Farewell Lane Briggs

It is with deep regret we announce the passing of Lane Briggs today, September 19, 2005 in Norfolk Virginia, cheerful and always thinking of others to the last, after having fought a long bout with cancer. Lane will be deeply missed, but always remembered in the many ways he has added to our lives and schooners. There will be an Irish wake at 1:00 PM on Saturday, September 24th at Rebel Marine, 1553 Bayville Street in Norfolk. Additional details may also be available from Kathryn Laube (laube01@earthlink.net).

Al Roper has indicated a Foundation for Lane is in the offing for charitable donation to causes Lane actively supported during his life.

Lane, may you always have fair winds and following seas, for you have not departed from us, having only passed over a horizon ahead of us, on a course we too shall follow.

A Tribute to our friend Lane

On National Pirates’ Day, Monday, September 19th, tugs in Hampton Roads lowered their flags to half-mast to honor one of their own: one of the saltiest men alive, Captain Lane Allen Briggs, an icon on the Norfolk waterfront, known and revered from Canada to Key West, sailed to the other shore.

Born to Jason and Lizzie Briggs in Mars Hill, North Carolina, Captain Briggs was the first of three generations of captains. As a teenager, he left the mountains and discovered the sea, where he worked his way to Captain - then led his four sons to do the same. The third generation of sailors and seamen he inspired includes his grandkids but encompasses hundreds of ‘adoptees’ influenced by his passion and commitment to seamanship, his leadership, generosity and salty charisma.

Bigger than life, tenacious, soft-hearted, generous to a fault, Briggs was always an innovator, always a forward-thinker. His nickname "the red-headed rebel" captured his look and the roguish charm that marked his company, Rebel Marine Service, and his workboats; Steel Rebel, Carolina Rebel, Captain Reb, and Norfolk Rebel. As a founder of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, Captain Briggs spearheaded the largest point-to-point schooner race in the world, keeping schooner sailing alive on his beloved Chesapeake Bay. The Schooner Race has raised over $73,000 for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation since 1990. Content to work behind the scenes, he never sought celebrity or recognition for his good works but was willing to take the spotlight when a worthy cause would benefit.

Capt. Briggs served in the Coast Guard as a damage-control tech, spent time running captain on private yachts on the Great Lakes, and he even was master of a hydrofoil commuter boat on the James River, before getting his first tug, the Steel Rebel, in the sixties. His large stock of sea stories included proud tales of helping to build the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

Briggs' enterprises and innovations were many – for decades he ran Rebel Marine Service, one of the most successful salvage companies in the region. He built Rebel Marina in Willoughby Spit, in Norfolk, which is still in the family. The Captain was best known as the master of the Norfolk Rebel, a sail-assisted tug he built and launched at the height of the oil crisis of the early eighties, to use wind power to conserve fuel. He used the versatile schooner-rigged Norfolk Rebel for towing, commercial fishing, salvage work, and even some cargo. During the oil crisis that caused coal-carrying vessels to stack up in the harbor for months awaiting cargo, he led a fleet of carollers out to serenade collier crews on the Sunday before Christmas. In 1984, the Norfolk Rebel circumnavigated Virginia via the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, appearing as an attraction at the New Orleans Worlds Fair.

He coined the term "Tugantine" to describe his unique hybrid creation. He found a niche towing fragile tall ships and old character vessels that included Cousteau's Calypso, making friends far and wide in the world of large sailing vessels.

Captain Briggs was widely known in the world of schooners and tall ships; recognized by his huge white muttonchops, shiny golden earring, well-weathered appearance and booming voice complete with North Carolina drawl. Many an East Coast and Great Lakes Tall Ship Event including ASTA’s Tall Ships Challenge series were enriched by Captain Briggs and the Norfolk Rebel – each a character in their own right. In 2001, Captain Briggs received the coveted American Sail Training Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Briggs was celebrated in Norfolk on the officially declared ‘Capt. Lane Briggs & First Officer Reb Day’ December 16, 1981; was made an Honorary Citizen of Tarpon Springs, Florida in 1983; was named ‘Mr. Formal But Tacky’ in 1991; and won the American Schooner Association’s rarest medal. First Officer Reb was his trusty side-kick – the black lab-setter mix whose ashes will now be mingled with his captain’s. Of his many citations, feature stories, publications and accolades, he was most proud of his mention in Weekly Reader. His escapades, rescues and adventures will live on in numerous songs, poems, books and tales – some published widely, others shared over a ‘cup of tea’.

Married almost twenty years to the former Rose Marie Keppers, Briggs fathered four boys. He is survived by Captain Jesse Briggs and wife Meghan Wren Briggs, Captain Terry Briggs, Captain David Briggs and Captain Steven Briggs; grandchildren Samantha Briggs, Justin Burgess, Lee Briggs and Rasheeda Hancock, Captain Chessy (named for the Chesapeake) Briggs and Delbay (named for Delaware Bay) Wren Briggs; nephew Owen Tilson and E.J. Briggs, and nieces Susan Nesbitt, Patty Stapleton and Rowena Perez. Captain Briggs was pre-deceased by three brothers, Glen, Dean and Kenneth and two sisters, Julia and Athylene.

Lane’s extended family was as wide as an ocean. Young people often found a father-figure in this loving and gentle curmudgeonly "pirate" of Willoughby Spit, who equipped his vessels with black-powder cannons and hosted a huge regatta every year. Briggs was always willing to reach out to troubled youth, and trained many young men and women for careers in the marine industry. His enormous heart and twinkling gaze will be widely missed.

Capt. Briggs was instrumental in the modern rebirth of his adopted city of Norfolk, Virginia, as one of a handful of visionaries who took a blighted urban wasteland and made it a haven for visiting sailors through such entities as Nautical Adventures, The Norfolk School of Boatbuilding, Harborfest, Festevents, the Hampton Roads Navy, Sail Assist International Liaison Associates, Norfolk School of Fisheries and Seamanship, and Town Point Yacht Club.

He lived to see a great dream come true when the Schooner Virginia was commissioned this year, finally giving Virginia her own sailing ambassador to race against Maryland's Pride of Baltimore and ships from other states.

Recently Captain Briggs had moved off the Tugantine and onto the smaller motorsailer Black Dog, which he used to explore inland rivers and escape the chilly winters of Virginia in the Florida Keys. His reputation and character were no less appreciated in his second home, where he soon developed a devoted following.

Captain Briggs possessed a rare gift for forming lasting close friendships with men and women from every strata of society, young and old. The fortunate beneficiaries of this gift each felt Lane was their best friend. And we are legion.

Donations may be sent to the American Sail Training Association for the benefit of the Captain Lane Briggs Sail Training Fund, care of ASTA, PO Box 1459, Newport, RI 02840 http://tallships.sailtraining.org. Condolences and sea tales for the benefit of his descendants can be emailed to tugantine@aol.com.