Hail, Ale

Ale Ekstrom, known as the grandfather of Sausalito’s anchor-outs, died of pneumonia July 22, 2015 at the age of 78.

Among the many fond remembrances of Ale, here’s an excerpt from a book in the Historical Society collection: SAUSALITO WATERFRONT STORIES © Derek Van Loan 1992:

Ale with his concertina on the Bay he loved.  Photo by Noam Eshel

Ale with his concertina on the Bay he loved.

Photo by Noam Eshel

With his short pigtail, stoked red face, and faded brass-buttoned uniform he could be the ghost of a British sailor who died at Trafalgar. Ale pleasantly haunts the streets and waters of Sausalito, chatting his way around town, frequently taking a sip of grog from the cup that is short chained to his waist.

When he left the U. S. Navy in 1959, he came to Sausalito for a visit. By the time he'd strolled through once, he knew he was home, and Ale has lived aboard anchored vessels on Richardson Bay ever since. His first local command was a Navy whale boat, which he flush decked and named the "Promise." After a few years aboard the little whaleboat, Ale decided he needed more spacious quarters. Disintegrating on a nearby beach was a 60' World War II ex-naval "crash boat," with a gap in the starboard side large enough to drive a pickup truck through. Just perfect, he thought.

He nailed canvas and plywood over the starboard hole, and patched holes for weeks until the leaks could hardly be heard and the "Verdigris" rose with the tide. But every night Ale slept with one foot in the bilge in order to know when it was time to pump. The "manual" bilge alarm was replaced by an aspirin tablet between a brass hook eye and a brass spring. When the tablet was dissolved by rising bilgewater, the spring contacted the eye and a bell circuit was activated by a flashlight battery.

When visitors came aboard, he'd entertain them by playing chanteys on his concertina or by reciting some of his favorite poems.

Life went smoothly for years until Ale hauled the old "Verdigris" for a refit. Disaster struck on Schoonmaker Beach where he'd pulled up, stern first, at high tide. The transom fell out. Everything that Ale owned lay exposed to the rising salt water. Ale became as animated as a courting Grebe. In almost no time at all he'd pulled the massive transom back into place, rigged damage control canvas patches, and installed a gasoline pump. For three days he worked with tar, cement, Spanish windlasses, and with the energy he'd saved over twenty years. And after he'd refloated the old "Verdigris," he took a couple of years off to recuperate.

Some years later Ale moved aboard a smaller, more manageable vessel, the "Toy Chest." The "Toy Chest" is also a vet, having been a U. S. Navy liberty launch, a vessel that used to carry crew from ships to shore. A liberty launch has a shapely hull, and is built to withstand hard knocks.

Again, after almost a decade aboard, Ale decided to interfere with the natural order and haul out. This time he came ashore at Galilee Harbor in the heart of Sausalito. David Coy lay under the portside hammering and chalking the doubtful areas, working solely out of friendship. As the survey progressed, they talked and planned.

Bang bang bang...bang bang bang... “I don't like that area," David says hammering a section of soft wood with his wooden mallet. To David's trained ear the mallet blows speak of fastening problems. "I should just rather work on this 'un one side at a time," Ale chuckled. "Maybe I'll jus have ta do one side every other year." "Nooo," David says before he realizes that Ale is pulling his leg."

 Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape...David lying on an old sheet of dry plywood works intently near the keel. "I'll reef this seam and both these butts," Ale says, referring to the joints between two plank ends. "And," he continues, "that won't hurt the boat a bit." "I wanta be sure to get some quick-set cement into that corner back there. Jus to keep the tide from gettin' in." "That's a priority item." "Yeah," David replies.

They'd rigged an awning down the entire side of the "Toy Chest," and the jobs were planned in a logical fashion. "When I take off a patch we've gotta be ready to put it back together," says David. "Yeah, we wanta be able to Quick-set it or somethin' jus to keep the water from commin' in," Ale replies. "I've got a tub o' that up here," he says. "This patch here," says David chipping away, "is so ancient, you need a geologist;" both laugh for David is indeed a Cornell University educated geologist. "Yeah the boat will be forty-eight years old in August," says Ale. "And so will I," says David. "How about that!" they both exclaim in unison. "I don't care how old I get, as long as I keep gettin' older," says Ale.


On Friday, Jan. 15, the Sausalito Library and the Historical Society will present the first of four documentary film screenings, with a double bill: “Ale Eckstrom’s Boat House” and “The Anchor-Outs of Richardson’s Bay.” The free program begins at 7 PM inside the library.