Dave Gissendaner: Sausalito Diver

by Steefenie Wicks

Dave Gissendaner: Sausalito Waterfront Diver          Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Dave Gissendaner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but raised in San Carlos, California where he learned to sail.  For the past 30 years he has been a valued part of the Sausalito waterfront where he is known simply as, Dave the Diver.

He is proud to tell you that he has logged over 32 thousands hours’ dive time in Richardson’s Bay.  Although he has his own dive company, occasionally he’ll work with RBRA Harbor Master Bill Price, the Sausalito Police department and fellow anchor outs, raising some of the sunken treasures that end up on the bottom of the Bay.

Dave the Diver explains that Richardson’s Bay is a treasure trove of maritime artifacts He has come across many turn of the century ship anchors, as well as remnants from century old sailing ships that made our Bay their last stop.  Because the area is like a museum, it is illegal to remove many of the findings.  Dave says he once wanted to haul a particular anchor from the Bay’s bottom, but found out through the Park service that those relics in Richardson’s Bay came with a removal fine of $10,000.  So before he can remove anything he must first figure out if it has any historical significance. 

Once Dave was asked to do a dive off Paradise Cay because his client had lost his anchor there.  The client had placed a marker on it with line in about 35 ft. of water, but he could not raise her.  Dave got his dive gear on, took the line in his hand, and began to lower himself into the dark muddy water.  At one point he felt that he had come to a stop; when he put his feet down he realized that he was standing on the deck of a boat.  “Here she was,” he says, “no markings on any map, yet she had to be at least a 90 ft. long wooden hull, just settled into the bottom of the Bay for who knows how long.”   He figured that since these waters were non-navigational, that this was why she had gone unmarked on maps, but he often wondered what artifacts she may have held.

Diver Dave has many stories of what it’s like to dive in Richardson’s Bay because he says “You never know what you’ll run into, like great whites.”  While repairing a mooring right off Tiburon, he’d been in the water for some time and noticed that it was becoming choppier than usual.   He felt uneasy as he began to look around -- then he spotted it.  The water’s surface was boiling but this big shark steadily moved toward him, its fin seemly closing in.  Dave said that at moments like this, you finish what you are doing or you just get out of the water; he chose to do both. 

The life of a diver is in many ways like any other marine business.  After 30 years on the Sausalito waterfront the thing he worries about is whether the small marine businesses will be able to stay in the few waterfront shops that are left.  When the shop spaces go it makes it harder for those that are left to survive.  He makes note of the fact that Sausalito at one time had an active fish dock which it no longer has, businesses that were associated with the fish dock have moved on because the fish dock has moved on. In his 30 years here, this is one change that he feels challenges the waterfront community.

Another things challenge occurs when sunken vessels must be brought back up but someone is opposed to that act of resurrection taking place. He tells of shotgun rounds hitting the water around him.  “They don’t shoot me, they shoot at me, letting me know they can.”

This is the kind of action that he compares to the Wild West. 

“Yet’’ he continues,” in all of this time, people who live in the anchorage, I feel that there are some really good people out there doing what they can to exist.  When you dive you are always having what I call these little eye-opening experiences.  Like the time that I came upon this old ship, stuck my arm in one of the portholes, and suddenly felt this grip.  I pulled my arm out, and there attached to it was this little octopus with its suction cups on my arm.   Then there was the time I was on the bottom looking for some lost keys.  As I pushed through the mud something jumped at me, it was large crab, which took to banging his claws on the front of my mask. Eye openers, that’s what I call them.  That’s what the anchorage is, it’s a little bit of an eye opening experience, just like diving.”


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