Paul Dines: A Captain for All Seasons

by Steefenie Wicks

Captain Paul Dines aboard the Freda B. Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Captain Paul Dines aboard the Freda B.

Photo by Steefenie Wicks

The first thing you notice about Captain Paul Dines is his slight Southern accent, plus his gracious mannerism.  He was born in New York City but grew up on the South Carolina Island of Hilton Head.  His youth was spent on boats and fishing so when he came west to go to San Francisco State, it was not long before he discovered the waterfront of Sausalito.

“I was just the punk kid looking for a job, not a life style,” he states, “but that all changed once I got my first job that became my start-up business, Bristol Fashion Yacht Care, which I ran successfully for over 25 years.” His career on the waterfront soon got him involved with other workers, fellow boat owners, along with waterfront businesses; they became his circle of friends. 

In his younger days Paul served as captain of a vessel owned by the San Francisco Marine Exchange.  The vessel had to have some repairs, so it was brought to Ross Sommers’ boatyard in Sausalito.  He said that the delivery of the vessel went well and he helped with the repair work.  When the vessel was ready to go he took the helm but somehow could not maneuver her out.  As it happened, Harold Sommers was standing on the dock watching, and yelled out, “Well you haven’t made a mess of it yet.  Want me to show you how to get out of here?” 

Paul yelled back, “Yes, sir, and thank you.”  He backed the stern over to the dock and Harold stepped on board.  Paul recalls, “The first thing he asked me as he approached the wheel was ‘Have you ever backed out a single screw boat?’  With that he showed me how to maneuver the vessel just the way he had done it on the pilot boats for the last 50 years. This is the same method that I use today, each time remembering where I learned it.”

Currently, Captain Dines is the skipper of the Freda B, part of a charter business he runs.   The vessel was built as the official tall ship for the City of St. Augustine, Florida.  She is 64 feet at the waterline and 80 feet overall, weighing 34 tons, drawing 8ft.   He grew up around the formality of sailing, therefore one of the first things you notice about the Freda B is that she is maintained like a private yacht, not like a charter boat. 

Paul met Sausalito resident Charlie Merrill when he was just starting out.  Charlie was looking for a young fellow to give him a hand with upkeep and repairs on Cimba -- a 32-foot Grand Banks motor yacht that is a classic ‘woody.’ Dines was introduced to Merrill by his friends at that time, the children of human potential guru Werner Erhard. He explains, “When I had first came to California to visit my dad after my folks’ divorce, I was like 9 or 10. At that time I made friends with Adair, St. John and Celeste Erhard.  Later when I was 18, the summer of 1983, they introduced me to Charlie.”  He became great friends with both Charlie and his wife Virgina, spent a lot of time with them not only on Cimba but also doing little odd jobs at their home.  So in 1999 when Charlie put Cimba up for sale, Dines purchased her. Cimba, like the Freda B, is now a charter boat. Captain Dines feels that using these two vessels rekindles the romance of being on the water, whether by motor or sail.  He says he wants to “bring back that adventure that happens when you first step on deck. Also it’s been a great way to make a living.”

Captain Dines has been on the waterfront for over 30 years and has seen the changes, good and bad.  He speaks of growing up in the South and how one was honor bound by one’s word.  “California is a bit different,” he says, “but in Sausalito one is honored by one’s word and not a committee or organization.” 

He ends by saying, “Even the sport of sailing has changed. There was a time when you had to know what you were doing, you had to be sailing for the adventure of the sail.” He adds, “You had to know how to navigate.  Now there is not a boat for sale that does not come with some kind of navigational system already on board.  Radar is a standard piece of equipment these days along with the vessel’s communication center.”  He continues, “There was a time when vessels were built to last, like the old timers and their stories. The old guys who still had the time to pass on their knowledge, this is what is sadly disappearing from the Sausalito waterfront.”  

For more information on Sausalito’s colorful history, check out: www.sausalitohistoricalsociety.org.