top of page

Robert Birk

Robert (Bob) Alan Birk passed away peacefully on February 7, 2018 in Belvedere, Ca., at the age of 86.

Bob was married to Margaret Birk, who preceded him in death, for over 50 years.

Bob is survived by his partner, Joann Cook of Belvedere; Joann Cook's sons Mike Cook of Tiburon, Scott Cook of Mill Valley, and Chris Cook of Corte Madera and their spouses; along with 8 grandchildren, Kennedy, Mikayla, Caden, Alyssa, Kelsey, Sam, Lucas, and Riley Cook. He is also survived by nephews Louis May and Richard Zenith, and nieces Judy Kridle, Peg Birk, Marianne Kenfield, and Kathy Ann Christensen.

Bob entered the Utah National Guard at the age of 16 and ultimately served his country in the military for 22 years, first during the Korean War and then the Cold War, flying B-52 bombers carrying hydrogen bombs. Bob retired at the age of 38 in Hawaii as a major in the Air Force.

Bob built his first 47-foot ketch, the Makaleka, in 1970. Between 1970 and 1979 Bob built and sold sail boats, sailing them from Taiwan to California.

Bob and his crew sailed from Taiwan to Japan to Hawaii twice, and once more from Japan to Hawaii. The longest trip Bob took lasted 49 days. Bob estimated he traveled over 40,000 miles at sea.

In 1976, when every state in the union was celebrating the U.S. bicentennial, the state of Hawaii wanted to replicate the discovery of Hawaii. National Geographic chartered Bob's 65-foot ketch, the Meotai, with Bob as the captain, to film the voyage of the Hokule'a, a double-hulled sailing canoe, from Hawaii to Tahiti to recreate the first historic voyage. When they arrived in Tahiti, they received a hero's welcome.

Because of the Tahiti trip and several rescues with the Coast Guard, Bob was permitted to take the Unlimited Master's Exam. Bob passed and received a 100-ton license that had no geographical limits and was good anywhere in the world. This is a very rare license to receive with no restrictions. He chartered his boat to the U.S. Navy and made a two-hour movie for the TV show "Hawaii Five-O," even making a guest appearance in a couple of episodes.

In 1979, Bob and his friend Ron Amy started the company ABI, a well-known company that manufactured marine hardware. They manufactured in Taiwan, China, and briefly in India. He sold his business in 1999 but stayed on as a consultant, traveling regularly to China. Bob was one of the first American businessmen to go to China after the relations between the U.S. and China normalized. When Bob turned 80 in 2011, he finally retired.

After his retirement, Bob spent his time managing his investments, traveling with Joann, and spending time at the San Francisco Yacht Club with his friends and family.

Bob will be interred in Arlington National Cemetery. A Celebration of Life will be held at the San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere on March 20 from 1-4 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the COPD Foundation.

Recent stories

Support The Ark’s commitment to high-impact community journalism.

The Ark, twice named the nation's best small community weekly, is dedicated to delivering investigative, accountability journalism with a mission to increase civic engagement and participation by providing the knowledge that can help sculpt the community and change lives. Your support makes this possible.

In addition to subscribing to The Ark for weekly home delivery, please consider making a contribution to support independent local journalism. For more information, contact Publisher & Advertising Director Henriette Corn at or 415-435-1190.​

bottom of page