PLATTSBURGH — One of the North Country's most colorful characters has sailed off into the sunset for the final time.
Frank Pabst, legendary sailor, historian, businessman and outspoken social critic, died Tuesday during surgery at Fletcher Allen Healthcare in Burlington, a few months after being diagnosed with cancer.
He was 79.
"He was always quite the character, and he will leave a big hole in our family," Pabst's brother-in-law, Leon Duntley, said Wednesday from his home in Florida.
Pabst was best known in the area as captain of the Juniper, the lovable delivery scow turned party boat that toured Lake Champlain for a quarter century from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s.
Each Friday and Saturday night during the summer, the Juniper was packed with partiers taking part in what became known in local circles as the "Booze Cruise."
"The steaks always seemed to taste better on that boat, for some reason," said Jack LaDuke, former longtime WCAX-TV Channel 3 reporter, who covered Pabst for 30 years.
Pabst was at home in the wheelhouse of his tug, piloting the ship around his beloved lake and pointing out the rich history that breathed in each swell that splashed against the crusty hull.
"I think he must have been re-incarnated. He was probably alive during the Battle of Plattsburgh because he knew so much about it," said David Mayette, an avid fisherman and longtime friend of Pabst.
"He knew the lake inside and out and always had a good story to tell."
Aside from running the Juniper, Pabst was involved in numerous side businesses. A diver, he was often hired to do salvage jobs on underwater projects. His Juniper was also used for many other lake projects from Rouses Point to Ticonderoga.
He also ran a popular restaurant at the corner of Bridge Street and City Hall Place in the late 1980s known as the Captain's Table.
When customers asked if he took credit cards, he told them, "Are you kidding? I invented plastic."
From the restaurant window, he hosted a show on a local radio station, where he spoke his mind on a variety of topics.
"Frank usually said what he felt, and it came out of his mouth with little editing," LaDuke said.
"But he was a very warm-hearted person who did a lot of nice things for people."
Pabst's biggest love was the history of the lake. He was instrumental in discovering and retrieving the anchor from the British warship Confiance, which was defeated by the U.S. Navy in the Battle of Plattsburgh on Sept. 11, 1814. The anchor is now displayed in City Hall.
He also helped discover and recover a well-preserved bateau from the battle and many other artifacts.
"Without him, we would not be aware of much of the history of the lake," said Plattsburgh City Clerk Keith Herkalo, who is president of the Battle of Plattsburgh Association.
"We are going to miss him. He was a North Country treasure."
Pabst chronicled his knowledge in a book entitled "Cannons and Anchors," published in 2005.
A stout man with shaggy gray hair and a bushy mustache that sat perfectly under his silver-rimmed glasses and spouting language befitting a salty sea captain, Pabst stood out in a crowd.
"When you were with Frank you knew you were going to be entertained," LaDuke said.
A crafty businessman, Pabst once got out of a sticky wicket with the City Zoning Board of Appeals, which questioned some nocturnal activities at his lakefront business yard.
Pabst wasn't supposed to have tenants in some of the trailers he had down there, and the Zoning Board wanted answers.
He deftly told board members that the people in question were not tenants, but night watchmen he had hired to prevent thievery.
The Zoning Board bought it — and Pabst gave the Press-Republican reporter a nod and a wink as he left the meeting room.
In the 1990s, the appearance of his boat yard was often a source of confrontation between him and then-Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who wanted the place cleaned up.
The entreaties from the mayor frustrated Pabst, who noted that the boat yard was next to the city's Water Pollution Control Plant and was not necessarily in desperate need of sprucing up.
"I'm next to a s—- plant, not a rose garden, for crying out loud," Pabst groaned.
Herkalo said that while Pabst may have been a bit gruff, his heart was always in the right place.
"I always thought of him as a guy who needed a leash, but you didn't have any bigger supporter of the North Country," Herkalo said.
Pabst was an avid supporter of the Boy Scouts and worked tirelessly at the soup kitchen at Trinity Church in downtown. Since 1994, he has helped organize the cleaning of the soup kitchen on Martin Luther King Jr. Day as part of a day of service.
"Mr. Pabst had many, many contributions to our community over the years, and he will certainly be missed," said Mayor Donald Kasprzak, who knew Pabst for 30 years.
"He was one of our most colorful characters and had so many great stories."
Funeral arrangements were still being put together by the family Wednesday.
Email Joe LoTemplio at: email@example.com