Baywatch

Contrary to what some believe, Drake never laid eyes on the Golden Gate…

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LOCAL GURU Kenny Hartz jibes near Fort Point and does a flat water loop under the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. Funneling wind blows with venturi force beneath the gate against remarkably flat water. At times, swells can be mast high, creating the only inland surfable wave in the world. Dangerous ebb tide can spell a boat ride for amateurs but experts can sail without moving on stationary waves against a powerful 7 knot outgoing tide. (enlarge)
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YUPPIEVILLE AND MORE: Escapees from the corporate world can be found every afternoon at Crissy. Douglas Stewart, Vice President of Aon Specialty Group, (upper and lower left) prepares his sail while clad in his business suit. Investment Banker David T. Low, (middle left and above) loads his “chick magnate” and drives to Crissy via Chinatown, catching along the way the smile of a local beauty. No need for a changing room as Hope Frank, (middle left) partner in Frank Harrison Perez, a strategic marketing and design group, will attest. Work is only a call away for Chip Wasson, (center) president of UltraNectar, a Bay area sports clothing company. At the City Front, Sarah Murphy (mid-left) finds reprieve from her 8th grade students. (enlarge)

THROUGH HIS GLASS, he searched the coast before him.  In that June of 1569, the same deep fog that appears every summer, lay across the entrance to the Golden Gate, concealing it from his view.

Sailing forty miles north, past the screen of fog, he eventually spotted white cliffs rising above the water like those at Dover, England.  There, at Drake’s Estero, on the southern flank of Point Reyes, he landed and hauled his ship out of the water.

When the vessel was sound enough to put to sea again, he sailed north, searching for the Northwest Passage that did not exist. He became discouraged somewhere along what is now  the coast of Washington and veered west toward China, eventually rounding the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa, to become the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.

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BEYOND the Bridge lies a great wide ocean, with nothing but ships and sprawling sea. To the north the headlands of Marin and the cliffs of Sausalito, to the south the entire skyline of San Francisco, as well as the Bay Bridge, which lie just beyond the city and Alcatraz. The choreographed dance of evading fishing boats, sailboats, tankers, aircraft carriers, submarines, pelicans, marine life and windsurfers is breathtaking — indescribable to anyone who has not stood in the middle of the Bay. (enlarge)
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BABE WATCH is found if you hang out with Larry Russo, owner of S.H. Frank, a company distributing leather since 1857. Russo has, for the pleasure of their company, taught over 200 young women how to windsurf. The rewards to his pampering skills are at most, a kiss to the cheek like Elke Augustino and the envy of hundreds of bemused studs. Friends such as Alix Mayer, a computer software executive for Apple (far left), physical therapists K.D. Doerr and stockbroker Natash Brock (left), are regular afternoon members of Russo’s flock. To watch Russo at work, one discovers the secret a woman’s wish. (enlarge)

CONTRARY YO WHAT SOME BELIEVE, Drake never laid eyes on the Golden Gate, made even more spectacular now by the Golden Gate Bridge. 

 When I first saw it, I was almost as hungry for the sight as Drake was, but for a different reason. Coming from parched central Texas, I was in the frame of mind as those first Arab princes shown the fountains of Versailles. They stood in wonder, waiting for God to come to his senses, knowing that water was sacred, and  that it was only by some mistake here that it was flowing unlimited.


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THREE–HUNDRED–FIFTY–ONE YEARS OF AMERICAN HERITAGE stretching from Christoffel Janse Abeel, who settled in Nieuw Amsterdam (Manhattan) in 1647, through Colonel James Abeel, (upper left) Washington’S Quartermaster General at Morristown and Valley Forge, to William Abeel, author of this article. Abeel’s passion for windsurfing was caught on the TV special, “GO DO IT!” Gardening kisses with wife RyanÑ who frequently releases her dear mate to the Bay. The entrance to their home is decorated with murals by Bob Schwartz, but the garage is hung with Bic and Gaastra gears. If the stoplights are all green claims the writer, he can coast from home to the water’s edge. (enlarge)


Then I gaze far across at the other side and consider the 350 feet of cold water straight down under the Bridge. When I finally stand, knee-deep in my wetsuit, hands gripping the boom, back foot tensed for the right wave, I feel like Sir Frances Drake setting his sail for an unknown world.NOW WHEN I CROUCH, rigging
on the beach that Drake missed, I glance up at the bridge, gauge the wind speed, check the chop and an ebbtide going out toward that same China, faster than a man can walk.  Each time, I’m struck with wonder.  I marvel at its beauty and my good fortune to be there. I reflect on the sanctity of abundant water and, like those first Arab princes, of people who will never see a sight like this. I think of “the Great Drought” of 1933 that started a veritable migration to this coast.  I see in my mind, the scorched plains, and remember the dust storms that turn air black for a hundred miles. I also picture in my mind the stretched–out dead cattle and, looking out before me, remind myself that all life came originally from the sea.

But I’m not alone. On Crissy Field beach, known locally as “the City Front”,  I’m surrounded by a community of windsurfers who gather here every afternoon for most of the year, sometimes in as many as 400 cars and vans. It’s one of perhaps thirty-five or forty such floating communities in the Greater Bay area, whose citizens mostly recognize each other by name, vehicle or, sail.

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BAYWATCHING A SUNSET: Steve Young gazes the seductive waters of the Bay. Like him, a myriad of windsurfers have been drawn to the City and have made a livelihood with the sport and its passion. (Starting lower left) Ted Hwang, Olympic sailor. John and Bob Miller owners of ASD. Will Harper, owner of Berkeley Windsurfing with TRIPPY. Tom Lloyd and Snoopy, owner of Boardsports. Susie Hansen, windsurfing instructor at Foster City. Kenny Hartz, Chris Abell and Steve Benjamin sailing under the bridge, Ian Boyd videographer. Britt Dunkerbeck, transplanted professional windsurfer. Gary Hohl owner of Helm of Sun Valley, Jeff Craft; instructor, San Francisco School of Windsurfing, Matt Jones; race director San Francisco Yacht Club and Kris Klackle owner of Windsurf Warehouse. (enlarge)

THERE IS SOMETHING VERY SPECIAL about belonging to a community made up of men and women who are prepared to make a superior physical effort, fall willingly into cold water, and choose winds a little beyond their ability, to learn more about themselves. They are citizens who become remarkably sensitive to those around them.

More than once, I’ve been down in wind or water that was too much for me and heard, more than saw, a board flash by.  Then a voice calls out, “You all right, Bill?” I release one arm from my grip on the board to signal, “Okay.”

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I wonder who it was and how, with only my head and arms visible, my board mostly under the chop, my sail flat and washed over by the waves, that person knew me.  That’s when pride and gratefulness sweeps over me, in realizing I am one of that magic community made of  surgeons, a heart specialist, software programmers, brokers, a firemen, a landscape gardener, computer people, a nurse, an architect, a pharmacist, and others whose resources are unknown to me.

This community is a cross–section of our country and–to the last man or woman–they are helpful, enthusiastic, and completely unconscious of social position, wealth, race, or color.  It is, in fact, a microcosm of what all thinking people hope the modern world will become and I consider myself fortunate to be part of the action on “the Bay that Drake missed.”


by William Abeel

Bill Abeel, the Flying Dutchman, recently celebrated his 80th birthday and, is looking forward to his 14th sailing season on the Bay.

photos by Robert Cameron, John Chao and Eric Simonson

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