Gary Baines is all business.
When I visited him not long ago, there wasn't much small talk. His "mission'' to promote rowing took priority.
A fit, lithe 73, Baines had a loaded slide projector on his dining room table pointed at a portable screen when I got there. Artifacts from a former life lay nearby.
"I don't want to toot my own horn," he says. "But I want to let local organizations — schools, clubs, teams, churches — know that I'm available to speak. And I have interesting stories to tell."
Indeed he does. The Harvard-trained pediatric dentist, who retired in 2006, defies stereotypes: Though he's eager to speak in public, he's laconic, reserved.
His gracious South Tampa home, the Mercedes in the driveway, the piano in the living room, the expansive dining room table that seems large enough to seat him and his wife, Helen, plus their three adult children, their spouses and three grandchildren, do not reflect his early life or the tales of adventure.
Instead, those stories flow from the experiences of a young man who was born in the remote, rural community of Oroville, Wash. He ended up in Tampa, in 1970, through a circuitous route that took him to remote regions of the world.
Baines' childhood in the eastern part of the Evergreen State honed his interest in the outdoors. His bachelor's degree, from Washington State University, was in wildlife conservation. He followed that with a master's degree from WSU in wildlife biology and management. He did graduate work studying ring-neck pheasants.
He also researched and worked with walrus and fur seals in the Pribilof Islands, midway between Siberia and Alaska, in the Bering Sea north of the Aleutian Islands.
The voyages he may be most proud of were several long legs of a round-the-world tour on a research ship, the schooner Collegiate Rebel.
The ship was a sort of traveling university.
"We studied primitive people, collected samples for museums and universities and a photographer from National Geographic magazine took pictures."
While he was aboard, the ship visited the Galapagos, the Caroline Islands, Palau, Truk, Samoa, Tahiti and Guam. The ship also docked in Hong Kong, Okinawa, South Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia . . .
During one period when he was in Florida helping to outfit the ship, Baines met Helen, a Bartow native. They got married in 1961, and she traveled with him on the Rebel.
When Helen became pregnant, the couple left the ship and headed to Seattle, where Baines worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
That's where he took up rowing.
Since then, Baines has become a competitive rower and has victories in a number of national and international contests. He also helped start rowing programs at several bay area high schools, including the Academy of the Holy Names and Plant High School.
"I've been involved in the Tampa Rowing Club since 1970," when he first moved to the area.
"For the past 35 years, I've taught many adults and students how to row. It's a sport that I really believe can help people of all ages improve their physical condition and stay in shape."
Baines also says rowing is a great sport for women, particularly young women:
Besides being a great way to get and stay fit, a growing number of universities now offer rowing scholarships as a way of providing gender equity in athletic programs, which is demanded by Title IX.
Baines rows every day, usually in a one-person scull, setting out from the University of Tampa boathouse on the Hillsborough River.
Decades after he studied those seals and walruses, he's still at home on the water, enjoying the outdoors.
Freelance writer Judy Hill lives in St. Petersburg.