T.J. Remembers Juanita

By Larry Clinton - Sausalito Historical Society

Long-time waterfront resident T.J. Nelsen has written a very personal memoir of Sausalito’s Gate 6 community, entitled “Houseboats, Drugs, Government and the 4th Estate.” 

Nelsen discovered the Sausalito waterfront in the early 60s, and soon moved to Don Arques’ property at Waldo Point harbor, where he worked at various odd jobs. In 1969 he was offered control of the harbor, where Arques and the houseboat owners were under threat of abatement by Marin County.  

Juanita Musson cut a formidable figure in her heyday.

Photocourtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

The book recounts Nelsen’s observances of the 70s Houseboat Wars from the marina management’s point of view.  It also contains some wonderful historic vignettes, such as his recollection of legendary restaurateur Juanita Musson aboard the ferryboat Charles Van Damme, which was beached off Gate 6 Road until it was declared uninhabitable and bulldozed in the 80s:

A bunch of us waterfront types helped Juanita Musson move her restaurant from what is now Harbor Drive, across from Clipper Yacht Harbor's office building, to the ferryboat Charles Van Damme, which resulted in so much free food for me, it became embarrassing. She would see me and loudly pull me to the front of the line, so I ended up going elsewhere to eat.

Juanita was a celebrity in Sausalito, and her restaurant on Harbor Drive was her second or third (or so I was told). The first time I saw her was when I went to eat at her place with a good friend, John Wheelwright, who had helped me with tree work and had introduced me to much of the waterfront. John was a gentle, austere young man from an old and prominent Marin family who made his living mostly as a carpenter. He was also 6'8” tall, and he dressed and looked like a lean Paul Bunyan. We were sitting at one of Juanita’s shared tables, starting to eat our ham and eggs, hash browns, English muffins with marmalade, and coffee—a generous staple at Juanita's—when one of her cats (she was and continued to be known for the animals she al­lowed loose in her restaurants, like garden-variety cats and dogs, chickens, and sometimes a goat) jumped up and started to nibble at John Wheelwright's breakfast. Being hungry, Johnny took umbrage at the uninvited moocher and gently swept the cat off the table, causing it no real discomfort and certainly no injury. Juanita saw him do it, grabbed a frying pan, and came directly to our table. Her intent was clear, and Johnny stood up and up and up to defend himself. Juanita stopped and leaned back to look him in the face. It was the only time I ever saw her back down from anything. I guess she decided no real harm had been done to her cat.

The first rule in Juanita's restaurant was “eat it or wear it,” which must have struck a chord with the eating public because her places were always crowded. After her move north to the Van Damme, there would often be a line outside waiting for breakfast. On Sunday mornings, some were in evening gowns, furs, and tails after a posh all-nighter in San Francisco. I saw them, locals, highway patrol, and Hells Angels sitting together at her big, shared tables, all minding their Ps and Qs. Juanita was the undisputed law in her domain, and nobody wanted to cross her. It was slumming at its finest.

Juanita told me another story about Arques that had occurred while she still occupied the Van Damme. She had gotten in trouble with the IRS for not depositing money withheld for taxes and the required employer and employee contributions, so she went to Donny—she called Don Arques Donny— and

told him her problem and asked what she should do. He told her not to worry, and she went away. She said she went to him a second time and said, “Donny, Donny, they're going to close me down!” He reassured her again, telling her not to worry, and again she went away. A third time she went to him and cried, “Oh Donny, they closed me down!” He looked her in the eye and said, “Well, we put up a hell of a fight, didn't we?” Vintage Arques.

In the introduction to his book, T.J. notes: “The information presented here is not the result of research, interviews, or a scholarly analysis of data, and I do not suggest it is balanced, complete, or fair to all those involved. It is simply about what I experienced and the way I saw it.”  The book goes on to detail all sides of the free-spirited community: the freedom, the squalor, the creativity, the drugs, the camaraderie and the violence that were all part of day-to-day life in the post-Haight Ashbury/Summer of Love era.  T.J casts his critical eye on various sides of the Houseboat Wars, including the protesters, Marin County bureaucrats, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, law enforcement, and the media (the Fourth Estate).

“Houseboats, Drugs, Government and the 4th Estate” is a must read for anyone interested in the colorful and controversial history of the early houseboat community. It’s available at the Ice House (780 Bridgeway), Book Depot in Mill Valley, Amazon.com and other online booksellers.

Problems Women Solved: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition

by Steefenie Wicks

One hundred years ago, Anna Pratt Simpson wrote a book titled “Problems Women Solved.”  It was a story of the vision, enthusiasm, work and cooperation accomplished by the first Woman’s Board that worked on the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.  One hundred years later another woman has come forward, tackling the “problem” of doing an informative book on the subject of the Exposition.  The book, released earlier this year, is titled “San Francisco’s Jewel City, The Panama-Pacific International Exhibition of 1915.” The author is Marin resident Laura Ackley.

Laura Ackley now joins other Marin women who were part of the Pan-Pacific Exposition.

Photo collage by Steefenie WicksPhoto of Laura Ackley by Miguel Farias

For years Laura has participated in Sausalito’s 4th of July extravaganzas, playing the cymbals and marching with the UC Alumni Band.  She has been a guest speaker for both the Sausalito Woman’s Club, as well as the Sausalito Historical Society.   This year, because of the popularity of her endeavor, she is booked for over 100 speaking engagements.  After spending much of her time out of the public eye, she now finds herself very much the public figure.   Like Laura, the women who formed the first San Francisco Woman’s Board of 1915, spent much of their time working effortlessly in the background, one day to be part of one of the state’s most successful fairs.

It was the Woman’s Board that first organized the California State Woman’s Auxiliary.  This organization helped to bring women together, to bind relationships and show the possibilities of what could be accomplished when working together.   The Auxiliary felt that it was the right of every woman in California to participate in the making of this Exposition which would celebrate some of the greatest engineering achievements in their current history -- therefore, adding to the Pacific Coast a future of commercial importance and success.

Ackley explains this aspect of the Exposition in her book.  For example, the Exposition encompassed over 635 acres, so how was one to navigate this event?  This is where the innovations of transportation took over. There were pedal rickshaws, pushchairs or powered vehicles that could be used to explore the grounds.  Many of these innovative ways of travel were new to the public and caused a great deal of interest as well as the excitement of being able to travel aboard one of these new creations. 

The Exposition was the start of a new organization brought about by the Woman’s Board, to help and aid those who would soon travel to the event: the first Traveler’s Aid of California.  In 1915 the Woman’s Board felt that the organization would be able to protect the direction of young people coming to the Exposition, some of them alone for the first time.  The Exposition directorate had the tremendous responsibility of attending to the material wellbeing of its visitors.  They had to see to it that the hotels and restaurants would keep faith with the public and the Travelers Aid organization, or so it was written in 1915. As Ackley puts it, “Travelers Aid worked in conjunction with the Woman’s Board of the Fair, which absorbed more than half of the $28,000 cost of operation in an effort to ensure visitors could travel to and from the PPIE safely.”  In all, 21,551 travelers were directed to safe lodging places during the Fair.”  She goes on to say, “In April of 1915, the Idaho Statesman printed a warning to young women from the General Federation of Women’s Clubs advising against trying to seek employment at the Fair.  The article said the Woman’s Board was battling a movement to give over a section of the fairgrounds to prostitution.  The Woman’s Board was outraged, stating it never had to fight such an issue ‘because it never existed’.  The Woman’s Board also acted as an official subcommittee of the Exposition and was responsible for hosting visiting dignitaries.”

Ackley says she felt a responsibility when writing her book because this was a major American Fair that had no comprehensive, general history written about it.

Laura feels that what she has filled a void in the history of World Fairs with this endeavor. There are many aspects of the Fair, but her book serves to examine its cultural history.

Her book and that book by Anna Pratt Simpson are 100 years apart but come together to be part of the history of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. In 1915, the Ladies of Marin who were on Woman’s Board were:  Mrs. John Hanify, Mrs. Carolyn E. Atherton, Mrs. Peter Hamilton, Mrs. Carl Renz and Mrs. J.C. Perry.  Now, history can add Laura Ackley’s name to those women of Marin who are part of one of the world’s greatest Fairs, the Panama –Pacific Exposition of 1915.


Laura Ackley will appear at Campbell Hall (Christ Episcopal Church) on Monday evening, December 7th, at an event that also celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Sausalito Historical Society.  For information and to make advance reservations, go to www.sausalitohistoricalsociety.com/ recent-events.

Waiting for The Rain

By Larry Clinton

Daniel O’Connell (1849 -1899), was a Sausalito poet who is memorialized by the stone bench on the northwest corner of the intersection of Bulkley and Harrison streets. In January, 1891 the Sausalito News published his poem “Waiting for the Rain,” which is as appropriate today as it was 124 years ago:

"I faint," said the grass on the parched hillside,

Lifting its head with pain.

"And never did bridegroom pine for bride,

As I pine for the rain." 

"I die," said the rose, "for the dusty earth

Presses my roots with pain;

As the mother prays for the infant's birth,

So I pray for the cooling rain." 

"I am sick of my hope," said the heliotrope,

"And that changeless azure sky;

Oh, for one hour of a generous shower,

To drink in its sweetness and die."

"Will it never come," said the mountain brook,

"Till my prisoned waters flow ? 

For this morning I heard, from a stranger bird, 

The grief of the plain below —

"How the broad leaved lily, my wedded bride,

Had bent her snowy head,

And weary with waiting, had drooped and died

ln my parched and dreary bed;

"And the thirsty banks, who laughed at my pranks

When I rushed from the wooded glen,

Have whispered, with fear, in the meadow-lark's ear,

That I had deserted them."

Thus the flowers, and the grass, and the prisoned brook,

And meadow, and hill, and plain,

Are gazing above, with a troubled look, 

For the coming of the rain. 

Cass Gidley Fish Stories

by Annie Sutter

This story was first published in the Marin Scope in 1985.

Some years ago, as I relaxed on board a sailboat anchored off Gate 3, two large crabs suddenly flew into the cockpit, splattered across the deck, and fetched up in a corner, legs waving in outrage. That was my first meeting with Cass Gidley, a cheery looking fellow in a dinghy full of crab pots, nets and fishing gear. “Enjoy!” he shouted as he rowed off to his cutter, the Yo Ho Ho, anchored nearby. Cass, strong, competent and looking just as if he’d spent his life at sea, which he has, has been described by one man as “the strongest man I ever saw — he can pick up Yo Ho Ho’s mains’l and just walk off with it,” and by another: “When you shake hands with Cass Gidley, you know you’ve shaken hands.”

Cass Gidley in a rare moment ashore. Photo Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Cass Gidley in a rare moment ashore.
Photo Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Today Cass, fisherman, sailor, sailing instructor, charter skipper and local legend, has Yo Ho Ho docked at the Napa Street pier near the location of his retail fish market of the ’60s, and the sailing school and marina that still bear his name. He’s lived on the 54­-foot cutter for 18 years and raised three kids on board while anchored off Gate 3. He’s been around Sausalito since the 1920s, when fishermen kept Montereys in Hurricane Gulch, and when four crabs sold for $1. “I started commercial fishing in 1941 — got bit by the bug. Me with no experience, but I liked the sea. I leased a 40-­foot double ender, the Nina, and fished crab, salmon and albacore. We didn’t travel far offshore in those days, but we worked hard for very little money. Salmon brought 12 cents a pound, but money wasn’t the real thing, it was the adventure we had out there.”

At first Cass sold his catch at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, “but finally I got away from it and made my headquarters in Sausalito, in the mid ­’40s. I sold all my fish through Lefty Sturiales, down at Gate 3. Lefty, he was a famous character, known up and down the coast. I fished out of Pt. Reyes and brought them back to Sausalito.”

In the early ’50s, Cass set up a shop next to the ferry dock and sold fresh fish directly off his boat to the locals. “The city gave us a float right where the ferry is now, and we sold tons and tons of fish. We’d fish for a week and come in on Thursday and sell on Friday. The people came right down to the dock; we had so many people we had to give out numbers!” Then, in 1957, Cass started his own crab company, the Lighthouse Crab Co. “We had seven trucks running around and sold from 12,000 to 15,000 pounds a weekend from locations at San Rafael, Black Point, Petaluma. Each crab van pulled a 50-­gallon cooker and had its assigned spot along the highway, and sometimes people were lined up even before the van arrived. I never heard of a frozen crab,” said Cass. “We cooked ’em right on the spot. They stayed alive in the refrigerated truck and came out fighting.

“Then I set up as a fish buyer at the Napa Street pier.” The Casserino Fish Co. was to grow into a large retail operation, a headquarters for fishermen, and had a little lunch place featuring fish and chips. “We had a big room for the fishermen and they could go out and get all ploughed up, you know, and there were never any tickets or trips to jail then. The police in Sausalito were tops then — they helped everybody — they’d call and say, ‘Hey! Your car’s down here, come and get it’ — and maybe a salmon sailed their way the next day. Sometimes when the fleet was ‘blown in,’ with a raft­up of big trawlers side by side at the pier, we’d have a barbecue with fresh bottom fish and salmon on the charcoal, a van full of French bread and the usual free beer. And the smells of garlic bread drifted far out into the bay and even the seagulls stopped to watch.”

What’s in store now for Cass? “I’m going back fishing. I’ve got a small 32-­foot hard chine ketch I’m going to make into a fishing boat and go out and get some fish myself and bring them back to the Napa Street pier and sell right off the boat. That’s my plan. Take the fish out of the stores — everybody’s happy and you’ve all got fresh fish.”

Cass Gidley passed away in 1998, but his memory is being preserved by The Sausalito Community Boating Center, a non-profit organization established to create a Community place at Gidley’s old marina near Dunphy Park to provide affordable access to boats and the water, preserve maritime history through education and skill building, promote environmental stewardship of our bay, and to maintain a place in Sausalito for locals and maritime groups to hold classes, access the waterfront and build community.

Learn more about this organization and its fundraising progress at http://cassgidley.org.

In the News October 23, 1915: Sausalito welcomes Edison

By Billie Anderson Sausalito Historical Society

Sausalito Welcomes Edison and Ford

Edison, Burbank and Ford

Cadets from the Mt. Tamalpais and the Hitchcock Military academies, along with bands and hundreds of citizens extended a royal welcome to Thomas Alva Edison, who was on his way with Henry Ford and party to visit Luther Burbank, the plant wizard.

He was given a very hearty and royal reception by the Sausalito school children as he passed through here on Friday. Hundreds of school children, wearing American flags and a banner bearing the inscription “Sausalito School Children Greet Edison and Ford, met his kindly eyes. He appreciated their grand welcome as he passed through the line, shaking hands with several of the little tots. It was hard to decide who were the happiest the children or Mr. Edison. Mrs. Edison was greatly pleased with the grand welcome as she gazed over the mass of youngsters and in the back of them hundreds of citizens who were glad to get the opportunity of seeing the great man.

Mosquito abatement district petition

In accordance with an Act entitled “An Act to Provide for the Formation, Government, Operation and Dissolution Of Mosquito Abatement Districts The Town of Sausalito does hereby represent to and petition your Honorable Board to create a Mosquito Abatement District to be composed of that portion of Marin County, State of California beginning at the southeast corner of the Town of Sausalito.

School dress code opposed

Mrs. Edward Hyatt, Assistant State Superintendent of Public Instruction, created a stir at the meeting of the Parents’ Auxiliary of the high school last Friday when she objected to a uniform style of dress for girl pupils. “No one is going to tell me what my girls shall wear at school,” she said. “This is a free country and it is an infringement on the rights of parents for this organization or anyone else to tell mothers what kind of dresses their girls shall wear at school.”

The auxiliary seeks to keep some of the high school girls from wearing fashionable dresses, saying that girls who are compelled to wear simple dresses are snubbed by the “society” girls, and feel bad because they can’t dress attractively. “My girls wear plain dresses,” said Mrs. Hyatt. “But if they wore the highest priced gowns and ankle watches, used paint and powder and did their hair up in the latest style it would be nobody’s business but our own.” Mrs. Hyatt’s husband remarks: “She is just about right.”

Just go on and wear your hair as you will in any way most becoming to you for the goddess of fashion will nod indifferent approval on anything. The bobbed coiffure made its debut. It is so novel and so different, no one could help noticing. It is a lovely style for youthful faces. A few young women were willing to go the length of cutting off —”bobbing”—the hair at the sides for the sake of the style. Older women have remained faithful to waved hair combed in a small pompadour and dressed with a knot, rather high on the head. – Julia Bottomly

Fair realizes $1100

The bazaar conducted by the ladies of St Mary Star of the Sea Parish was a success judging from the final statement of Mrs. J. R. Hanify who states that $1100 was realized. The ladies are very grateful to the public for their kind co-operation and especially the Sausalito Woman’s Club for donating the use of the hall and to the Marin Hardware Co., who handled the electrical work.

Life mask premiere

A well-known New Yorker entertaining some friends showed them his life mask and then told them with feeling how the mask had been made. “They put me in a chair, tied a towel around my head, plugged my ears with greased wool and stuck a quill in each nostril.”

Shut your eyes, said the workman, drawing near with a ladle and a large steaming tureen of pink plaster the consistency of thick soup and he slapped the stuff on my face. I could feel it running down my collar and over my chest just as soup would have done. I motioned with my hands wildly. The man laughed. ‘That’s all right, boss,’ he said, and kept slapping the hot, horrible, slimy stuff upon me. He stopped when my face was covered with a half-inch coat of plaster. He told me it would harden in a few minutes. It did, but the minutes were awful. As the plaster dried it seemed to shrink, shrinking my skin with it. And the heat of the thing! And the difficulty in breathing through the quills stuck in my nostrils! Then very carefully, very slowly he drew the hardened cast from my face. I gripped the chair arms and shrieked.

Nine hurled to their death by waves

Schooner Alliance No. 2 strikes Point Arena Fangs in Fog. Sinks in five minutes. Eleven persons were on board. Four bodies of the drowned have been recovered. Two men have been saved. The loss included two women. All on board managed to climb onto the rock, but were swept off by the waves. Jones clung to a waterlogged lifeboat for two hours and was picked up by the Point Arena life-saving crew. Mediner managed to swim ashore. There seems no possible chance for any more to be rescued.

In the News

3rd Earthquake, Pleasant Valley, Nevada.

9th Woodrow Wilson 1st President to attend World Series.

9th Belgrade Serbia surrenders to Central Leaders.

In PURSUIT of Ron MacCannan

by Steefenie Wicks, Sausalito Historical Society

The tide was high and the water was still, a perfect combination.  The 82-foot sloop rocked gently in her berth.  Scuba gear in place mask down, he launched himself into the muddy water.  Once he was there he found his way to the very bottom of the vessel.  He could see the rut in the mud that the large 50-ton vessel had made but with this high tide she was floating above her mark in the mud.  He swam over, like a turtle fitted himself into the rut.  Lying in the mud with the 50-ton vessel floating above him he stretched out his arms on either side of the keel, he was holding up the boat.  As he lay in the space, a laugh played upon his mind.  He thought to himself how many fellows get a chance to hold up their boats.

Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Ron MacCannan is the owner of the vessel PURSUIT, the company of Burgess and Morgan in New York built her in 1929.  She has been his love, his friend, his home and his peace.  Docked at the Madden Yacht Harbor in downtown Sausalito, she has been a showcase of what fine sailing vessels can look like along with being a standing example of the history that they have been part of.  

Pursuit in the Norcal Master Mariner's Ratta

Pursuit in the Norcal Master Mariner's Ratta

  One might say that the PURSUIT a fine vessel is a labor of love for this dedicated sailor.   When he first viewed her in 1959 she was not exactly what he was looking for.  She was larger than he wanted also the vessel was a lot older than he wanted.  However, she was beautiful, strong, priced right, she was his, continues to be his almost 60 years later.

At 90 years of age, Ron MacCannan has been part of the Sausalito waterfront since 1959.  His first job here was to jack up and move the 500 ton building that was built in 1898, at that time it was known as the San Francisco Yacht Club, in 1960 it was known as Ondine’s.  It seemed that the City of Sausalito wanted to widen the street Bridgeway but his building was in the way.  Ron was hired to contact the moving of the structure, which he did.   He tells of that day back in 1960 when he had the building jacked up ‘as is ‘ which allows for three feet of drainage pipe along with placing it is such a position that later would protect against wave action, and high water.  He moved the structure seventy feet east onto a new concrete foundation; this would make the 20-foot widening of Bridgeway possible.  

Tident Resturant, Sausalito

Tident Resturant, Sausalito

Later he would come to own this structure, building it 3 feet higher than it was in 1898. It was during this move that he discovered that the area where the new foundation would be laid, stuck in the mud were thousands of bottles. He was able to do a little bit of fact finding, discovering that the old Fire Department had once been located in that area.  During the days of ‘Prohibition”, all of the liquor bottles where brought to the Fire Department to be discarded, they in tern through them in the Bay.

Ron will be the first to tell you that he was raised as a farm boy on his grandfather’s property in St. Helena.   As a young lad he attended military school, which lead him to be prep for West Point.  During WWII he was trained as a gunner on a B-29.  After the WWII he found himself back in construction only now he had earned a general contractors license, which would bring him to Sausalito.   It was during this time that a new friend of his gave him a place to live. He found himself living aboard a 72-foot yacht called the VIVEKA.   The VIVEKA was a beautiful schooner that was docked in Sausalito; this gave him his first taste of what it was like to live on board a boat.  Then he began his journey of learning how to sail.  It was the sailing part that convinced him that he needed a boat of his own.   A year later he would take a trip down to Los Angeles, row out in the anchorage, view PURSUIT, the rest as he would say is history.

While Ron works on his vessel, he will be tell you that today the wooden boat is not as popular as it use to be.  Today there are new materials that boats are built out of so that they can go faster, looking sleeker in the water.  But the old wooden boat with its wooden hull is just about gone.   This becomes evident when you need to find someone to work on your boat, only to find out that the person you need has moved on to another area.

photo credit Latitude 38

photo credit Latitude 38

‘There was a time “, he says” when you could go to the northern end of town, find boat workers, materials, haul out ways for boats along with shops where these handy folks worked.  Now all of that has changed.  With the lack of shop space that these talented craft folks need to work on the wooden boats in this area, the work force has moved on, a lot of the fine crafts people have moved out of this area.”  He continues, “ Sausalito use to be a mecca for creative sorts, now it’s a mecca for the tourist.  Yet, you can still see guys in this harbor coming down every day or every other day, taking care of their boats, maintaining that part of Sausalito’s waterfront heritage that seems to be slipping away.”

Ron MacCannan was recently spotlighted in the film series called, ‘Life On the Water’.


Cimba and the Farallon Patrol

The following story has been condensed from an article published in the Marin Scope in March 1981.

by Annie Sutter

It's 6:15 a.m., the sky's a chilly, mottled, sullen pinkish-gray, and I'm tiptoeing through patches of frost on an uninviting expanse of dock leading out to the berth where Cimba, the 32' Grand Banks, awaits the arrival of the week's Farallon Patrol. Soon all the shivering members of the expedition have gathered -- Charlie Merrill, skipper, bustling about loading gear, groceries and rolls of chicken wire; two members of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (from here on known as the PRBO) who will relieve other scientists studying bird and seal populations at the windswept islands, and others doubtless wondering why they're casting off into a leaden and chilly sea with a rough day ahead.

Cimba cruising off Sausalito Photo courtesy of S.F. Bay Adventures.

Cimba cruising off Sausalito
Photo courtesy of S.F. Bay Adventures.

At 7 a.m., coffee, croissants and a glorious display of pink, gold, and orange sunrise have done a great deal to dispel the cold and gloom as Cimba joins the early morning parade of fishboats and assorted craft heading out the Gate for a crack at salmon, albacore and cod. Cimba's engine purrs happily as she heads out into what has become a morning sparkly sea of silver and blue and long, low smooth swells -- maybe no one will be seasick this run! A caravan of cormorants heads out to sea in tight formation and flocks of murres disappear beneath the waves to port, and reappear in unison, yards away to starboard. An hour later, the swells have increased in volume, the wind has freshened, and the sparkly sea, stirred up into mean little khaki colored choplets, begins to slap and break over the bow while Cimba leaps through the swells, digs down, and rides up, shaking off spray.

By 11 a.m. the islands, at first smoky blobs on the horizon, have been taking shape for the past couple of hours. They consist of three rocky, mainly barren and windswept groups; and the largest at 90 acres with a lighthouse on top is Southeast Farallon, home of the PRBO and our destination. We've made radio contact with the island, and people are waiting up on a large concrete landing with a crane. We've got an easterly wind, the worst kind for the pick-up, and the swells are just about big enough to call off the rendezvous -- but not quite. They radio to come on in and tie up to a big seaweed-encrusted buoy, which is rolling violently, tugging at its mooring.

A Boston Whaler with two people in it is hanging off the crane and being lowered slowly into the water, a distance of about 25'. As it hits the water, the people's heads vanish behind swells, then reappear, and as the boat is unhooked from the hoist, it skitters off, bounding through the troughs, appearing and disappearing. Soon, a large box is dangling from the hoist, and the Whaler goes back to pick it up. It sways and lurches while the boat dances below; then, as the two finally meet, the box is deftly unhooked and it lands with a plop in the Whaler, which backs off quickly and heads out to Cimba to unload. Back and forth they go - box returned empty, box hoisted, box reloaded, box returned to Cimba filled with equipment, duffel bags, packs and luggage of those who will be leaving.

When it's time for the staff to disembark from the landing at the top of the cliff, a new conveyance is hooked onto the crane - a scary looking thing called a "Billypugh", developed for use on big oil rigs. The people climb onto the top, cling to it as it's lowered, swaying, to the Whaler. They say it's a lot easier to get on at the top than off at the bottom. Soon we have four new faces aboard, four sets of belongings, and four people who say they are glad to be going home. We unleash Cimba from the rolling buoy, and head back into the chop and the swells, for the Golden Gate.

After reading about sharks and tumultuous seas in Cimba's logbook, I look around apprehensively, but today the sea is kind, and the boat is faithfully buzzing along toward home. By 5 p.m., we're nearing the Gate, bucking a fierce ebb tide, but making headway. It's dark by the time the amber overheard lights of the bridge have been left behind, and as we approach Sausalito traffic scurries along Bridgeway, and the lights twinkle up in the hills. Cimba glides into her berth, veteran of another Farallon Patrol voyage. "Piece of cake!" says Charlie.

Charles H. Merrill, a small boat sailor and a pillar of the Sausalito community, died in his hillside home overlooking San Francisco Bay at age 95. In 1990, Cimba went into disrepair and in 1999, Charlie Merrill decided to sell her to Capt. Paul Dines of SF Bay Adventures, which offers private charters on her for up to 6 guests. For more information, visit sfbayadventures.com.

Of Whiskey Flasks and Bathtub Gin


Veteran local storyteller Swede Pedersen, who was born and raised here and had a rich treasure trove of memories of Sausalito from the 1930s on.  This article, somewhat edited and abridged,is based on an interview that appeared in MarinsScope on February 8, 1972.

            “When I was only 12 years old,” Pedersen recalls, “we used to go down to Shelter Cove at night, and when the fog came in we’d tunnel under the pilings of the old Walhalla, the German beer garden that’s now the Valhalla, where we knew a lot of the stuff was stored.  I remember when I made my first sale to one of our leading citizens.  He said, `You’ve done your civic duty by turning this in, young man.  If you find anymore of these bottles, you just bring them straight to me’.”

            The distinct class divisions that existed in Sausalito at that time apparently vanished when it came to the forbidden pleasures of whiskey flasks and bathtub gin.  While the hill people were making fig wine in their basements, the young men of the working class were flirting with prison terms for the sake of the big money offered by men like “Baby Face” Nelson, who spent a brief time in Sausalito in the early 1930s.

The wages of sin:  A local pharmacy was shut down for violating Prohibition laws in the 1920s. Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

The wages of sin:  A local pharmacy was shut down for violating Prohibition laws in the 1920s.
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

By and large, the attitude among the otherwise law-abiding citizenry was a wink and a nod.  From the stately homes of the Banana Belt to the proletarian flatlands, there was amused acquiescence -- or covert indulgence in guilty pleasures.  “Baby Face” Nelson’s custom-built Duesenberg used to be brought into Rose’s Garage on Caledonia Street (now the Real Foods store), one old-timer recalled for this interview. “I’d wash and polish it, and I can still remember the bullet-proof windshield and the secret compartment under the seats where the booze was kept.”

“Sometimes we’d get together at the Women’s Club,” remembered a “hill lady” who didn’t care to be identified.  “Our local pharmacist would mix up some of his medicinal alcohol with a few juniper leaves, and we’d have a little gin party.”

According to Pedersen, a local Boy Scout troop was sometimes “chaperoned” by men posing as troop leaders who took the boys to a lonely West Marin beach, settled them around a bonfire, treated them to a wiener roast and encouraged them to sing camp songs at the top of their lungs.  In the meantime, the chaperones loaded up a long, black limousine down by the water with contraband brought in by boat. 

The prevalence of crude stills in private homes seems to have approached the

proportions of a cottage industry.  But since big money was often at stake, the fun and games of local law breaking inevitably came to be overshadowed by the deadly serious operations of big-time gangsters.  “There were more unidentified bodies found floating in the bay and laying in the back roads during that period than at any other time in the history of this area,” said Pedersen.  “Our Boys Club, who sponsored the Sausalito Bears ball club, held whist parties to pay for our uniforms.  Our headquarters were in the basement of a house on Spring Street where a speakeasy operated on the upper floors.  So it didn’t surprise us when we found a machine gun dismantled and cleaned one day out in our horseshoe throwing pit.”

In addition to a liberal social climate, there were also fortuitous geographical reasons for a widespread flouting of the dry laws in Marin and Sonoma counties.  “Because of all the inlets up and down the coast west of here,” Pedersen pointed out, “there were plenty of chances for small, fast boats, carrying contraband from Canadian and Mexican ‘mother ships’ laying offshore in international waters, to come in and unload their cargo on the beaches.”

In the days before the Golden Gate Bridge was built, Sausalito was known among rumrunners as “the bottleneck” through which illegal liquor had to be funneled to San Francisco’s speakeasies.  They had to make it through downtown and onto a San Francisco-bound ferry without detection.  Pedersen told of how bootleggers would meet at the old Caesar’s Inn on Tocoloma Road, near Inverness, and make plans for a shipment to the city. 

 “A call would go out to a trusted telephone operator in San Rafael – often a girlfriend of one of the men – who would relay the message to Sausalito that everyone should be off the streets because a truckload was coming through.  The truck, covered with a tarpaulin, would time the run so that it could catch the last ferry of the night within seconds before it left, and that way keep a jump ahead of the federal inspectors.”

Obviously, in order for such an operation to run smoothly, almost everyone in Sausalito had to be an accessory to the fact, either actively or passively.  There were only two policemen on the force then, plus a night watchman.  The degree to which they looked the other way can only be a matter of conjecture today.

Building Boom of 1911

Sausalito’s optimism abounded 104 years ago, and the San Francisco Call reported: Many signs go to show that Sausalito has entered on a new era of development. More fine residences have been built here during the last six or eight months than in the same number of years before. The first brick and stone business block in Water Street, for the Bank of Sausalito, was erected within a year.


The Bank of Sausalito on Water Street, now Bridgeway Photo Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

The Bank of Sausalito on Water Street, now Bridgeway
Photo Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Four more business buildings are about to be built this spring. Several pretty bungalows are in process of construction and plans are being drawn by a San Francisco architect for a $12,000 residence.

This building boom and the general forward movement of the town is due largely to the acquisition of a good water supply. Last year the Lagunitas water supply mains were extended to Sausalito, giving the town an unlimited supply of the purest mountain water. This comes from Lake Lagunitas, nearly 20 miles away, on the northern slope of Mount Tamalpais. It has the same purity and health giving qualities as Mill Valley's water supply, which has had much to do with the upbuilding of that popular suburb and summer resort.

Sausalito has built five reservoirs on the highest ridge in town, making a large auxiliary water supply for any emergency. It gives a strong pressure in all parts of the town.

The town is now engaged in building two miles of macadamized streets. There is a plan afoot to asphalt Water Street throughout the business district and clear round to its western extremity toward the Golden gate. Two thirds of the property owners have signed contracts for their shares of this important work and It Is believed that soon all will join in the movement.


"The new water supply and the street Improvements now under way," said F.D. Lindsey, cashier of the Bank of Sausalito and chairman of the board of trustees "are only, the beginning of making Sausalito a model suburb. We expect soon to have a cable line running from the station and up over the hills to North and South Sausalito, making large areas available for home sites.

"The Pacific Gas and Electric company is contemplating an extension of their gas mains from San Rafael Southward to Mill Valley and Sausalito." When the Eureka extension of the Northwestern Pacific Is completed all trains from the north will come into this terminal and will increase greatly the local business of the town."

The Sausalito improvement club, of which C. M. Moore, the San Francisco contractor, is chairman, Is concentrating its efforts on carrying out plans for putting the streets and sewers in all parts of the town in good condition.


Michael Rainy: Waterfront Diplomat

By Steefenie Wicks

While sitting in a marine class in Terra Linda, Michael Rainy, the harbormaster for Sausalito’s Schoonmaker Marina, decided to check his phone. He had been expecting a text from a client who wanted to bring in a 130- footer, and planned to arrive that day from Los Angeles. Just as he was about to make a connection, a text came in with an urgent, “Please call marina.” Not only was the vessel in but it was escorted by the Coast Guard and the Sausalito Police boat. He replied to the text: “I’m on my way.”



Rainy has been the Schoonmaker harbormaster for the past 26 years.

Schoonmaker is one of five different marinas located on the Sausalito waterfront. The thing that makes Schoonmaker Marina different from the others is its open beachfront location, making it an available spot for vessels both small and large. Rainey’s day-to-day involvement with the very well to do and the not so well to do is a test of his skills in diplomacy; he will be the first to tell you that “The guy with the 200 footer has as much rights as the guy in the 30 footer when it comes to respecting each other while living on this common denominator, the water.”

The ship that had caused such a commotion was the “Spearfisher,” a stealthy-looking vessel that was caught doing 40 knots under the Golden Gate Bridge. Rainy was not at all surprised by the size of the vessel or the fact that she was so fast. Being the harbormaster of a big berth marina can present its problems, but all can be solved with a clear understanding of the situations. The captain of the “Spearfisher” was quick to speak to the authorities and the situation was soon taken care of, after which the captain turned to Rainy and said, “This happens all the time.”

Schoonmaker is listed as a big boat marina, so they can dock vessels that are well over 100 ft., maxing out at 225 feet. They are in demand, for as the price of fuel goes up the captains of these vessels like to know that when they pull up to a dock that they can plug in to 100 or 200 amps and let their equipment recharge.

Rainy remembers the experience of taking his father, who at the time was 75, on tour through one of the really big boats docked in the marina. As they walked on the red shag carpet that was wall to wall in the engine room, his father just shook his head. Then they traveled above deck to the pilothouse where all the ship’s controls were placed; behind that sat a gym with workout equipment. Then they crossed the gym to open the glass doors where the helicopter was parked. Michael said his father just stood there looking from one end to the other, and he could not stop saying, “Oh, my god, oh, my god.”

As harbormaster, Michael Rainy explains that when you purchase a marina it does not come in a box. To maintain and efficiently run its day-to-day existence, you must know all aspects of its overall structure. Rainy remembers that he was hired after one of the worst storms that had taken place in this area, in the winter of 1989. He begins, “That was the year that the outer concrete docks broke up into many pieces. Then a trimaran that was anchored out broke loose from its moorings and began to ride the huge waves that were building, making it end up with a section of the vessel trapped under the crumbling concrete dock; it was a mess. If there is one thing to fear on the water, it can be the wind. You have no control, it just doesn’t stop, there is no off button, only the aftermath of the destruction that it can cause.”

Schoonmaker is a one of a kind Bay Area marina because it is a recreational marina, “meaning,” says Rainy, “that you don’t have to climb over a fence to get to your boat. We are not industrial or located in an industrial area. You can come and park and plug in and get shore power and use shower facilities.” Schoonmaker is very much an open space marina that does not discourage use.

Rainy enjoys seeing the big boats come in as well as the familiar sight of a small vessel that makes a returning visit each year. Above all, it’s the people he deals with every day who make his day. He feels that boating people have a common attitude, which means that 95% of the time this guy or gal coming to his or her boat is in a good mood. They are happy to be here because they love their boats, which are now part of this Sausalito waterfront. In this community of the haves and the have-nots, we really do learn to live together, which in the end is what it’s all about.

From Disaster to Literature

By Larry Clinton Sausalito Historical Society

The opening of Jack London’s novel, The Sea-Wolf, is based on an historic tragedy – the collision of the sidewheeler ferries Sausalito and San Rafael on foggy San Francisco Bay. Here is a lightly excerpted account of the collision from the book Redwood Railways by Gilbert H. Kneiss:

November of 1901 had but a few more hours to live when the blackest, densest tule fog of years rolled in on the Bay and blotted out familiar landmarks as it cued bells, foghorns and whistles to take up their duties. A few chilly, belated commuters raced under the invisible Ferry Tower and aboard the San Rafael for her 6:15 run to home and dinner.

Dick the horse in happier times on the foredeck of the ferry San Rafael.

Dick the horse in happier times on the foredeck of the ferry San Rafael.

Above, in the San Rafael's pilot house, old Captain McKenzie rang for half-speed astern and backed out through the thick tule fog. Nothing could be seen. The San Rafael started on her course ten minutes late, her wheels poking at fourteen turns instead of the usual twenty-two..

The fog seemed thicker, if such could be, and there was a very heavy ebb tide. Soon he recognized the Sausalito's whistle off his starboard bow. Ordinarily, each would keep to the right of Alcatraz Island, so they would never meet, but a dredger working around Arch Rock had blocked one channel.

Captain McKenzie yanked his whistle cord twice to pass to port; put his helm hard a-starboard. Two blasts out of the fog from the Sausalito agreed with him. But they sounded uncomfortably close and almost dead ahead. Instantly he rang to stop the engine, sounded three short whistles and rang again full speed astern. The big paddles started splashing again, slowly, in reverse.

Suddenly there was a god-awful crash, the ferry's hull splintered open, and the Sausalito's steel prow smashed into the grill and batted one passenger twenty feet through the door. All hell broke loose, so did most of the passengers' self-control. They smashed windows, panicked up the companion ways and fought madly for life preservers. Behind all  the racket — the screams, wails and curses, shattering glass and ghostly chorus of foghorns outside — they heard the ominous background of endless waters pouring through the breach.

The officers, at least, kept cool and soon restored some semblance of order. McKenzie and the Sausalito's Captain Tribble had immediately ordered their ferries lashed together and boats launched. A few of the deckhands and some male passengers of both boats began to pass women and children from the San Rafael which was sinking fast. Soon her starboard rail was under water, then her lights blinked out. Splashing through the greedy waves, men dragged the few remaining women to the upper deck where Bartender Gus now handed matrons across to the Sausalito as quick and calm as ever he'd passed a Pisco Punch across the bar.

Captain McKenzie saw that time had about run out. His passengers were almost off — women and children aboard the other ferry and the men bobbing around in life jackets. But Dick, the baggage truck horse, was still tethered in the cabin. McKenzie cut his rope and drove him out, then jumped for the Sausalito. He was just in time. With an almost human sob, the San Rafael vanished. Twenty minutes before, she had been a proud but aging steamer.

The Sausalito's deck resembled a hospital ward. The fog still resembled a cold puree. No one knew where the tides had led them. But the prolonged whistles and failure of the boats to dock had sent two Red Stack tugs to the rescue. One, the Sea King, nosed through the soup just as the last life boat brought more sopping, shivering, cork-jacketed survivors. Tribble grabbed his megaphone and yelled "where are we?" and from the tug they heard the answer: "Off the Presidio light and heading out to sea!"

Flanked by the two tugs, the Sausalito inched along to the haven of her slip and the hysterical cheer that greeted her as she loomed between the pilings showed how the word had spread.

The next day passed under a burden of suspense and rumor. No one knew just who had been aboard, and many, first feared missing, proved to have taken the California Northwestern ferry. The known dead finally shrunk to two men and a four-year-old boy. Despite tales that he had landed happily on one of the lush pastured islands in the Bay, the carcass of Dick, the freight horse, was sighted drifting out to sea.

How Issaquah Dock Developed

By Annie Sutter

As newcomers and young people continued to congregate on the Sausalito shores, many left a permanent imprint on the waterfront to come. One was Joe Tate, who arrived on the scene in the mid-1960s. He was a musician, a creative scrounger who could envision possibilities for renovation in the most unlikely flotsam and jetsam, and, as it states on his business card, an expert in "advanced finagling." Joe and a group of musicians formed a band called the "Red Legs" which became the nucleus of the rowdy community that was quickly growing from Gate 3 to Gate 6 at the shore's edge -- as well as in the mud at low tide. Their story is told in the film Last Free Ride. Here's a first-hand account from Joe about how these little communities sprang up and grew.

Hodgepodge surrounding Whitey’s Marina and the Oakland (center). Photo by Charlotte Von Segesser, courtesy of Joe Tate

Hodgepodge surrounding Whitey’s Marina and the Oakland (center).
Photo by Charlotte Von Segesser, courtesy of Joe Tate

"We were able to get rehearsal space on an old sunken potato boat called the Oakland, at Gate 6. It was ideal for us and we were able to create the core of our original music there. There was a big WWII sub chaser sunk next to the Oakland and both hulks together formed a large island with a walkway connecting to the shore. One winter there was a big storm with violent winds. A huge section of floating dock broke loose from Kappas Marina, just north of Gate 6. The thing was drifting near Strawberry Point when we spotted it and we immediately went out and towed this giant hunk of flotsam back to the Oakland. With these floating docks tied to the Oakland, we had an instant marina, which filled up with small boats right away. We named it Whitey's Marina, after a cat, and painted a big sign on the side of the sub chaser that said WHITEY'S MARINA.  Persons of authority would show up asking to see Whitey. Nobody ever knew where he was. And, of course, Whitey didn’t know either."

Paradise, perhaps, but home building proceeded with no regulations, no codes, no order -- the waterfront residents had formed a community within themselves. By the 1960s this hodgepodge extended from Gate 3 where the Arques shipyard hummed with activity related to building houseboats and concrete hulls, to Gate 6 where the ferryboat Issaquah lay. And to add to the jumble, owners seeking to fill the marshlands to increase their usable waterfront land went far and wide in the search for fill. Decaying barges were towed in from around the Bay area and from the Delta, and buried under what later would become the major thoroughfare connecting Yellow Ferry, Kappas and Waldo Point Harbor. Eucalyptus stumps were hauled down from the hills above and laid under what would become parking lots. Quarry tailings, rocks, soil from the construction of Highway 101, telephone poles, mattresses, and pilings salvaged from dismantled piers in San Francisco were used as fill. Cement was poured into sinkholes, aging vessels and vehicles were sunk into the mud. It was rumored that a Mercedes disappeared into the muck by accident. 

This unsightly jumble offended some of Sausalito's citizens who complained to the Marin County Board of Supervisors and requested them to clean up the area. This led to the first physical confrontation between the houseboat dwellers and the authorities. In 1971 the County sent in police and sheriff's deputies with tugboats and bulldozers ready to clear and tow away two boats. Only one boat was boarded, for when the waterfront dwellers discovered the police in their midst, they rallied with a small flotilla of assorted vessels armed with oars, 2 x 4s, boat hooks, and bags of sand, and rammed the police boats trying to tow one of their neighbors away. The law withdrew. More violence was to come, and it had become clear that something had to be done. If Waldo Point didn’t clean up its own act, the County would, (at least) try.

It's hard to follow the endless legal wrangling, the court orders and lawsuits between the land owners, the developers, the City of Sausalito, the county of Marin and the denizens of the waterfront community regarding codes, regulations, and ordinances, and the conflicts that followed. On one hand was Donlon Arques, landowner, trying to get permits to build a marina to clean up the very problems concerning the officials representing the "hill folk" of Sausalito. On the other hand were the agencies trying to enforce the rights of land owners and of developers, versus the residents of the waterfront community who did not want to see their way of life threatened by order, neatness, authority, conformity and higher rents. But these rebellious souls were only a small yet highly visible portion of the community. Most of the established residents of the waterfront were responsible people, artists and craftsmen and boat builders and construction workers who paid their rent, respected property rights, raised families and worked for a living. The stories of the labyrinthine politics and special interests at work in the time of the harbor development are best left to historians and politicians. But it is safe to say that once Waldo Point Harbor Corp. was formed, and permits were in place, management faced a long and tumultuous battle, huge expenses, endless negotiating and fierce local resistance before the project was finished. 

Sausalito in the News – August 27, 1954

By Billie Anderson Sausalito Historical Society

Firemen respond to fires on Sunday

A furnace fire, which scorched a unit in Building 5 of the Marin Dormitories, was subdued within 15 minutes by the Sausalito Fire Department Sunday morning. The fire was reported at 9:49 a.m.

Forty-six minutes later, three Marin City fire trucks were dispatched to a fire which consumed a half acre of grass on a ridge above Marin City. It was doused by 11:28 a.m.

Women’s federation discusses plans

Club women visiting from foreign countries have evinced interest in the entire Bay Area. It will therefore be the duty of Mrs. Rixford and Mrs. McGeorge to be “ambassadors of good will” to visitors. Mrs. Lightbody, civil defense chairman, was appointed to represent the County Federation at the forthcoming Disaster Workshop at Phoenix Lake, September 18, under the auspices of the Red Cross. The first regular meeting of the new season will be held on Wednesday, October 13 at the Sausalito Woman’s Club.

Orphanage all-year project

The Albertinum School and Orphanage at Ukiah will become a year-round project of a newly organized auxiliary of Star of the Young Ladies Institute (YLI). Due to the orphanage’s extreme poverty, the Sausalito YLI decided to assist it throughout the year, announced Mrs. Peter Fugina, president. Members expect to visit the orphanage in the near future to ascertain its needs. Any contributions of children’s clothing will be gratefully accepted by the auxiliary.

Handy checklist for gardeners

Water the lawn with a stationary sprinkler so that the water penetrates at least five inches. Don’t forget roses during the summer time. Water and spray regularly and fertilize at monthly intervals. Lift Gladiolus bulbs after the tops have turned yellow. Dust with DDT or lindane and store in shallow trays until Spring.

Support for State Liquor Board

“The State Liquor Board members have been subject to influence by the very people they were supposed to regulate” stated Paul Leake of Ukiah. “Passage of this bill will enable the Board of Equalization to return to its proper province, the collecting and reassigning of one billion dollars yearly of your tax money. When you, as voting citizens, force the Board to function as it was designed to function, you are not just doing a favor for yourselves. You are carrying out an obligation to your State.”

What’s he doing?

You might not guess it, but those men are going to school. They’re learning how to climb telephone poles safely and to string lines that will carry your calls. Such training gives telephone people the skills they need to do their jobs faster, better, cheaper and more safely, too. Thus, they’re better able to bring you good telephone service that’s low in price. Pacific Telephone works to make your telephone a bigger value every day.

How long has it been since you heard the voices of far-away loved ones and friends you haven’t seen for ages? A visit by long distance is the next best thing to being there in person. It means so much and costs so little. You can call coast to coast —clear to Boston for example for only $2.00 plus tax. That’s the rate for a three-minute “station” call.

On This Date – August 1954

8-29– San Francisco International Airport (SFO) opens

8-31–Hurricane Carol Kills 70 (East Coast)

9-1 – Hurricane Carol Kills 70 (New England)9

9-2 – Hurricane Carol Kills 20 (First Storm Name To Be Retired)


– Derek Warwick, Race Car Driver

–John Lloyd, England Tennis Star (Former husband of Chris Evert)

– Mike Kelly, Wayne Michigan Artist

When Rumours Came True in Sausalito

By Larry Clinton

Celebrated Living, the inflight magazine of American Airlines, recently ran an article detailing how the spirit of Sausalito contributed to the hugely successful Fleetwood Mac album, Rumours. Back then, says the unsigned article, Sausalito’s harbor “was regularly filled with rock and movie stars of the 1970s, many of whom saw Sausalito as a high­end getaway where they could at once be afforded luxury accommodations appropriate for their wealth and a hedonistic nightlife that suited their indulgent lifestyles.”

Fleetwood Mac’s visit to Sausalito was legendary not just because it produced the 26th­best album of all time according to Rolling Stone – but, as Celebrated Living states: “because of what the band went through personally, how that infused the album and led to brilliance, and how the town gave the members the focus and the energy to see them through it all.”

Christine McVie wrote in Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album: “I thought I was drying up when we started recording Rumours.

Then, one day in Sausalito, I sat at the piano, and my four ­and ­a­half songs on the album are a result of that.” The album went on to sell more than 40 million copies. In 1978, it received a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

When the band arrived in Sausalito, “they were in relationship turmoil,” according to the magazine. “During the recording sessions, the fault lines would widen between Christine and John McVie, who were divorcing after eight years, and between Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. A few weeks into the recording, Mick Fleetwood found out about his wife’s affair. The women in the band rented their own apartments in the Sausalito harbor to get away from the men, who stayed (for the most part) in a studio ­provided home in the nearby Marin County hills.”

Several band members have said they think if they’d tried to make the record in L.A., the band might have broken up. The isolation made them deal with the emotions directly, and that found its way into the songs. Comparing Sausalito’s culture to the band’s home town, Los Angeles, Buckingham recalls, “Sausalito, as an extension of San Francisco and the music scene up there, was a smaller community that had far more idealistic underpinnings.”

The Record Plant’s “dark lighting and narrow wood ­lined hallways led musicians and studio staff into a labyrinth punctuated by small recording rooms,” notes the magazine. “The studio had no windows, so even though it was situated in this sunny waterside resort, it gave the feeling of being a timeless vault, not unlike the effect of a casino.”

Plant Studio Sausalito, CA

Plant Studio Sausalito, CA

“The music was my only escape,” Fleetwood says in his autobiography, Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac.

The article continues: “Buckingham — whose songs ‘Second Hand News’ and ‘Go Your Own Way’ had a darker edge when addressing the aftermath of a breakup than did Nicks’ — acknowledges the importance of the Record Plant’s psychedelic and spiritual prison like mojo in shaping the emotions on display in the album.

“But, he says the town of Sausalito itself was just as important to the record’s emotional foundation as was the studio. ‘There was a great history to the Record Plant, sure. A lot of people had done great work,’ Buckingham says. ‘And the people working there were sort of an extension of the town and its tight community. It’s an interesting thing because I think the community was something that was nurturing to us.

But because we were our own little community and there was so much humanity to what we were doing with the album and in the studio, I think our presence during those few months was felt by the community of Sausalito as well’.” One spot they gravitated to was The Trident, which, says Celebrated Living, “was to Northern California what Studio 54 was to New York City. It was the place where, from the mid­’60s until later that year in 1976, would be the epicenter for stardom and excess, for ’70s free love and mind­altering experiences.” Buckingham and his wingmen also found a nearby bar, the short­lived Agatha’s Pub (now Angelino’s Italian restaurant), and made it their home base. Celebrated Living notes that “Buckingham soon began dating a waitress from the pub throughout his stay there, trying to move on from his ongoing breakup with Nicks.”

The best part of the spirit of the ’70s subculture was the kind of freedom which, the magazine reports, “can still be felt along the streets and bayside enclaves of the town today. Not the drug culture so often celebrated as essential to that freedom. Even the band members say they succeeded despite that. No, it’s the freedom you feel when you deal with the pain of the last days of a relationship and come out the other side of the tunnel stronger. It’s the freedom afforded you when your vacation to Sausalito runs for a leisurely weekend or for 10 weeks of creative tension. It’s the freedom you feel when you walk along the wharfs with your headphones, hit play on ‘The Chain,’ and let the ghosts of Sausalito’s past move you again.”

The cover of Rumours features a stylized shot of Fleetwood and Nicks

John Read, Ferry Pioneer

By Larry Clinton

The first English­speaking settler in what was then called Saucelito was Capt. John Read (aka Reed), who came here in 1826, and is said to be one of the first, if not the first Irishman who ever located permanently on the Pacific coast. Shortly after arriving, Reed applied to the Mexican Government for a grant to the Saucelito Rancho. While awaiting his land grant, he established a San Francisco Bay ferry service using a sailboat.

According to and early 20 CALIFORNIA, “This was doubtless the first ferryboat on the bay, which now counts them by the dozens, and the first in the State. When we compare this mere pigmy of a sail­boat making its one or more trips a week, with the palace steamers which now pass to and fro over the same track more than a dozen times each day, we can form some conception of the magnitude of the changes which have occurred in the past half century.”

Photo courtesy of Bancroft Library

Photo courtesy of Bancroft Library

The service didn’t last long, because, in the words of the Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub, “The American Indians, who paddled across the bay, were faster and more reliable.” After Read’s land grant application was refused, on the grounds that this tract had been reserved for government purposes, he went up to Sonoma County, then back down to San Rafael where he served as major domo of the mission.

Read came back to Saucelito permanently, in 1832. “He located on the Saucelito ranch,” the book reports, “near where the old town stood, hoping now to be able to get a grant for it, but, like many other matters entrusted to friends to be done, when the papers arrived they were not in his name.” William Richardson, following in Reed’s footsteps, also applied for a grant to Saucelito Rancho (after marrying the Presidio commander's daughter), and that application was approved in 1838. Two years later, Read was given a grant to Rancho Corte de Madera del Presidio, encompassing what is now southern Corte Madera, Mill Valley, the Tiburon Peninsula, and Strawberry Point.

After Richardson had lost control of his holdings, the town began growing under the auspices of the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company. Beginning in 1868, these developers used the ferryboat Princess to lure prospective buyers from San Francisco, and the popularity of the concept created a boom in ferry service all over the Bay.

The completion of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 led to the demise of Sausalito’s ferry service until the 1970’s when it was reborn, ironically, by the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

Sunday Sails with Varda

By Betsy Stroman

    Jean (Yanko) Varda, the collage artist who moved onto the old ferryboat Vallejo on the Sausalito waterfront in the late 1940s, was an avid sailor. He built his first boat at the age of 12, while living in Smyrna, a port city in the ancient Ottoman Empire, and he liked to tell people that his first profession was that of a boatbuilder. During the more than twenty years he lived on the Vallejo, he built several sailboats. The larger ones all shared a distinctive design. He converted them from old metal lifeboats, readily available on the Sausalito waterfront at the time for about sixty dollars. Most of his sailboats had a lateen or triangular sail, mounted at an angle on the mast, commonly featured on the boats that fishermen in the Mediterranean sailed.

Jean Varda’s Cythera under sail
Photo from Varda family archives

   Varda frequently painted eyes on the hull of his boats. Some speculated that the eyes kept people safe on the boat, but many people thought that Varda himself had a protective magic. In an interview with Sausalito writer Annie Sutter, the artist Gordon Onslow Ford, who for a time shared the Vallejo with Varda, explained that Varda “was a Greek sailor from ancient times … a lucky person. … He was quite fearless and would put to sea with his cargo of beauties and they never came to any harm.” Friends who sailed with Varda claimed that, to the astonishment of proper yachtsmen, he could “whistle the wind,” by which they meant that when he whistled, he brought the wind, and the boat sailed faster.
    Varda built the first of these boats. the Chimera, in the early 1950s, a few years after moving onto the Vallejo. Writing to a friend, he reported, “My sailing boat is a marvel and with a crew of the choicest I spend my Sundays in the Bay. We generally go out 18 of us with gallons of wine, with tons of food, with singers & musicians.”
    The Chimera was followed by the Perfidia. Alan Watts, the writer and Zen popularizer who lived on the Vallejo with Varda beginning in the early 1960s, described the Perfidia as “the bravest boat on the Bay, with eyes on the prow, a broad band of vivid red below the gunwale, and a honey-colored lateen sail.“ As in the past, Varda and his friends would spend Sundays sailing on the bay, well supplied with bread, cold chicken, and gallons of wine. “Seeing this craft gliding in full sail by the wooded cliffs ofBelvedere,” Watts wrote, “it was impossible to believe that this was the United States and not the islands of Greece.”
    Varda refused to install a motor on his earlier boats, and there were times when the sailing parties ended up becalmed, or the tides were going the wrong way. When a motorboat came by, according to Varda’s friend Alexis Tellis, who accompanied him on many of these outings, sometimes Varda shouted, “Give us a tow and we’ll give you a girl.” Varda got a lot of tows, Tellis added, but he never gave them a girl.
    In the fall of 1966, Varda, along with some young helpers, began working on his last sailboat, the Cythera. By this time Varda had reluctantly become convinced that a motor would be a good idea and one was installed. The Cythera ended up much larger than any of Varda’s earlier sailboats. In addition to the customary lateen sail, red in this case, there was a yellow mainsail, painted with a sun, and a white American jib. “When the Cythera is fully rigged she resembles an exotic Chinese junk,” one of Varda’s friends wrote. “No one would guess the craft is a resurrected rusty iron-hulled lifeboat.”
    Sunday sails on the Cythera frequently included as many as 40 guests, who would board the boat, dressed in their most colorful garb, and scramble to find cushions in the hull.    Yanko sat on a box and give orders to the crew — friends who knew how to sail. In short order, two or three bottles of burgundy would be uncorked. An old piano top, hoisted across the motor, served as a table. It was soon heaped with cold marinated liver, French bread, cheese, and other delicacies. As the guests sat and enjoyed the food and wine, Varda would begin to talk about painting, or tell one of his fabulous stories.    
    Young women who boarded the boat in their colorful but filmy hippie garb in the early afternoon would soon find that they were freezing. Varda, the ever thoughtful host, kept a bunch of old coats, which he had bought at Goodwill, on board, and the young women would be very pleased when Varda came by with a glass of wine and draped a coat around them.     
    One of Varda’s friends from that era, Margaret Fabrizio, who sometimes joined the Sunday sails, later recalled that often fancy yachts sailing on the bay would make a special trip to the boat “to get Varda’s blessing.” People just wanted to have some kind of interaction with Varda, she said. There was something about the kind of energy and joy that emanated from his colorful homemade boats and its colorfully clad occupants that attracted those expensive yachts like a magnet.
From June 1 to July 13. The Historical Society is proud to sponsor an exhibit of Varda’s works at the Bay Model. 

Juanita and Her Galley

By Eric Torney

Juanita Musson was a restaurateur and social icon of the mid to late 1960's who existed on the Northern periphery of the Sausalito houseboat community. She had several restaurants, not all of them in Sausalito.

The following lightly edited excerpt is from Eric Torney’s video history: “Sausalito After the Bridge”:

Juanita with a chair probably broken after a biker rumble. From the book “Juanita!” by Sally Hayton-Keeva

Juanita with a chair probably broken after a biker rumble. From the book “Juanita!” by Sally Hayton-Keeva

Juanita was one of the most colorful entrepreneurs to ever open a restaurant in Sausalito. The other woman, also a restaurateur, who approaches and perhaps who may prevail over Juanita as the most famous, was Sally Stanford and her Valhalla. Sally and Juanita knew each other. Juanita would say “There is a Madam on one end of town and a drunk on the other.” Sally actually was the more proper of the two. But they did not necessarily get along. At one time there was an uneasy truce between them. In Juanita's words: “Sally sent me a fox. But, wait a minute, maybe she meant him to bite me. “

Her most famous restaurant was Juanita's Galley, a restaurant established on the decommissioned ferry Charles Van Damme, which was beached on the mudflats north of town. Besides a restaurant it was a night club. The floor was quite uneven. Patrons typically did not notice such unevenness as a warped floor, their own state of mind often being more warped than the floor. Access was by a flimsy ramp. Parking was on a dirt lot. You came before dark because there was no lighting outside.

There were numerous fund raisers (Save the Galley Rallies), attended by a host of luminaries. Sterling Hayden, Glen Yarborough, and Vince Guaraldi to name a few, all of whom had enjoyed the one woman side show and wanted the fun to continue.

Juanita's Galley was the most appropriately named restaurant she ever opened. In 1963 the place was closed down by the IRS for unpaid taxes and the contents sold for a measly $540. Not to be deterred, she soon opened another Juanita’s in Fetters Hot Springs, near Sonoma. Regrettably, that restaurant burned to the ground.

She was a large woman who typically wore a Hawaiian muumuu. Live chickens regularly roamed her establishment, as well as an occasional monkey, pig, or goat (Juanita loved animals). Patrons never knew what to expect. One thing patrons could count on was good food. Juanita knew how to cook. Service was the same as the food. Juanita had the inclination to hire cute waitresses, who were as much of a draw as the food. Regardless of the food quality and the service, the entertainment value of the place was unsurpassable and guaranteed.

If you complained about something you might end up getting physically thrown out (personally, by Juanita herself), or having your plate of food thrown onto your lap, whether you paid your bill or not. Juanita was not to be offended. If you stayed cool and got into the scene, your experience was guaranteed to be fine.
Juanita was not easy to work for. Her drinking interfered with good judgment. One cook's helper was fired one night. The next day,knowing Juanita well, he showed up for work as usual. It was as if nothing had happened the night before. 

Juanita's generosity was as legendary as her disdain for those who she felt did not deserve it. Juanita was as welcoming and supportive of individuals in genuine need as she was intolerant of those not deserving of it. In Juanita's words, “If she is wearing Patchouli perfume, out she goes.”

The evictions were not always only verbal. One of Juanita's favorite stories concerned a woman patron at her Glen Ellen restaurant about a dispute over some issue long ago forgotten. As Juanita would have told the story, “We battled head over heels through the dining room, through the bar, onto the porch and into the parking lot. And then she ripped my dress off.”

Juanita is now serving happily at the big restaurant in the sky. She passed away in February of 2011. Residents of Sausalito, both Hill and Boat people alike, held a raucous wake in her honor.

“Sausalito After the Bridge” is available at the Ice House on DVD, or may be checked out from the Sausalito Library.

On the Lam on the Docks

By Larry Clinton - Sausalito Historical Society

The Sausalito waterfront has provided refuge for many nefarious characters, including 1960s radical Bernardine Dohrn.

As a member of the Weather Underground, Dohrn helped create a “Declaration of a State of War” against the United States government and was placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.  The group derived its name from Bob Dylan’s lyric: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Image from the film, “Weather Underground.” 

Image from the film, “Weather Underground.” 

On October 31, 1969, a grand jury indicted 22 people, including Dohrn, for their involvement with the trial of the Chicago Eight. She was indicted again in 1970, along with twelve other Weathermen, on conspiracy charges in violation of anti-riot acts. In the film “Weather Underground,”Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary in 2002, Dohrn reveals that back in 1970, she and Ayers sought refuge in Sausalito’s nascent houseboat community. “I knew we were going underground but of course I didn’t know how precipitously it would happen,” Dorhn recalls.  “My parents weren’t political… they didn’t have any way in which to put that into a framework. But I took a last trip to visit them, and I didn’t want to scare them more than they were already, but I did want them to think back and remember what I said, that I didn’t want to hurt them and that I loved them. So I have a vivid memory of saying goodbye to them at the airport, and of walking away and turning around and looking at them waving at me, and knowing that I wasn’t going to see them again.”

In the 2002 film, while strolling on Issaquah Dock, Dorhn says, “We’re in Sausalito, at the houseboats, right across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and we lived here when we first went underground. They were really looking for us.  There were pictures everywhere, and rewards everywhere, and indictments falling from the sky.” Looking around at the Issaquah Dock homes, she notes: “It was much less built up than this.”

The filmmakers then show archival houseboat footage, including shots of the iconic Owl and Madonna structures, while Dorhn continues: “For us it was perfect. There were dropouts from all walks of life – gay people fleeing Iowa, people fleeing the Midwest and the draft.  So there was a lot of outlaw culture.”

Following a decade in which Dorhn and Ayers moved around anonymously, Dohrn gave herself up in 1980. She recalls: “We had a new baby, and we immersed ourselves in a whole new life with parents and children, and moved to the East Coast, and sort of started over.  The baby was getting old enough that it was obviously getting complicated. To never have anybody know where we lived and never have anyone come over to our house.  So I made that decision in the summer of ’80, and once I made the decision – finally – it was just a matter of holding my nose and going through with the surrender.”

While some charges against her were dropped due to prosecutorial misconduct, Dohrn pled guilty to charges of aggravated battery and bail jumping, for which she was put on probation. After refusing to testify against another ex-Weatherman, she served less than a year in jail.

At the time the film was made, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn were still married and living in Chicago.  Ayers became an author and Northwestern University professor, while Dorhn was a Clinical Associate Professor of Law at the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law.

Creative Scrounging on the Waterfront

By Annie Sutter

Beginning in the 1950s, the area from Gate 3 to Waldo Point, already an established waterfront community of artists and craftsmen, working people and families, became inhabited by people seeking a new life, or at least, a different one. Once called bohemians and beatniks, then hippies, young people heard about the scene in Sausalito where it was said “the living was free and easy.” 1967, the year of the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco, brought the flower children from the Haight­Ashbury scene, creative and footloose, to Sausalito. College dropouts, already rebels before they arrived, decided to hang out, a gal who came to visit liked the scene stayed, an engine mechanic or an out­of­work boatwright found lots of jobs available, paid and unpaid. A seemingly endless supply of materials left from Marinship, abandoned vessels lying on the shore, their owners gone or disinterested, provided the perfect venue for finding an alternative lifestyle. Slowly the newcomers moved in, left pretty much alone by the accommodating landowner, Donlon  Arques. They arrived in droves and settled in at Gates 3, 5 and 6. They built homes, or shacks, or just flop houses on top of anything that floated. And there were many things that floated to choose from.


Bizarre Building Materials

The newcomers floated new/old abodes on unfinished hulls, barges, tugboats, camels, lifeboats, landing craft; on Styrofoam blocks, net buoys lashed together, floats, scaffolding for servicing ships, pilings tied together. Even boilers from one of the ferryboats served as flotation. Living quarters placed atop the various flotation materials were built from construction boxes, old cars, motor homes, abandoned trailers, a VW bus, pilot houses from utility barges, the crow's nest from a crane barge, and even a chicken coop was put into service. An aging sailing vessel was fitted out with telephone poles for masts as it was being readied for a sea voyage.

Little communities sprang up, linked by loyalty to one another, and by labyrinthine walkways, rickety docks, and single board gangways. A loose confederation of groups and sub groups gathered around certain barges or piers and were often separated by intricate systems of catwalks, drawbridges and gates. A common feature was wacky architecture, dangling electric wires, pilfered electricity, and no sewage facilities.

Differing opinions of this growing community are not hard to find. From the Marin Scope in 1968:

“Waldo Point is an alternative community that came into being through a mixture of collective aberrations and spontaneous events. A warren of ramshackle junks, arks, hutches, rotting barges, battered ferryboats,...where the tidewaters slush over a graveyard of shattered hulls, abandoned marine gear, discarded bedsprings, tires, refrigerators, broken pots and rotting timbers.” A far more pleasant scene ... “Smaller boats gathered around the ferry, side tied and connected by planks or rickety walkways. Families with kids, dogs and cats and chickens were part of the little groupings tied alongside Issaquah. Activities included music, sea chanteys, puppet shows, mask making, boatbuilding, herring fishing,” and “sailing boats were floating playgrounds as kids shinnied up and down the lines to the tops of the masts.”

This story is excerpted from a forthcoming book by Annie Sutter titled “The History of Issaquah Dock.”

A tiny floating home perched atop a landing craft.  

A tiny floating home perched atop a landing craft.

Students explore local history

By Steefenie Wicks Sausalito Historical Society

Her mother brought her back to the center of town and dropped her off at her destination, the Sausalito Historical Society’s Ice House on Bridgeway in downtown Sausalito. 

Photo Courtesy of Susan Frank 

Photo Courtesy of Susan Frank 

“Are you sure about this?” her mother asked. She looked back at her mother with determination and said, “Yes, I know this place. I’ll wait here for you.” With that, she turned and walked up the stairs to the front door, opened it and stepped inside. The young girl approached the docent on duty that happened to be Robin Sweeny former Sausalito four-time mayor, and announced forcefully, “I am here to see the artifacts.” She was one of over three hundred third grade students who have experienced the Sausalito Historical Society Schools’ Program about local Sausalito history.

Photo Courtesy of Susan Frank 

Photo Courtesy of Susan Frank 

The idea to begin a schools’ program sponsored by the Sausalito Historical Society at Bayside/MLK and Willow Creek Academies was the brainchild of Susan Frank who, along with volunteers Bob Woodrum and Jesse Seaver and teachers Anne Siskin and Paula Hammonds put together a pilot program in 2010. The goal of the program was to encourage teachers and students to explore Sausalito’s interesting past asking two fundamental questions: what is history and what part do I play in history? The initial unit featured a then-and-now appreciation of Sausalito’s historic downtown buildings and businesses. The second and third units, developed in subsequent years, introduced colorful personalities and families from Sausalito’s past and the Marinship World War II shipyard.

Susan Frank and present-day co-director Margaret Badger both bring an educational background to their work. Frank graduated from UC Berkeley in History, started a child development center in Minnesota and on returning to California worked in the Ingram pre-Schools in Menlo Park. On settling in Sausalito, she participated in local school programs. Badger has a BA in History from Vassar College and a Masters in Education from Yale University, and is a California credentialed teacher with a career in teaching and curriculum writing. Working in concert with Bayside teacher Jim Scullion and Willow Creek teachers Anne Siskin and Kevin Breakstone, the program continues to challenge young students to learn about local history and to understand how they are part of it.

Kevin Breakstone, the newest teacher to take part in the program, sums up the experience this way. “Through hands-on experience, access to museums and displays, and roleplaying, the Sausalito Historical Society guided the kids into true conceptual and factual knowledge of Sausalito and Marin City history. The awareness that they live in a town shaped by history, and that they are part of that history will live with my students forever.”

Jim Scullion of Bayside Academy in Marin City writes that this program has given his students “an opportunity to learn about and research buildings and people of Sausalito from long ago. It also gave them insight into the importance of the Marinship and Marin City. The students talked for days about their visit to the Bay Model Marinship display. They never realized why this area was so important. They feel very special that the area where they live and go to school was such an important part of history.”

Photo courtesy of Gina Risso. 

Photo courtesy of Gina Risso. 

Finally, Anne Siskin of Willow Creek Academy writes, “as we looked carefully at the historical photographs, maps, newspapers, artwork, documents and artifacts collected and displayed at the Historical Society, Ice House and Bay Model, and visited historical buildings built in the downtown district on field trips, we could imagine what it was like to have lived in the past. Like the docents of the Historical Society, we too became historians as we learned about the history of the city where we live.”

The program has thrived because of the cooperation of teachers and administrators and the dedicated work of the docents who take information to the classrooms, reenact snippets of history, and lead field trips. Community support from Waterstreet Hardware, Lapperts Ice Cream and Bob Woodrum of Sausalito Picture Framing encourages us all to keep having fun and to keep asking, “What is history and where do I fit in?

Inquiries about becoming a docent should be directed to the Sausalito Historical Society at 415-289-4117 or info@sausalitohistoricalsociety.org and copies of the Marinship booklet can be purchased at the Bay Model in Sausalito.