Skip to content

Eight Bells for a San Francisco Legend

The San Francisco maritime community lost a living legend last week, when Harold Sommer died of complications from pneumonia on  December 21. He was 85.

Harold Sommer was a mentor and an inspiration to sailors and professional mariners throughout the West.

Sommer Family
© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

Born in San Francisco and raised in Alameda, Harold served in the Navy during WWII, then had a distinguished 49-year career as a tug captain for Crowley Maritime. During that span, most of the vessels he commanded were wooden. In fact, he was captain of the last wooden tugboat to work San Francisco Bay.

During later life, as a Sausalito resident, Harold turned his talents — and love of wooden vessels — to the restoration of a variety of historic craft, including the 1885 32-ft gaff sloop Freda, now the oldest active sailing yacht on the West Coast, and the 1883 85-ft German pilot schooner the Wander Bird. When he took possession of her, she was in sorry shape, having been used for years as a Sausalito liveaboard. But when Harold’s handiwork was complete, she was a fully restored work of nautical art. The refit was heralded by the Smithsonian Museum as the most significant vessel restoration done by a private individual in the United States.

A funeral service for this highly revered mariner was held late this morning. A celebration of his life will begin today at 12:30 at the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center, located at the foot of Gate Five Road on the Sausalito waterfront. Donations in Harold’s memory may be made to the Restoring Freda Project by clicking here, or by contacting at the Center, SWBC Donations or contact Director of Programs Andrea Rey directly. 

Look for a more in-depth profile on Harold Sommer in the upcoming edition of Latitude 38. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

Leave a Comment

Friday is New Year’s Eve so to ensure everyone can get their hands on the first Latitude of the year before they’re too drunk or hungover to stumble into their local chandlery, marina or boatyard, the January issue will be delivered to all the normal places tomorrow.
We’ve been on assignment in Mexico — lucky us — for all but three days since the start of the Ha-Ha in late October.