Longtime peninsula resident Robert W. Senske, 80, passed peacefully on Sept. 6 due to complications from knee surgery.
A Long Beach native and 1955 graduate of St Anthony High School, Bob attended Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach, served in the Air Force and then had a long and successful career as an insurance broker until the time of his death. He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Carol, daughters Dorothy Willingham and Pam Sullivan, and son Robert, Jr., along with nine grandchildren.
According to family members, some of his ashes will be sprinkled over Big Geiger Cove in Catalina, where he was a longtime member of the Blue Water Cruising Club (BWCC) and was famous for being the “Candy Man” during Labor Day festivities.
Senske packed bags of saltwater taffy on board every Labor Day weekend and would dress up in a gaudy sport coat and toss pieces to youngsters from an overturned Avon inflatable. The children would slowly crowd around in their own inflatables or simply tread water while swimming. The Candy Man would keep them at bay by lobbing taffy pieces all the way back to the rear of the flotilla, but once he ran out, he would search futilely in his pockets for more. That was a sign, Bob Jr. said, for the flotilla to slowly close in on him.
“The tradition started with me and a few of the younger teenagers in the cove physically boarding his overturned raft and dumping him," Bob Jr. said. "He was only around 40 years old at the time, so it was quite a wrestling match to get him off, even with three or four kids on his back.”
Years later, this simple way to beat the heat in a private cove turned into a lavish production that drew huge crowds and featured a Sammy Davis, Jr. recording blaring out his version of that famous tune on a nearby boom box. Bob never missed a performance in 40 years and only retired last year.
“The Candy Man was like Vin Scully, still letting himself get tossed in the drink by kids at age 79. He went out on top on his own terms,” Bob Jr. said.
Senske was more than a waterman’s go-to guy for insurance. He was their trusted advisor, a friend who was always there to lend a hand, and quick to tell a story or a clever joke.
Gondola Getaway’s Mike McBride said, “There is not a gondola in America that isn’t insured by Bob.”
One story involved an East Coast gondola company client who contacted Senske for advice while bracing for a major north Atlantic storm. He was worried his fleet would be battered and wondered how he might secure them.
Senske’s advice, “Sink them.”
The client did as suggested and was so pleasantly surprised that he over-nighted a live Atlantic lobster packed in dry ice as a thank you.
Bob would seek commercial accounts at waterfront locations because he enjoyed patronizing businesses that would be fun to visit when he wasn’t working, his family said. Owners-clients of waterfront bars and restaurants got to know him well, as he would often end each day with a glass of white wine at one of his accounts.
Senske’s business was so connected with his waterworld lifestyle that you could literally track his success by the boats he owned over the years, according to Bob Jr.
“He and my mom started with a Cal 20 in the late ’60s and early ’70s," Bob Jr. said. "Then, when dad moved his office to Ocean Boulevard in downtown, they traded it in for a Coronado 25. By the 1980s, dad had partnered with another prominent insurance family in Long Beach and we traded up again to a Cal 34. That was the perfect size boat for a family of five. We had great years in that boat.”
Big Geiger Cove, located about two miles west of Two Harbours on Catalina, is the only leased cove on the entire island that is limited to anchorage only. That means BWCC members must know how to lay and secure both a bow and stern anchor, because vessels are packed too close together within the cove to take chances should the wind or seas flare up. It is a tricky maneuver, even for experienced sailors.
The membership is in fact so concerned with maintaining high nautical standards that BWCC presents annually the red-and-black “dumb bell” flag for blunders at sea as a joke. Over the years, it is rumored to have been awarded to Senske 43 times. However, he was not nominated so much for any real lack of seamanship; it was because members were so entertained by his defenses, that they awarded the flag to him just to hear another good story.
Good stories and side-splitting jokes followed Senske on another of his waterfront passions, Grand Prix weekend in Rainbow Harbor. Bob would take his beloved “Sweet Caroline,” a beamy 31-foot Tiara powerboat that he and Carol owned for the last 10 years, from Alamitos Bay all the way to Rainbow Harbor during race week.
Since the race always fell on or near Bob’s April 17 birthday, he would host a dock party on Saturday before the race in front of the Yard House, complete with birthday cake, partygoers and his signature oversized acrylic wine glass. Race fans attending those waterfront dock parties often took pictures with Bob, much like a child would take with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. He was that approachable, complete with bright salmon coat and Chi Chi Rodriquez fedora.
Bob and Carol’s mutual love for the sea was the glue behind their 59-year union, according to family members. More often than not, they could be spotted cruising around Alamitos Bay almost nightly during the summer in their 8-foot motorized inflatable.
“Sunset cocktail cruises through the bay and Naples canals were an everyday event with my dad,” Bob Jr. said.
Recently, Senske had a routine after spending the morning at his HMBD Insurance office at 3633 E. Broadway, according to his son. Bob would take his inflatable dingy across the bay and dock in front of the Boathouse restaurant, go upstairs for a visit with his buddies in the property’s leasing office directly above the kitchen and have a glass of white wine, then end up downstairs among the active restaurant patrons for a night cap.
“About 90% of his life was spent on the water,” the younger Senske added.
His celebration of life will be at Alamitos Bay Yacht Club, where the family has been members since 1968, from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 30. Friends are encouraged to wear Hawaiian shirts.