Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Francis Gobinet: "larger than life"

Picture 1281ps
Yesterday news spread around the world quickly of the tragic and untimely death of Antiguan superstar Francis Gobinet. Francis had been such a big part in the lives of so many people that this news is hitting many of us very hard. Reports are that he was at work over the side cleaning the boat bottom in the BVI and didn't come up. His brother Serge was doing the same thing on Ocean Nomad at exactly the same time with me here in Antigua. Anyway, this lead many to think he suffered a shallow water blackout which seems to be more and more common these days. If you like to snorkel of free dive you should read up on it on the link above.
I first saw Francis with his brother, sister, Mom and Dad on their little boat as they pulled in close to the Lord Nelson Beach Hotel beach back in the early 90s. It was where I grew up and spend most of my time windsurfing and at that time I was running a windsurfing event there. The little boy jumped over the side of the little odd looking boat and in no time was windsurfing with some of the other tiny kids there hoping that we would see him. We all saw him. How could we miss him? Nobody could ever miss Francis. If you didn't stop to look at the handsome profile he wore so well you would stop to see the amazing feat he was in the middle of.
upside down
There wasn't anything that he couldn't do and all who knew Francis will have almost unbelievable stories about him.
Books and books could be written about the adventures that he got up to and how he didn't get killed so many times before is a story in itself. He was an exceptionally brave man and as strong as he was brave. Growing up as a white "frenchie" in Antigua wasn't an easy thing to do and life for Francis as a young kid wasn't always easy. Some of the stories we have are not all happy ones and there was no surprise when he got into trouble while growing up.
I remember one year back when he and Stevie Mendes were 12 years old I was organizing a group of windsurfers to go down to compete in the HIHO windsurfing regatta. Andre Phillip was a year or so older. I chartered a 45 foot catamaran and loaded up all of our windsurfing gear and sailed down to the BVI. My brother Ali was there as well as my cousin David and a bunch of others. We were charged of course with looking after the youngest windsurfers. They amazed all the adults at this competition doing extremely well. Francis and Stevie managed to sail the 200 mile week long race around the BVI with no problem. One day after racing we were hosting a party on our yacht for some of the other windsurfers and were all on deck having a good time. I had to go below to grab something and caught Stevie and Francis pounding some beers. If there was trouble Francis was sure to find it back then and secretly we loved that side of him too.
I'm not sure if getting in to trouble had much to do with it, but his parents decided to send him to boarding school in the UK during his later teens.
When he came back he was a young man and I almost didn't recognize him. He worked at various places and got a job at Sunsail's "beach" watersports team where he taught sailing and entertained guests and coworkers with his amazing stunts. Sometime around then I had started Adventure Antigua and modeled the tours we do after childhood adventures that were a big part of my life and the lives of many who grew up on the water here in Antigua. After a few years Francis came to work with me. All of my guests loved him and for every teenage girl who immediately fell in love with his dazzling blue eyes there was a mother on the boat who did the same. IT was funny how many Moms would want their daughters to pose with him for photos. I loved doing the eco tour with him because he understood why we were doing it. It wasn't just a job..... it was what we did for fun. Like many of the crew who has worked with me over the years, boats and the North Sound were like second nature to him. He was tougher than most people and guests would be amazed with his barefoot antics on the sharp rocks of Hells Gate. There was never a dull week with adventures happening just as much outside of work as during work hours.
Finally Francis got a job working for a big boat in the mega yacht industry. He was in heaven on these big boats that could carry him onto bigger and more exciting adventures. Over the next few years he lived an exciting life crossing the Atlantic to work in boating hubs in various places touching the lives of many in every spot.
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The thing about Francis is that when he was with you he was part of your life and you felt a close friendship. What is more is that your life was usually uplifted in some way. He had an amazing quality to brighten spirits and give you some extra kick to what would have otherwise been just another day. When people describe someone as being larger than life they are speaking about people like Francis.
Francis came back to work with me back in 2007 for a short stint and once again touched people around me in a profound way. I wrote a short blog about him coming back to work with us then. In the water on a day off free diving are Tony and Francis and the ugly guy on the boat is me.
hercules
Over the past 24 hours that particular blog entry has been getting hundreds of hits. According to my private web tracker hundreds of search engine searches for "Francis Gobinet" were directed to the page from Italy, Germany, Holland, Spain, the UK, France, Australia, all over the US, Antigua and many other areas. People all over the world heard the very sad news and wanted to find out if it was true. My phone didn't stop ringing all day yesterday with calls from people wanting to find out if it was really true. Someone so young and so much larger than life couldn't possibly be dead could they?
When i was told that he had died I thought of the hundreds of ways that it could have happened. My immediate though was a motorcycle crash, then a car crash, and other ways flashed through my thoughts until my Dad told me he drowned. Then i thought he must have been swimming through a deep underwater cave without tanks or doing something else totally crazy which was typical of Francis. To learn that he died from what looks like a shallow water blackout was more of a surprise than anything. Passing quietly and peacefully into the afterlife while doing what you love with so many people all over the world loving you is a blessing. Francis died way to young and many of us will be angry and sad and lost now that he's gone, but he had a good life and so many our lives are better because we were lucky enough to have been touched by him.
Live every day to the fullest and be thankful for what time we all have together.

34 comments:

Bridget said...

Eli,you have a way with words.I didn't know Francis very well, but he was taken way too young. My heart goes out to Gilly and the entire Gobinet family.

Anonymous said...

I knew Francis for his time in the UK. I shared a room with Francis in boarding school and absolutely shocked by this news. He was indeed a great guy and will be missed by everyone. My deepest sysmpathy goes to his family. Such kind words written by yourself. Andrew Ruinoff

Anonymous said...

Very well written piece. Our hearts go out to the family. We can only hope that time will help mend the broken hearts we have when someone so young and loved is taken so soon.
Colin
Canada

esundt said...

I went to school with Francis in the UK. I am in complete shock about the news. My thoughts go out to the Gobinet family. He was a truly fantastic guy; I know he will be missed by everyone who was lucky enough to meet him. Erika Sundt

Jodi said...

Eli, what a lovely tribute. I met Francis on the Eco Tour in 2001, and he made a huge impression on me. He is part of what we thought was so terrific about the Eco Tour (along with a couple of the crazy stories you told us that day, featuring Francis). Ernie and I will never forget him. Please pass along our condolences to his family.

Jodi Molner

jack said...

very shocking and very sad , .. i woke up to open face book and the first message i got was Francis is gone! i'm in Sydney Australia and Francis and i sailed together from Antigua to new york in 2007 , we had a lot of fun on the panacea in Bermuda and everywhere we went , he even convinced me to buy a bike like his so we could go riding together , now i feel i lost a brother and best friend and it hurts!.
My condolences goes to his family and friend. we will all miss him dearly .

Anonymous said...

i was in the same boarding house as Francis in the UK and he was one of my good friends during my time at the royal alexandra and albert school and your worrds summed him up to a T! - i was completely shocked when i heard and my thoughts go out to all his friends and family - im sure he will be missed by all that knew him, Tom Helliwell

Anonymous said...

I also went to school with Francis in UK so don't really know him anymore, however my thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad and difficult time. Emily Mansour (Craig)x

Anonymous said...

I also went to school with Francis in UK so don't really know him anymore, however my thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad and difficult time. Emily Mansour (Craig)x

Anonymous said...

Myself and many others grew up alongside Francis, we have all since taken our seperate paths in life, and have many memories of him, however, we all never fail to make up the missed time on those holidays back home. Was just speaking to Francis about that at Christmas.... Well written Eli, he will be missed. A Tragedy...
Dawn Farara

Alex Coope said...

I am totally gutted. I went to school with Francis and he was a fantastic guy who was friends with everyone.
He will be missed.

Anonymous said...

he was definitely a cool dude...to be around him was always a good experience for me...last time we I saw him we were taking turns buying rounds of beer...I will have one later in memory

Nigel

Anonymous said...

Wow, how life can throw you a curve ball.
What a loss, my condolences to Francis family.
I recall Francis as a PIA when a teenager and met him as a young adult and can only say what an inspiration to turning things round and living ones life...he will be sorely missed by me at least and many others from all accounts.
This really saddeneds me, while inspiring as to how short life can be.RIP Francis.
Martin

Anonymous said...

I didn't really know Francis like everyone else did, but I knew him enough to grow the biggest crush on him and to see how amazing he was.
I really appreciate you for writing this Eli, now I know a lot more about Francis. I will really miss him.

Anonymous said...

Eli, this was a lovely tribute. Francis really was "larger than life". I have some great memories that will be with me forever. I know that growing up Francis, as well as my brother and the other "young surfer dudes" looked up to you, you really were like an older brother to them. Francis would be proud to know you wrote this about him. My heart goes out to his family and friends. He will be missed but never forgotten!!
Heather Mendes

Anonymous said...

I have not seen Francis since we left school so going on a decade and although i was in the same year i confess not to have known him to well. My sincere condolences to all who shared their lives with him. Really hits home how fragile life is and how quickly it can change. I urge everyone to think only of all the good this young man brought to the world and to focus on the happy memories we all have of him. such a tradgedy. Ben Mansour(Craig)

Anonymous said...

Eli, you always had the very best way with words. No one could have written a portrail of Francis' life as well. I am just glad I had the chance to hang out with such a wonderful guy. If we all remember to live JUST ONE day as he did with such fullness, we all will have that smile he had.

R.I.P Francis Gobinet.

Leo (London)

Anonymous said...

My sincerest regrets;I knew the family ...a beautiful eulogy ...Bunny

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Frances will always be remembered and present in the sunshine which surrounded him already as a little boy. My heart goes out to his family and friends. Marie-Louise

Loretta said...

My condolences to the Gobinet family

Anonymous said...

Beautiful piece, a really faithful description, he was such a wonderful person and i am so shocked to hear the terrible news. All my love to the Gobinet family during this tragic time, its really difficult to find the rights words to express what an amazing, unique, person Francis was..I believe he is a perfect example of Carpe Diem and that we should never forget he lived each day to the fullest - he will be greatly missed by all and forever remembered
Rosie - France

Anonymous said...

I was sitting having Lunch with Francis just before Christmas, he seemed so content and had his future all mapped out, he was talking about finishing his house, and being able to retire in 10 years! We can all dream eh! lol. Such an awesome Guy and with so much to offer, a true true tragedy, that someone so fit and healthy and with so much promise can be taken so easily, Rest in peace buddy, know that we will always be able to look back at your life with a smile, remembering the shananigans you got up to!
Guy Perkins

jberwin said...

I'M SAD, and I never met Francis. I only read about him in the blog. You don't encounter personalities like that everyday. Folks like that come along only rarely in a lifetime. I believe his energy lives on. Let's honor that.

Kevin Bendall said...

Nicely put Eli.
A wonderful soul lost to this world. We shared some good times in Newport, Rhode Island. So much younger than me and yet such an inspirational character.
The shock and sadness of loss has turned to a smile. Celebrate his life as he would.
My thoughts and best wishes are with Francis' family and friends.
With Love, Kevin, Lara and Tommy

Anonymous said...

Dear Eli, While I'll never get to know Francis, but may - with my husband - get to know you at some point in our 2-week (2nd) Antigua vacation in May, I've been following your blogs about various topics and find the tribute you wrote about this captivating young guy to be a very poignant, beautifully honest portrait of someone you obviously cared alot about, as a mentor and a friend. My condolences to you on the loss of this friend. And my appreciation for your constancy in writing your blog and giving Antigua-lovers like me just an informative "insider's" view of Antiguan life. I really do hope we get to meet while we're staying at Jolly Harbour (5/3-10) or Jolly Beach (5/10-16), and have a chance to get to know the guy behind the wheel and behind the blog. best wishes, Ginny Kelty (VAKelty@aol.com)

Anonymous said...

I was struck with deep sadness when I was informed of Francis' untimely death. In an instant I was reminded how life can change in an instant and how precious everyday is.
Thank you Eli for sharing some of your memories spent with Francis. I always looked forward to seeing him, I will miss his sweet smile, his warm upbeat presence and his "CHEERS". Deepest heartfelt sympathy to the Gobinet family and friends. TINA USA

Lizzie said...

I met Francis when I came to Antigua on a year out in 1999. He showed me how to skimboard without smashing my shins, how to ride moped's with no shoes and TRIED to teach me to surf. What sticks in my mind was his fearlessness, this is a rare trait in a person. He literally threw himself at whatever he was attempting to conquer. Some might say a little foolhardy, but it was that energy that I found so infectious. This is really living and stretching yourself. I think you can talk yourself out of many things, out of 'having a go'. While you were turning the decision to do it or not over in your head, Francis had already jumped. This is why it was so brilliant to be around him. He had a good nature, he was so likeable and funny and despite some of his 'hiccups' he was utterly forgivable.
I am very sad to think I won't see his face again, life takes some very tragic turns that seem not to make any sense. I will especially be thinking of his family and all of his friends today.
Eli-your blog is such a nice thing to have put together, it is lovely to see comments from people all over the world.
Lizzie

AdventureAntigua.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AdventureAntigua.com said...

Thanks for posting your comments. It is nice to see people from around the world sending messages and sharing about francis. anyway, the burial was very sad but very natural. about 8 boats met up 7 miles out in the ocean and saw him return to the ocean one last time. his dad wrote something that was read by a priest and in it he spoke about an occasion when francis saved some kids while out on my tour. one was lifeless on the bottom when my boat pulled up and francis leapt over to save her. she survived thanks to him and now he's gone. Read more on that story here: http://antiguaisland.blogspot.com/2007_02_23_archive.html

AdventureAntigua.com said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
From Another Perspective said...

You've managed to describe Francis perfectly. My heart goes out to his family and friends. I think of him often, and I am sure that I will remember him for the rest of my life.
You were amazing!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunatelly I found out about this tragedy only recently, and am equally as shocked and sorry for the loss of one of the most colorful personalities I have ever met. I met Francis in Newport in 2008, and during my short stay there I remember him with contagious energy and a passion for life. May he rest in peace, and his family, friends and fellow crew mates enjoy the good memories he leaves behind. Toronto, Canada

Anonymous said...

If one knew Francis & loved him, they cared for him forever, regardless of events in-between. Smooth Sailing>>>>
.sArAh.

Anonymous said...

I met Francis about 7 years ago when I was vacationing with my family in Antigua, he was an amazing and sweet person who I have remembered ever since. I am deeply saddened by this news and he will be missed.