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Craftsperson, Fleet Leader, Sailing Champion – the Milly Biller Sailing Story Keeps On Sailing

The name Milly Biller keeps showing up in the pages of Latitude 38 because she keeps sailing so much. The name would have shown up even more if the first time she appeared in Latitude 38 her name hadn’t been Millie Bratenahl. But that’s what it was in July 1979.

We discovered this when exploring our new digital archives and came upon the story we’d written about Milly’s becoming perhaps the very first woman hired as a craftsperson at a Bay Area boatyard. Craftsperson might be a more glamorous term than should be used for much of the hard labor she describes in the early years. It seems like ‘just the other day’ she was repairing boats and practicing her craft at the upper end of the Richmond Boat Works railway. The story reminds us of how hard it can be for women to break the plexiglass hatch cover, but also of the rewards of persistence.

Milly Biller Richmond Boat Works
Millie, dressed for success, showed the boys how it’s done.
© 2021 Latitude 38 Media LLC / Archives

We sent the story off to Milly, who replied, “HAHA! Those were the daze. I think you were selling Latitude ads to the boatyard about that time and when I first met you (I was! – ED). I may have spelled my name with an ‘ie’ in those days. I loved that story then and love it still. I have a hard copy of it around here somewhere. I stole my dad’s 110 when I was 13. I picked a time when he was totally distracted writing a paper and shoved a change of ownership letter under his nose that I had typed myself. He signed it blindly like it was a school permission slip. He loved it, promptly bought another 110, conscripted me to maintain it, and beat me in every race until I went off to college.”

Milly continues to be at the hub of the Inverness Yacht Club volunteer crew and is the 110 fleet ringleader, sailing her boat Big Pink. Joe Berkeley, who traveled to Inverness from the Hull, MA, 110 Fleet, stated in our September 2019 story on the 110 Nationals, “Milly Biller has made Inverness the 110 Mecca of the world. Without her, there would be no class, no Nationals. What she has done with the Inverness fleet is nothing shy of spectacular. We have considered kidnapping her and holding her hostage on the East Coast until she has worked her magic on our fleet.” This year Milly’s become a Summer Sailstice 110 fleet ambassador to help get 110s all sailing together, wherever they are, on June 19.

Milly Biller flies her chicken mainsail
Still using her sailmaking skills, Milly cut a new ‘chicken main’ out of an old mainsail so that she could singlehand easily in 2020’s adapted racing schedule.
© 2021 Cynthia Gerlinger

Midday low tides in Tomales Bay and pandemics may be hurdles to leap, but Milly has always found a way to break barriers, have fun, and encourage the world to go sailing.


  1. John C. Dukat 3 years ago

    Milly’s boat traces it’s lineage from her dad back to Gordie Rule.
    Around 1949 three 110’s were shipped up from the builder in LA:
    The Harlander Brothers’ &
    Bob Klein’s
    Her 110 took a third in the Nats held on SF Bay about 1951.
    I hear tell Milly during a periodic refinishing found traces of the gold paint put on by Gordie.

    • Marissa Miller 3 years ago

      Gordie was my uncle! 🙂 Fun to see folks who still remember him and the other legends of the 110 fleet.

    • christopher Nash another with a brother 110er 3 years ago

      Gordie Rule had a brother “Bob” that crewed for him. I like to point out brothers that sailed together.

  2. Memo Gidley 3 years ago

    Sounds like a great women and a passionate sailor!

    • Phillip 3 years ago

      Memo Gidley the racing driver?
      I’m a motor fan since the 60s.
      Phillip in California

    • John Arndt 3 years ago

      Yes, that’s the one. Still a racing driver. Now also an active San Francisco Bay racer aboard his Elliott 1050 Basic Instinct.

  3. christopher Nash 3 years ago

    Thank you Milly for saving the 110s

  4. Jeffrey Allen 3 years ago

    No doubt about it. Milly is the Queen of the West Coast 110 Fleet. She is also a staple of The Inverness Yacht Club where two time Star Boat World Champion and six time Star Boat Silver Star Champion and Americas Cup skipper Thomas Blackaller started sailing in El Toros. He needs no more explaining. The San Francisco Bay weather mark formerly named “Chrissy” was renamed “Blackaller” in his honor.

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