The story of a sunken boat in Cove Bay, published in the Mille Lacs Messenger in late June, grabbed the attention of at least one reader–Don Robbins.
Don likely has a very personal connection to that boat spotted by Ryan Kelly at the bottom of Cove Bay; his dad could very well have built it.
Kelly, of Lagoona Guide Service out of Onamia, described the boat he spotted with his underwater camera. “There was a wooden hull about 30 to 40 feet long and about eight feet wide with wood ribs,” said Kelly. He added that he believed the boat may have been a BayView launch from years ago.
Don Robbins concurred. You see, Robbins (now 96, a local historian and author of the book, “Wahkon: A Town Remembered”) believes his father may have built that boat.
The Robbins launch boat was 42 feet long and 12 feet wide, and back in the day, it was full of people, recalls Robbins, whose father, Oscar, owned a boat building business called “Robbins Boat Works” out of Wahkon. Oscar built boats that went out from Wahkon Bay. “It was a regular stop for the bus that used to connect from Minneapolis and came up to Isle at night and then back to Minneapolis in the morning,” says Robbins.
“A lot of people came and went from the Wahkon area. It was a regular stop for the bus that used to connect from Minneapolis and came up to Isle at night and then back to Minneapolis in the morning,” says Robbins.
“It was a launch boat. People could sit on the cabin roof and let their feet dangle down or rest on the edge of the boat,” recalls Robbins. They could sit there and fish or do a tour around the bay, he adds.
“I have a hunch that a lot of boats went out that way,” says Robbins. When he says went out that way, he is referring to sending large boats, like the one found at the bottom of Cove Bay, out in the water to sink and be disposed of. “Something 42 feet long is a lot of boat. The rowboats are not as big as the launches and could be broken up and burned. People would pull the plug or knock a hole in it and it will sink to the bottom.”
Robbins’ story is deeper than Cove Bay though. Robbins is a World War II veteran, has traveled the world and has come full circle back to Wahkon where he spends time when he can at the cabin that has been in his family for over 75 years.
Robbins shares his story:
He grew up in Wahkon, graduated from Isle High School and left the area for World War II in February of 1941.
Robbins completed his service in March of 1946. He then went to college at the University of Minnesota and earned his degree in mechanical engineering. Growing up and during his college summers, he helped his dad at his business. “He had quite a few launches he built for resorts including BayView,” Robbins says, adding he believes the boat at the bottom of the bay may be one his dad built.
Robbins spent two years abroad in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba serving in the Navy as an aircraft mechanic. “There were two routes to get materials to Europe; both were under our control, so it was safe,” he recalls. “They would go through the Caribbean and Africa and then to England. The other was the northern route and went through Newfoundland to England. Patrol planes would protect the ships that would bring supplies.”
Robbins adds he was only aboard a ship for a short time. “During the early phase of the war in the first year, there were numerous merchant ships that were torpedoed by the Germans at Woodward Passage,” he explains. “This was the passage between Cuba and Haiti and only 75 miles across where all the shipping would go through. There was no sonar, and radar was just coming in.”
The planes would patrol over the convoys of hundreds of ships and would detect the subs in the water by sight or by the wake it left, he further explains. “Of all the heroes, I was not a hero. I never shot at anybody or got shot at. Those were the heroes. They had their lives in their hands,” says Robbins.
When Robbins got out of the service in March of 1946, he went to school at the University of Minnesota on the V12 program where he earned a mechanical engineering degree. Prior to that, he spent one year of college in Ohio and Illinois. He graduated in 1948, and it was in that year he met his wife, Helene Lang. Helene’s family summered in Wahkon during the thirties and forties. Robbins career was spent working for Northern States Power, which is now Xcel Energy, as an engineer. His wife Helene passed away, and he then met his current wife Florence. They have been married for 41 years and reside in Cambridge.
It is rewarding to hear from people like Don, to hear their connections to the area and hear about their history. Thank you, Don, for reaching out to the Messenger, and thank you even more for your service to our country.