Subs in Sausalito?

By Larry Clinton and Jack Tracy Sausalito Historical Society

Jack Tracy’s definitive Sausalito History, Moments in Time, contains many stories of dreams and schemes that never came to pass in these parts: A 300-berth yacht marina in Shelter Cove. An airport and amusement park in the middle of Richardson’s Bay. Converting Water Street to a second highway from the Golden Bridge right through the heart of town. Here’s another:

The most ambitious plan tor Richardson's Bay had been formulated in 1912, when local boosters persuaded the federal government to survey the hills west of Sausalito for a ship canal into the bay from the Pacific Ocean. A four-mile cut was planned through a gap in the rolling hills at the head of Tennessee Cove, up Elk Valley to the bay south of Dolan's Corner in Mill Valley. Engineers were basking in the glory of the Panama Canal achievement and doubtless saw opportunities for construction marvels everywhere. If Panama could have a canal, so could Sausalito.

 Subs like this would have had a direct route to Richardson’s Bay if the ship canal had actually been dug.  Courtesy photo

Subs like this would have had a direct route to Richardson’s Bay if the ship canal had actually been dug.

Courtesy photo

The ship-canal plan was resurrected in 1936 when Richardson's Bay was being promoted as the logical site for a submarine base for the Navy. A Pacific opening to Richardson's Bay would eliminate the need for dredging and provide for ships a fog-free entrance to San Francisco Bay that would by-pass Potato Patch shoals. If Stockton could have a deep-water port, so could Sausalito.

The idea of making Richardson's Bay into a submarine base first came up in 1933 when the Navy announced it might be looking for a West Coast site. The Sausalito City Council had long been seeking a dredged ship-channel along the Sausalito shoreline to Waldo Point to generate business for waterfront property. If the Navy took over the bay, it was reasoned, Sausalito would have her channel plus a thriving business with the Navy. If Vallejo could have a Navy base, why not Sausalito?

Sausalito's submarine base plan fell on deaf ears in Washington, and in 1937 even the request for dredging the ship channel was rejected by the War Department as being strictly a "local project" without merit for national defense. That same year, however, the War Department saw Richardson's Bay in another light. With the increasing threat of war, Washington proposed reserving the bay for seaplanes, with an anchorage for seaplane tenders, destroyers, and other light vessels. That plan, too, died aborning. And it wasn't until war was declared and Sausalito's shipyard was under construction in 1942 that the long-awaited ship channel was dredged in Richardson's Bay. Since World War II the channel has been kept cleared of silt by the Army Corps of Engineers as part of its bay maintenance program.

Moments in Time can be purchased at the Ice House, 780 Bridgeway.