Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
Recent mentions of the legendary yacht Santana in Latitude 38 reminded me that the boat Humphrey Bogart made famous spent much of her middle years in San Francisco Bay, in and out of Sausalito.
Santana was built in the depth of the depression, when if you had to ask the price of such a showpiece, you really couldn’t afford it.
Originally a 55-foot schooner, Santana changed hands, and configurations, frequently over the years. The first Hollywood celebrity to own her was George Brent, frequent co-star of Bette Davis, who re-rigged her as a yawl in 1941. Brent sold her to Ray Milland, who, after a presumably lost weekend, passed her on to crooner-turned-tough guy Dick Powell after just three months.
Bogie took her over in 1945 and enjoyed cruising and racing on her for 12 years. His wife, Lauren Bacall wrote in her autobiography, “When he bought that boat he was enslaved—happily so—and truly had everything he’d ever dreamed of.”
Perhaps she was thinking of Santana when Bacall came up with the title for her autobiography: By Myself. According to a 1982 profile in Sports Illustrated: “A typical weekend on Bogart’s Santana began Saturday morning and ended Sunday night. The usual destination was White’s Landing or Cherry Cove on Catalina Island, a barren, rocky place, 30 miles out to sea where there was little to do but sit in the sun, swim, eat illegally caught Pacific lobsters and drink.
“Sometimes David Niven, an enthusiastic sailor, went along. Except on the Fourth of July, when women were invited, the cruises were usually all-male. Bogart once said, ‘The trouble with having dames along is you can’t pee over the side.’” Bogart did a lot of racing with Santana in Southern California, and compiled a very respectable record, SI reported.
After Bogey’s death in 1957, Santana began changing hands again, and was brought to the Bay Area by Brigadier General W.H. (Wally) Nickell, U.S. Army, Ret., an independent oilman from Sacramento, where she was maintained at a small boatyard in San Rafael. Nickell and the proprietor of the boatyard, Emile (Babe) Lamerdin, competed in two Transpac races and three Mazatlan races in the early 60s, “but the results were only moderately satisfying,” said SI.
“By then, Santana and the other ocean racers of her vintage were outclassed by modern boats, but being a good heavy-weather boat, she continued to do well on San Francisco Bay, racing as many as 20 times in a season.”
In 1969 Santana was purchased by Charlie Peet, a real estate investor and part owner Gatsby’s, the popular pizza and jazz joint on Caledonia Street. Peet was quite an adventurer, according to SI: “Early one Monday morning in September 1969, well before dawn, he and his wife and four friends were returning under power to San Francisco from the Monterey Jazz Festival. They were three miles outside the Golden Gate when someone spotted a tiny light bobbing in the darkness. When they drew nearer to investigate, they found five nearly dead men clinging to four life jackets; one had a flashlight. The five, all bartenders, had set out for Los Angeles three hours earlier and just outside the Gate their boat had sunk under them. They had drifted on the outgoing tide and had run out of hope and strength just as Santana happened by. One of the men still carries a laminated card in his wallet that says, ‘God is alive and sailing on the Santana.’ And whenever any of that Santana crew walks into 12 Adler Place, a San Francisco bar, the bartender shouts, ‘Here comes my savior!’”
Peet and his wife Marty took the Santana on a 35,000-mile two-year South Pacific voyage in 1971, and after they returned, he told stories of their adventures with a slide show at Campbell Hall.
As he told Marinscope, “Halfway around the world, you can say you’re from San Francisco and everybody knows where that is. But when you say that you’re really from Sausalito, people say ‘Oh. yes. That’s the little town across the bridge!’ Sausalito is the best-known little town in the world.”
Always politically active, Peet ran for City Council at that time, but withdrew his candidacy in 1974. Announcing plans to build a new liveaboard vessel, he sold Santana and another round of musical berths ensued.
For a while she belonged to Paul Kaplan, part owner of Keefe Kaplan Maritime (KKM) in Point Richmond and Sausalito. Kaplan restored and re-rigged Santana once more back to a schooner, and then sold her to a group with connections to Nantucket, Mass. The group had Santana hauled to Melville, RI for restoration.
In 2014 the Newport Daily News reported that the anonymous owners “want it to be as original as possible.”
Just like Bogey and Bacall.