Sailing has been part of my life. My first lessons were on 14’ sloop rigged sailboats in the Alameda Estuary. It wasn’t long before a sailing friend purchased his own, a modest seaworthy boat, strong enough to cross oceans, slow enough to make a sailor think twice of doing so.
In 1980 there was a small parking lot operating as a boatyard in the center of Sausalito. After a long day in the yard prepping the boat to go back in the water a short walk across the street landed skipper and his second in command in the No Name Bar.
Sterling Hayden was easy to spot around town. Alan Watts nearly always drunk and irritable made his home here too. Best of the locals was the famous circumnavigator Bernard Moitessier.
Having run out of money in Tahiti he sailed his steel ketch Joshua to Sausalito to rid his life of what he termed the “hungry cows.”
I studied celestial navigation aboard Joshua with three others. Bernard’s berth was located toward the back of the boat near the stern. I remember his bunk enormous, piled high with multicolored quilts, blankets, and pillows. History’s most accomplished sea gypsy slept in a gauzy fantasy world of paisley’s, spangles and curiosities.
I was 29 when I studied under the guidance of this great Frenchman born in Vietnam. I had not read his books yet. His confidence was stunning. He possessed the greatest powers. There was no Global Positioning System deployed yet. To sail the oceans you navigated with compass, sextant and chronometer. Moitessier remains one of world’s most accomplished circumnavigators.
There exists a shortlist of heroic types I’ve had the pleasure to learn from. Each had favorite poets and poems. My hero’s were deeply spiritual, I would go so far as to say each were touched with a sense of the mystical. All seemed to be wedded to the notion of traveling to faraway places. Most cared little for material things and shopped for clothes at second hand stores. These were spirit guides with vast appetites. Skinny to a one, craving to seize the day, and fulfill their hearts desires. Passion was no stranger among my North Stars.
The rail thin sailor was easy to find. We made a habit of chasing him down aboard his boat. We wouldn’t outstay our welcome. Weather permitting we’d stand on deck. Bernard smoked hand rolled cigarettes. Conversation was a meandering experience. We’d talk politics with a sailor who had looked firsthand into the fabric of power by having harbor hopped the nations of the world. We talked about different aspects of sailing. And then there was always this circling back around to our youth and Bernard’s quirky way of urging us to listen to our own hearts, to do what we want to do, be who we truly are. Bernard insisted we had to honor our dreams. Bernard had become our friend.
Sausalito was storybook in 1980. Homes were improbably perched on perilously steep hillsides. Fog hovered on the ridge and in late afternoons would stream down through the gulches in one place but not another.
By nightfall the anchorage would be overcast. Foreign accented voices were common, exotic sailing craft from all corners of the world set at anchor in Richardson Bay. Levi clad long haired men and women populated the waterfront, merry wide eyed dreamers to a one.
I’m anchored off Sausalito, anchored here last night, reminiscences of the good souls that brought me to this moment, having helped steer my life, helped set my direction. A fine man Moitessier, he spent his last days in Normandy along a favorite piece of coastline. I was blessed with his sure hand and chiseled smile.