Wayne “Boats” Bishop: Native Son

by Steefenie Wicks


Wayne “Boats” Bishop   Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Wayne “Boats” Bishop
Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Wayne Bishop is known on the Sausalito waterfront simply as “Boats.” This has been his home for the last 50 years of his life.  As a child who was raised in Mill Valley, he spent most of his childhood in Sausalito with his grandfather, who fished off of a 28ft Monterey named the Nancy Jean.

“My grandfather taught me the love of going to sea, being on boats.  My mother and father really had nothing to do with it, but coming to Sausalito on my bike to be on my grandfather’s boat . . .  that was sheer joy.  He would tell me the stories of our family, how they got their land from Spanish land grants long before California was a state.  He was a Bickerstaff; the family owned a ranch with headquarters on Rancho Corte Madera, so you might say I’m a native son.” The Bickerstaff ranch, an 1852 adobe, is listed with the Historical, Cultural and Archaeological resources in the City of Larkspur.

Boats became part of the original Gate 3 Co-Op that was around during the 1970’s and 80’s.  One of the first boat co-ops on the waterfront, it was sponsored by Donlon Arques, who was a major player when it came to helping people who wanted to live on the water.

“It was Arques that allowed people to have both living space along with working space.  When you work on a boat like I did, I was building my boat, needed a space to crash, he made that possible for just $65 a month rent.  So, I built my fishing boat, the Santa Lucia, at Gate 3 with the help of the maritime workers who lived there; they made it all possible.  I fished for 20 years off that boat, lived on her for over 40.”

Boats continued, “The cool thing about Gate 3 was it was a cul-de-sac, so you could drive in but not drive through.  The place was well policed by a number of us at the time; then young dudes, we protected the community, and never had to call the police.   There was always something going on at Gate 3.  There were artists, boat builders, wood workers.  I don’t think that anything was ever stolen; we were a small close knit community who trusted each other and protected each other.  As fishermen, we would have fish barbeques where everyone would come, eat and be part of the community.  It was really like one big family.”

Before Boats built his craft at Gate 3 he spent a tour of duty with the Navy in Vietnam.  He says that when he came home he was just full of hate; he was one angry ex-combat soul. So he decided to apply to become a merchant marine.  Once this was accomplished, he became part of the Scripps Research Institute on their scientific testing in Antarctica.  The Institute was conducting studies on how penguins change their temperature when they dive into cold water.  It was his job to make little life jackets that would fit onto the penguins and carry probes to make these measurements.

He says that this was such a good place to be because he had so much hate inside himself that he was unsure of how he was going to deal with it.  Being at sea in the Antarctic, living with nature, viewing something that was more powerful than himself, gave him a better view of himself.

It was this adventure at sea that would bring him back to Gate 3 where he began to build the Santa Lucia, which he fished very successfully for years.  But as the years went on the little boat started to fall apart as wooden boats will do.

He continued, “I remember the date -- it was July 4th in 2011 -- when the United States government decided to give to me a long over due medical settlement.  This award from the VA department was tax-free.  It meant that I could retire the Santa Lucia, get another boat. Hell, I could retire.”

Boats has lived as an anchor out, and is now a member of Galilee Harbor.  He feels that there are a lot of people on boats in the anchorage who have no idea what they are doing, which makes it hard for everyone else.  He has been on the water all of his life. “Every 72 hours, the new rules states, that a boat has to be moved.  But who is going to go out there and chalk the waterline of the boat to see if and when it moves?” He also feels that most of the real anchor outs would like to see all of the boats out there inspected, regulated for the safety of everyone.

It you ask him what was one of his most memorable experiences being part of the Sausalito waterfront he’ll tell you: “Taking the Wander Bird north was the best gig I have ever had.  I got to sail this beautiful vessel, we were welcomed in every yacht club that we sailed to.  I had never been so well accepted in my life.  There I was at the helm of this classic schooner being treated like the captain of a really fine vessel.”