully sailing a Barnaget Bay Pumpkin Seed sailboat, which he immediately rolled over.
In 1958, Mr. Slaff founded Inland Marine in the basement of his Kingston home and became a successful distributor of British Seagull Motors, Avon inflatable boats, Marlow Ropes and other marine equipment.
In 1982, after merging his company with Imtra Corp., he was able to realize his dream of living near the Chesapeake Bay when he moved to Eastport.
Soon after, Mr. Slaff earned his Coast Guard captain's license and began a charter boat business, taking anglers on charters aboard his 30-foot boat, the Inmar. He continued doing so until he was 86.
"Being a charter fishing captain on the Chesapeake Bay is like being aristocracy," Mr. Slaff told The Capital.
From 1973 to 1976, he served as president of the Susquehanna River Basin Association.
With his large and distinctive white handlebar mustache, dark Greek fishermen's cap and vanity license plates that read "BOATBOB," Mr. Slaff was a familiar presence for more than three decades along the Annapolis waterfront.
He was a member of the board and later served as president of the Marine Trade Association in Annapolis from 1986 to 1989. In 1988, he was appointed to the Maryland Boat Act Advisory Committee, where he served for more than 20 years until his health began to fail.
During the late 1980s, he served for four years as a member of the Annapolis Maritime Advisory Board. He was a longtime active member of the Maryland Watermen's Association and was a member for 27 years of the Eastport Yacht Club.
Mr. Slaff wrote a weekly boating column for The Capital from 1988 to 2009 and had written a boating column for The Baltimore Sun. He also wrote a regular column for The Mariner, a regional Chesapeake Bay publication, and Nor' Easter.
In 2007, Gov. Martin J. O'Malley named Mr. Slaff the state's first Ambassador of the Chesapeake.
"From his days with the U.S. Navy to his work as a journalist, Bob has demonstrated a lifelong passion for our waterways, and a tireless commitment to Maryland's unrivaled maritime community," Governor O'Malley said at the time. "I can think of no more appropriate candidate for our first Chesapeake Bay Ambassador designation."
He was a member of Congregation Kol Shalom in Annapolis, where services were held March 12.
Surviving are his wife of 65 years, the former Esther Shapiro; a son, Bruce T. Slaff of Harrisburg, Pa.; three daughters, Sara Slaff of Baltimore, Susan Slaff Lefkowitz of Bethesda and Amy Slaff Creelman of Newport Beach, Calif.; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.