His Life

Bob's Story

Bob was born on October 13, 1950 in Wiesbaden, Germany to Polly Ann and Bob Sowden Sr, joining older sister Nanci. His father was in the Air Force and his mother was from Coldwater, Mississippi. They returned to the US and his father was stationed at Otis Air Force Base. They lived in Yarmouth, Mass on the Cape. Bob enjoyed playing hockey on the cranberry bog and watching the herring run. He went boating with his father.

They moved to Orlando, Florida when Bob was 14. He graduated from Bishop Moore High School. Bob entered Florida Technological University. He was drafted into the Army when he had a lapse in enrollment. He served 12 months in Vietnam and completed his service at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. While on leave from Vietnam, he married Brenda. They lived in Colorado Springs after his tour of duty.

Bob and Brenda moved to Orlando, Florida after he separated from the Army. Bob returned to Florida Technological University and resumed his pursuit of an engineering degree. His daughter Zabette (Zebe) was born in 1973. That same day he met livelong friends Phil and Brenda Spletter. Bob graduated in 1976 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He accepted a job at Harris Corporation. His second daughter Ailena was born in 1977 just days after starting his new job. Initially Bob commuted back and forth from Orlando to Melbourne but he wanted to live near the water, so he moved his family to Melbourne, Florida. He coached his daughters’ softball teams. He enjoyed watching sports and listening to music with the girls in his chair. They went to games at Dodgertown. Bob enjoyed running. He often raced Zebe – she only won once since he wouldn’t just let her win. Bob helped the girls with their homework, especially tutoring them in math. They enjoyed annual family vacations.

Bob worked at Harris for over 30 years as a Systems Engineer. He was a key contributor to the development and production of unique and exquisite high reliability structures vital to our national interest. He had the privilege of working with his daughter Ailena for 5 years.

Bob continued to pursue boating as an adult. He crewed for his father racing sailboats in the intercostal waterway and offshore. Bob’s first sailboat was a Catalina 22 named Trump. Her rating was his trump card. He joined Melbourne Yacht Club. He taught his daughters how to sail. When there was enough wind, they knee skied behind Trump. His daughters wished for a power boat but Bob was a sailor. He raced Trump locally. He liked to tell the story of one of his first races at MYC when he was so far behind that the Dick Tillman, race committee, told him to take his own time. Bob’s skills improved and the boat lived up to her name including winning the Brevard Challenge in 1990.

When his crew got too big for the Catalina, Bob purchased a Wavelength 24 named Volant which he also raced in the ICW as well as offshore and around the state. Bob and crew Karen Knockel formed a bond that turned into love and later marriage. After Volant came a Melges 24 they named Caliente. Bob, Caliente and crew continued to race locally, competing around Florida and as far as Charleston, South Carolina. Bob participated in all aspect of sailboat racing serving as MYC Fleet Captain, regatta chairman, protest chairman, and race committee. He was an officer of the Florida Sailing Association.

Bob received his first cruising sailboat as a gift from his father. Impulsive was a great training ground for Bob and Karen and they soon adopted the Hunter 30 named La Vie Dansante from their dear friend Donna. Their first trip to the Abacos was with Gerry and Rachele Ross on Sleighride leading the way. After many years, some crazy times and loads of fun, it was time to move on to a larger boat. Bob’s best friend Gerry Moores adopted La Vie and Bob purchased Miss Too, a Hunter 37. The cruising fun around Florida and the Bahamas continued. Bob and a rotating crew sailed Miss Too up to Chesapeake Bay in 2004 while he and Karen were working in DC for Harris. The trip included participating in the Gulfstreamer Regatta from Daytona to Charleston. They spent the season sailing the Bay including 4th of July in Annapolis before Bob and another rotating crew brought Miss Too back to MYC. The return trip turned Bob’s eye to trawlers as he saw their captains in their jammies drinking coffee in the pilot house while he had on everything but Karen’s drawers in Miss Too’s freezing cockpit.

Bob and Karen purchased a Heritage East 36 for Karen’s 50th birthday naming her Banyan. Banyan made several trips to the Abacos, the west coast of Florida and one trip up the St. Johns River in addition to many nights at anchor in the ICW. Bob retired from racing and become the go to race committee (RC) for MYC and East Coast Sailing Association races. Banyan, with Bob at the helm, served as RC platform for Bob, Gerry, Pat Lambert and many other RC chairman. Bob enjoyed sitting with friends on Banyan; watching for manatee, drinking Jameson, telling stories,… There were many Friday happy hours up at the MYC clubhouse followed by a relaxing evening and restful sleep on Banyan.

Bob loved his family tremendously. His daughters gave him 6 wonderful grandchildren; Logan, Kaitlyn, Garrett, Tristan, Alison and Braeden. He loved and insisted on family traditions. The 4th of July was his big holiday with them. The day started with fishing off the docks at MYC to see who got the Most, Biggest, Best fish. In November, the family met at Manny’s Chophouse in Lake Wales. In December it was San Remo in Melbourne. The girls and grandkids would visit Bob and Karen at their condo in Vero Beach. Bob made sure they had fresh shrimp for bait to fish off the docks to continue the fishing contests.

Bob enjoyed golf – both playing and watching the pros, especially Tiger Woods. He had standing tee times with his golf buddies on Tuesdays and Fridays: Gerry Moores, Rick and Bob Crockett, Gary Hanbaum, Lenny Beckett, Pat Lambert, Tom Bradley, Ronnie Tobias, Nick Schmitz, Henry and Dave. The gang would meet at Icabod’s Dockside after golf on Tuesdays where Karen would join them – many good times there.

Bob got a red Corvette for his 60th birthday. He drove the car most everywhere after saying he didn’t want to put too many miles on her. Bob, Karen and their dog Lucy drove US Route 6 in the Corvette. The story of their trip is documented at Lucy’s blog ( They were planning a similar trip on US Route 2 when life got in the way.

Bob went into the hospital in June with serious liver disease. He returned home and against all expectations fought back and regained much of his health. He was optimistic and cheerful. He was working hard to regain his mobility when he suddenly succumbed to sepsis.

He left an impression on all who knew him. For those that loved him, he took at piece of our hearts. That spot feels empty now but with time will be filled with warm loving memories of an adoring father and grandfather, loving husband and brother, and faithful friend.