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.