By Steefenie Wicks - Sausalito Historical Society
In his book, “Sausalito: Moments in Time,” Jack Tracy wrote Sausalito is first and foremost a place with a rich history and residents who love and defend their town with uncommon civic pride and participation. This describes the many talented people who have worked and lived over the years at Gate 3, part of Sausalito’s working waterfront.
Peter Strietman has been part of that working waterfront for more than three decades. Recently, Strietman was given 30 days to move his 10-year boat restoration project from his shop space at Gate 3. The request for his removal resulted in his decision to destroy the vessel.
While he was working on the vessel, named Port Luck, he spoke with the Historical Society about his time on the Sausalito waterfront:
“I came to Sausalito in 1979. I lived aboard my boat, which at that time was an Adkins design double-ended ketch called Burma Girl. She was 42 feet on deck, 52 feet overall.
“I lived on the anchorage like everyone else at that time, but needed shop space so I could work on my boat. I had heard about the Gate 3 Co-Op through folks who were working on boats, decided to check it out, liked what I experienced there and became a member, that was in 1981.
“At that time, Gate 3 was like a small town within the City of Sausalito. The property was then owed by Donlon Arques, who was supportive of people living on their boats and working on their boats, so he had this entire community of boat workers living at Gate 3 on their boats. In those days, if you were part of the Gate 3 Boat Co-Op, then you were part of the elite boat builders working on the waterfront at that time.
“I should put together a list of the old members – people like Peter Lamb (he restored the whale boats onboard the tall ship, Balcutha), Dan Jones, John Belinski (he has re-built most of the rowing crafts at the San Francisco Dolphin Club), Peter Bailey (he built his boat the Bertie at Gate 3 and went on to design the ships for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies), Dudley Lewis (he built and launched his boat at Gate 3), even Bob Darr was a member of the Gate 3 Boat Co-Op.
“The Co-Op was a sharing organization. Tools were passed back and forth and nothing was ever lost or stolen. At the high point, there were over 22 members. Then Argues died, the property was sold, then in 1986 the residential community was evicted. Things changed slowly, but they changed.
“Some of us at the Co-Op decided that we would try and stay. After all, our organization was over 25 years old and had always paid rent, but the lease that was put together by the new owner of the property proved to be an undesirable contract so the group was broken.
“The Sausalito waterfront is changing. The boat builders are leaving because there is no space for them to rent. Gate 3 was the last holdout as far as workable waterfront, but that changed. Working on wooden boats has changed, many people who worked on these wooden boats have left the area, and the support that the working waterfront community used to have is no longer there.”
When asked if he would continue to sail and work on wooden boats, Strietman revealed he has spent five years working on another boat. He’s been restoring an old traditional sandbagger, named Flirt, which was built by well-known Sausalito Boatwright Ralph Flowers.
Launched off Mare Island in 1919, the vessel is 29.5 feet long and 12 feet wide with no standing room in the cabin. Flowers once told Streitman about designing boats for the Treasury department to chase down the local rumrunners. But what the Treasury department did not know was that the guys who were designing their boats were also designing the boats the rumrunners were using. And somehow the rumrunners boats were designed to be faster.
Strietman said he went to Flowers and asked him for advice when he became interested in the Flirt, noting Flowers told him to “take the damn thing out and sink it.” He later reconsidered and helped him work on the boat.
By this time, Flowers was old and thin, according to Strietman, but could still be seen riding his old three-speed bike all over town until his death at the age of 95. In his honor and because he built most of the Arks, one was named after him.
When asked if he saw anything positive about the waterfront and the direction it’s heading, Strietman mentioned the Spalding Center, the Arques Traditional Boat Building School, the new Cass’s Marina project, Alan Olson’s building of the Matthew Turner and the Galilee Harbor Community.
Thus, there is hope that the heart and soul of the Sausalito waterfront will continue and maybe – just maybe – these new groups will be able to grow and pass on Sausalito’s waterfront heritage.