The Ties That Bind Us

By Steefenie Wicks

This story marks my 60th article for the Sausalito Historical Society, so I decided to explore my past work only to be pleasantly surprised to find that there is a thread that binds them all.  That thread is the water.  Each person I have interviewed has had a history of being on the water since they were very young.  Take Hank Easom, who at age 10 would sail his moon boat from Belvedere Island to the Sausalito waterfront. back in the 1930s.  Hank’s mom ran a flower business on the Island but during WWII she was one of the first women welders on the production lines in Marinship.  If you have visited the Bay Model and viewed the Marinship display, you have seen Hank’s mother.  She donated the doll that was made in her image as one of the first women in a leather welding outfit. 

Then there is the story of Mary Crowley and her ship the Kaisei, which is one of the few boats at sea focusing on global cleanup of the oceans. Mary Crowley has been a “voyageur” all her life.  Born and raised in Chicago, she learned to sail at the age of 4 on her grandfather’s 26-ft. wooden sailboat.  Her first Sausalito adventure took place in 1969.

The 19-year-old Mary got an expected late night call, and responded that she was ready to meet everyone at the docks.    When she arrived at her destination she found around 20 people who would be her cargo.   She led them over to a 32-ft. sailboat that she had borrowed from the owners and, once they all boarded, she set sail.  It was now around 2 a.m., yet she was able to take them to the dark side of Alcatraz Island, under sail with no engine.  She landed the small vessel and her passengers disembarked.  This was the beginning of the American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz.

I continued with a story about Bob Darr, whose father was captain Omar Darr, the skipper of Sterling Hayden’s boat the Wanderer. Bob was raised on the Wanderer; it was his love of this vessel that led him to be the major force in the restoration of the gaff-rigged sloop Freda, originally built in 1890.  The value of this project was important because the elements of the FREDA’S design are part of history.

Most of my articles are about people who have made the Sausalito waterfront their home.  There was the story of Larry Moyer, whom one could call a Sausalito original. Larry came to the waterfront during the SF “Summer of Love.”   He made the waterfront his home, becoming involved, in many cases a spokesperson for what has come to be known as the Houseboat Wars.  Today’s waterfront community misses his wit, charm, and voice. 

Then there’s the very talented Ron MacCannan, who has been on the water since he was a youngster, but had no idea that his dreamboat would one day be the 82–ft. sloop Pursuit. He once told the story of how he would dive under the boat at high tide so he could fit himself under her stem and place his arms up on to the hull, just to hold the mighty structure in his arms.  At the age of 90 this is truly an act of love.

Recently, during a conversation with fellow Sausalito Historical Society Board member Bill Kirsch, we discovered that we had a thread that bonded us both: our friendship with the jazz musician John Handy.

Bill Kirsch is a Sausalito abstract artist and architect.  Since 1958 he has worked as a full-time architect, sometimes with his friend, the great woodworker Al Garvey.  Al’s work in wood led him to build one of the first hot tubs in Marin.  Al’s work on hot tubs brought him in contact with Bill, who at the time was working on remodeling projects in San Francisco.  One of these projects turned out to be a new kitchen for John Handy.   Al and Boill had known John for some time, but had not seen him in almost 25 years. I decided to get these three together.  

When John Handy was contacted about our possible meeting he was overjoyed with the idea of reuniting with these two men he once called his, “jazz carpenters.”

It was remarkable to be in a room with these three talented men: musician, architect, and wood worker, now tango teacher in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. They told stories from the past, went over who was dead, who was still alive, wasn’t life wonderful.  But through it all, I could not get over this thread that had bonded us all, and made this very special moment possible.   That thread that started on the Sausalito waterfront is long, forever tightening to show us how our history connects us all to the beginning.  As always that beginning starts with the water.