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  • Writer's pictureDeirdre McCrohan

Tiburon’s Hank Easom was locally renowned sailor


Tiburon resident Harry “Hank” Easom, a renowned yachtsman in the local sailing community, died Feb. 14 of cancer. He was 88.


Mr. Easom sailed his last race on his boat Serenade just 10 days earlier in the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s mid-winter races. He finished first in class, division and overall and led the closest competitor by 30 minutes, an astonishing finale to a life racing on the water.


Just days later, on Feb. 7, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers placed a new racing-mark buoy named for Mr. Easom at a permanent mooring site near Yellow Bluff off the Marin Headlands. The new buoy is taller, LED-lighted, radar-reflective and anchored farther away from the stream of commercial fishing traffic, whose boats periodically knocked the old marker out of position.


The new Yacht Racing Association Yellow Bluff racing mark off Sausalito, named for renowned Bay Area racer Hank Easom of Tiburon, was placed Feb. 7. Mr. Easom died a week later at age 88. (Ron Young)

The project was in the works for 11 months and generated financial and other support from all quarters. Mr. Easom was highly esteemed, said Ron Young, a longtime member of the San Francisco and St. Francis yacht clubs who knew Mr. Easom for more than 60 years and first raced with him in 1963.


“He could do anything on the boat, but he was an especially gifted helmsman,” Young said. “That’s like being a conductor of an orchestra. He was very quiet and mild-mannered.”


Mr. Easom was born in Ross on June 15, 1934, the younger son of Harry and Davida Easom.


His father grew up in Liverpool and ran away from his home aboard a square-rigger. The elder Easom sailed around Cape Horn off the southern tip of South America — the Panama Canal didn’t open until 1914 — but he jumped ship at Sausalito because he’d been so seasick. He settled in Marin and started a business.


Mr. Easom and his brother, Bruce, grew up in Belvedere and attended Belvedere School and Tamalpais High School.


Their father encouraged both boys to sail, buying a Moon boat for each of them in 1941, when Mr. Easom was just 7 and Bruce was about 10. Mr. Easom named his after his dog, Rowdy, and often took the animal along. Their father also drove them around, with their Moon boats on a trailer, to small-boat races in the Bay Area and as far south as Santa Cruz.


When he was 13, Mr. Easom ducked his mother’s list of gardening chores and sailed his Moon boat from the Corinthian Yacht Club to the Clipper Yacht Club in Sausalito and asked owners Cliff Pedersen and Shirley Morgan for a job. They hired him, and he would sail over in his Moon boat after school, on weekends and all summer to do grunt work on the dock, such as painting creosote on pilings.


He eventually earned enough to buy a kit for a Clipper, a 20-foot plywood boat designed by Myron Spaulding. He built it himself and sailed that to work instead of the Moon boat.


Pederson and Spaulding of Spaulding Boat Works became mentors.


The Easom boys joined the Corinthian Yacht Club as “junior sailors,” but there was no junior sailing program then, so the boys raced against the adults. Mr. Easom won third place in his first competition at age 11. He became the club’s first junior commodore.


“We placed 90 percent of the time, but winning takes a little extra,” Mr. Easom said in a recent documentary about him produced by film company Life on the Water. “We don’t win ’em all, but we usually place pretty well. We also come in last once in a while. It keeps you humble.”


In 1949, when he was about 15, he won the Pacific Coast Championship.


Mr. Easom worked at Clipper Yacht Club until he joined the U.S. Coast Guard during the Korean War, serving in the Pacific from Hawaii to Japan to Korea.


Upon his return in 1955, he went back to the yacht club and opened Easom Boat Works, which built and repaired boats of all sizes and shapes for 35 years.


That same year, Mr. Easom met Joy Williams on a blind date aboard a Farallon Clipper. They married three months later, and she also helped run the business.


With a reputation as a master boat builder, Mr. Easom was known for his craftsmanship, innovation, work ethic and honesty in business. His business was known for “super high quality,” Young said.


In 1975, he purchased the Sausalito boatyard from Pedersen. By 1989, changing Environmental Protection Agency regulations made compliance more difficult, so he retired and just rented space in his boatyard to marine and other businesses.


The Easoms moved to Tiburon’s Hill Haven neighborhood in 1964, where their home commanded an excellent view of San Francisco Bay.


They joined San Francisco Yacht Club in Belvedere in 1969. He was awarded the prestigious Yachtsman of the Year title twice, once from the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco in 1971, where he served on the board of directors for a time, and once from the San Francisco Yacht Club in 2014. He was also an honorary member of the Sausalito Yacht Club.


Easom’s 1937 8-meter sloop, Yucca, became a fixture on San Francisco Bay from 1964 to 2017. Over the years, he also owned and raced a Dasher, a 35-foot wooden boat he built himself; two Etchells, named Wildfire and 600, and, finally, Serenade, a 36-foot Sabre Spirit.


Locally, his racing schedule included the Delta Ditch Run and the summer Corinthian Yacht Club series, but he had sailed and raced much farther afield. Twice, he raced on Transpacific Yacht Race teams from Los Angeles to Hawaii, and he also raced in the Southern Ocean Circuit, in Hawaii, in Mexico and in Europe. He was an Olympic alternate in sailing in 1972.


“We should all be so lucky to live so long and do what we love to do right up to our last days,” Young said. “That last race, he was the happiest I’d seen him in a long time.”


Scott Easom, Mr. Easom’s nephew and a member of his regular crew, said his uncle had a passion for sailing.


“It was his thing,” he said. “Most of us who sail also had other interests. Sailing was the thing he enjoyed most. He spent a lot of time at it, so he got very good.”


In the documentary about him, Mr. Easom said he wouldn’t go to sea with anyone he doesn’t know well.


“I have to be comfortable. … I don’t mind losing too much, but I’d rather win,” he said. “You do learn from each experience. Every time you’re out, it’s a little bit different and that’s what’s so much fun.”


Mr. Easom said in the film that his wins were due to the boats and the crews.


“It’s all good people working hard together,” he said. “We keep the boats in top shape: keeping the gear up, keeping everything working, buying the best sails you can get, we’ve updated it as much as we can with the latest gear.”


For 70 years, he made a habit of cleaning the hull of whatever boat he was sailing twice a month.


Marine surveyor Al Blair once worked for Mr. Easom and crewed with him for more than 50 years. In a 2012 interview for sailing journalist Michelle Slade, Blair said he doubts the Yucca would have the successes it did under just any sailor’s helm.


“Hank knows her like the back of his hand,” he said. “He does some amazing things with Yucca, and I still learn something new every time I sail with him.”


During the foggy San Francisco summers, Mr. Easom’s family went to their cabin in Pinecrest, in the Sierras. He raced his El Toro in the daily afternoon races on Pinecrest Lake.


His daughter, Jan Easom Kneib, said when her dad competed in races, he always seemed to find a way to be first across the finish line.


“Hank was most himself when sailing,” she said. “No boat was too big or too small for Dad. If it floated, he sailed it.”


She noted his competitive nature and sharp hand-eye coordination extended to the tennis court and the dominoes table.


“He didn’t like coming in second in anything,” she said.


Glenn Isaacson of Belvedere said he knew Mr. Easom for more than 40 years, noting he was a “wonderful person” and “great addition to our sport.”


“We’ll miss him a lot,” Isaacson said. “He was a giant of a man, but very gentle.”


In addition to his daughter, Mr. Easom is survived by his son, Kent Easom of Rathdrum, Idaho; a niece, Kerry Easom of Marin; and two nephews, Scott Easom of San Rafael and Bruce Easom of Boston. His wife and brother predeceased him.


Donations may be made in his name to the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center in Sausalito, 600 Gate 5 Road, Sausalito, CA 94965; By the Bay Health/Hospice of Marin, 17 E. Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Larkspur, CA 94939; and the Belvedere Cove Foundation, P.O. Box 150180, San Rafael, CA 94915-0180.


Reach Tiburon reporter Deirdre McCrohan at 415-944-4634.

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