In PURSUIT of Ron MacCannan

by Steefenie Wicks, Sausalito Historical Society

Ron MacCannan on board the PURSUIT. Photo by Steefenie Wicks.

Ron MacCannan on board the PURSUIT.
Photo by Steefenie Wicks.

Sausalito legend passed away March 2 after he fell overboard from his yacht Pursuit and drowned in Sausalito Yacht Harbor. He was 92.  In 2015, Steefenie Wicks profiled MacCannan’s colorful life for Marinscope:

The tide was high and the water was still, a perfect combination.  The 82-foot sloop rocked gently in her berth.  Scuba gear in place, mask down, he launched himself into the muddy water.  Once he was there he found his way to the very bottom of the vessel.  He could see the rut in the mud that the large 50-ton vessel had made but with this high tide she was floating above her mark in the mud.  He swam over, and like a turtle fitted himself into the rut.  Lying in the mud with the 50-ton vessel floating above him he stretched out his arms on either side of the keel, he was holding up the boat.  As he lay in the space, a laugh played upon his mind.  He thought to himself how many fellows get a chance to hold up their boats.

Ron MacCannan is the owner of the vessel PURSUIT, the company of Burgess and Morgan in New York built her in 1929.  She has been his love, his friend, his home and his peace.  Docked at the Madden Yacht Harbor in downtown Sausalito, she has been a showcase of what fine sailing vessels can look like along with being a standing example of the history that they have been part of.  

 One might say that the PURSUIT a fine vessel is a labor of love for this dedicated sailor.   When he first viewed her in 1959 she was not exactly what he was looking for.  She was larger than he wanted also the vessel was a lot older than he wanted.  However, she was beautiful, strong, priced right, she was his, continues to be his almost 60 years later.

At 90 years of age, Ron MacCannan has been part of the Sausalito waterfront since 1959.  His first job here was to jack up and move the 500-ton building that was built in 1898, at that time it was known as the San Francisco Yacht Club, in 1960 it was known as Ondine’s.  It seemed that the City of Sausalito wanted to widen the street Bridgeway but his building was in the way.  Ron was hired to contact the moving of the structure, which he did.   He tells of that day back in 1960 when he had the building jacked up ‘as is ‘ which allows for three feet of drainage pipe along with placing it is such a position that later would protect against wave action, and high water.  He moved the structure seventy feet east onto a new concrete foundation; this would make the 20-foot widening of Bridgeway possible.  

Later he would come to own this structure, building it 3 feet higher than it was in 1898. It was during this move that he discovered that the area where the new foundation would be laid, stuck in the mud were thousands of bottles. He was able to do a little bit of fact finding, discovering that the old Fire Department had once been located in that area.  During the days of ‘Prohibition”, all of the liquor bottles where brought to the Fire Department to be discarded, they in tern through them in the Bay.

Ron will be the first to tell you that he was raised as a farm boy on his grandfather’s property in St. Helena.   As a young lad he attended military school, which lead him to be prep for West Point.  During WWII he was trained as a gunner on a B-29.  After the WWII he found himself back in construction only now he had earned a general contractors license, which would bring him to Sausalito.   It was during this time that a new friend of his gave him a place to live. He found himself living aboard a 72-foot yacht called the VIVEKA.   The VIVEKA was a beautiful schooner that was docked in Sausalito; this gave him his first taste of what it was like to live on board a boat.  Then he began his journey of learning how to sail.  It was the sailing part that convinced him that he needed a boat of his own.   A year later he would take a trip down to Los Angeles, row out in the anchorage, view PURSUIT, the rest as he would say is history.

While Ron works on his vessel, he will be tell you that today the wooden boat is not as popular as it used to be.  Today there are new materials that boats are built out of so that they can go faster, looking sleeker in the water.  But the old wooden boat with its wooden hull is just about gone.   This becomes evident when you need to find someone to work on your boat, only to find out that the person you need has moved on to another area.

‘There was a time “, he says” when you could go to the northern end of town, find boat workers, materials, haul out ways for boats along with shops where these handy folks worked.  Now all of that has changed.  With the lack of shop space that these talented craft folks need to work on the wooden boats in this area, the work force has moved on, a lot of the fine crafts people have moved out of this area.”  He continues, “Sausalito used to be a mecca for creative sorts, now it’s a mecca for the tourist.  Yet, you can still see guys in this harbor coming down every day or every other day, taking care of their boats, maintaining that part of Sausalito’s waterfront heritage that seems to be slipping away.”

Ron MacCannan was recently spotlighted in the film series called, ‘Life on the Water’.