I first met Phil Thiel in 2009. My son Nate had just graduated from high school and was eager to build a boat, so we decided upon Phil’s 18′6″ Escargot canal boat. We paid a visit to him at his home, only a half dozen miles from ours, and he led us to his basement shop where he had his stock of plans, all stored in cardboard tubes. Over that summer, I coached Nate and his friend Bobby through the build and kept Phil up to date with the progress.
I continued to keep in touch with him after BONZO, a slightly modified Escargot, was launched in October. Phil was ill, with no hope of recovery, so I visited with increasing frequency, offering to help in any way I could; I had several of his plans sets scanned so they’d more easily made available. I had lost my father suddenly the year before, so I knew how important my remaining time with Phil would be. When I was offered this job, working with WoodenBoat as the editor of Small Boats Monthly, I knew how happy that my father would have been for me, but he was gone. I told Phil, and I got the smile I needed from him.
I was with Phil, his family, and a few friends when he passed away on the evening of May 10, 2014. Since then I have had the privilege of visiting Phil’s shop and have kept in touch with his family—wife Midori and children Kenji, Tamiko, and Kiko. It is with their kindness that I can share a few glimpses of my absent friend.