by Jerry Vaughn, Jim Whitworth and Melissa Bowen
Ralph Bowen, long time member of the Bay Yacht Club, crossed over the bar at 3 PM on July 5 at age 80. Ralph died at home after a long illness with his wife Melissa and son John at his side. Ralph’s expressed wishes were that there be no funeral services, that his body be cremated and his ashes scattered on Corpus Christi Bay. He did want a party at the Club about a month or so after his death to celebrate his life. The dates are not set yet but Saturday, July 31 or Sunday August 1 would be a good possibility.
Ralph was raised in the Boston area and enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a teenager before finishing high school. He became a boatswain’s mate. Per the official U.S. Navy description, boatswain's mates train, direct, and supervise personnel in ship's maintenance duties. Ralph was also qualified as a Navy Master Diver in both “hard hat” and scuba gear. He spent most of his Navy career in the Pacific Fleet, serving on both salvage vessels and sea going tugs. Ralph was a 1st Class Petty Officer serving at Pearl Harbor when his commanding officer began pressuring him to apply for Officer Candidate School. Ralph claimed that he applied primarily to get his Skipper off his back. At approximately the same time, he got 2 letters from the Navy. One announced his promotion to Chief Petty Officer and the other said he’d been accepted to OCS. He chose OCS and was commissioned as an Ensign, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander at retirement.During his time as an officer, he commanded an ocean going tug, the Hitchiti, on several trans-Pacific voyages. Most of us have never seen a U.S. Navy fleet tug. The Hitchiti had a displacement of 1240 tons, was 205 feet long, 38 foot beam and had a crew of 85. At the time of his retirement he was serving as Base Security Officer and Provost Marshall at Pearl Harbor.
He told a story about being out sailing off Oahu with his first wife when a carrier task force appeared over the horizon. It soon became apparent that the task force was on a collision course with the Bowen’s. Ralph decided to hold his course just to see what the carrier and its escort ships would do. Of course, he left himself plenty of room if he had to maneuver. Following the Rules of the Road, the entire task force changed course to avoid the sailing vessel.
Ralph never stopped educating himself and was well read and informed on many topics. Those who knew him will recall that he was always an interesting conversationalist. He kept subscriptions to the Naval Institute Proceedings and to Naval History magazines. He dearly loved to play several different roles, including curmudgeon and poor pitiful me but under this veneer Ralph was a very kind and loving man.
Ralph was an avid sailor all of his life. He liked to build boats and sail them. Ralph served on the Bay Yacht Club board for a number of years from 2000 through 2005 and part of the year 2007. He and Melissa shared the Commodore’s Trophy in 2000 and he won the Club’s top honor, the Harkrider Award, in 2007. He was always available to help the Sea Scouts group that was sponsored by the BYC, and to help any member interested in sailing. As long as he was physically able, Ralph could always be counted on to volunteer for any and all Club activities.
Ralph is survived by his wife Melissa, daughter Shirley and son John. two stepdaughters, four granddaughters and two great granddaughters. We will all miss our friend and companion.