When you talk on the radio every day to voyagers making offshore passages and when you do it for 25 years and do it for free, you tend to garner a few fans. At the end of May, when volunteer weather router Herb Hilgenberg hung up his headphones and announced he wouldn't be providing weather info any longer, there were, no doubt, plenty of folks who felt that an era was over. Many a voyager has been happy to hear Herb's distinct voice and Southbound II call sign over the years since September 1987 when he started his unique service. Hilgenberg has been broadcasting from his home in Ontario for many years now, after initially using his 39-foot Corbin design cutter Southbound II as his base station.
One voyager, Peter Stoops, the co-owner of a Swan 40 named Chase from here in Maine, recently reached out to express his gratitude. He sent Hilgenberg the following email:
"Hi Herb. It's been a couple of years since you worked with me and my crew – multiple times on board Chase – and I just wanted to say thanks for all the help over the years. I understand you are no longer shepherding boats across the ocean, and can understand that it's been a long – and sometimes unrewarding – haul for such a long time. Nonetheless, I hope that all the people who worked with you understood the value of what you provided, and the selflessness with which you provided it.
"Whatever you are choosing to do with your time now, rest assured that there are many of us who will greatly miss not only your expertise, but also your consistent company as we slogged through all sorts of weather. We all knew this day was coming at some point, and though none of us wanted it, we wish you the greatest happiness.
"It will be a different trip when we bring Chase hope from the Med next year – we'll think of you!"
"Hi Peter. Thank you for your kind note. I think that I lasted a lot longer than I thought I would 13 years ago. Somebody had asked me then, at an SSCA event, if I would train someone when I retire and my reply was that I would likely be obsolete in 5 years. What's available now as far as forecasts
and communication is concerned, did not exist 10 years ago."
Hilgenberg provided a valuable service to countless numbers of voyagers, even to those who never called him via HF SSB at sea, but who merely listened in to his tireless efforts during those 25 years.