Built in Sausalito

Gas Light is the result of one man’s labor and passion, Billy Martinelli.  In 1989 this native of San Francisco with over 30 years of maritime experience decided it was time to build a boat that spoke to the traditions and conditions of the San Francisco waterways.  He had spent many years serving as crew and shipwright on wooden schooners so it was natural that when it was time to build his own boat, he chose to build a schooner (a two-masted sailboat with the mainmast taller than the foremast).  His decision to build a scow schooner was the result of research and a desire to build a boat of exceptional stability and comfort.  A scow’s hull is flat-bottomed and rather square which means it is efficient to build and offers a maximum amount of deck and below-deck space.  It also means that it can float in only 3’ 4” of water!   With the help of his mentors, Harold Sommers and Karl Kortum (co-founder of the SF Maritime Museum), Billy zeroed in on the design of the original 1874 Gas Light.  He decided to build the hull out of steel (16 tons of steel went into the construction) and consulted a well-known naval architect for structural plans.  In 1990 he began work on the modern day Gas Light on a 60 foot lot at the foot of Locust Street on Sausalito’s waterfront.  In 1991 he launched the bare hull into the Bay.  Nine years later Gas Light was completed and certified by the US Coast Guard to carry up to 49 passengers.

Every element of the boat, the engine, ship’s wheel and steering harp, capstan and rig has a story, for instance, in 1995 the two masts were Douglas fir trees growing on the north side of a mountain owned by a friend of Billy’s in Humboldt County, California. Billy researched the proper way to choose and cut trees for masts, and with the help of a couple of friends, he found and cut down the trees now standing as masts on the schooner Gas Light. The growth rings indicate that the mainmast tree was 100 years old and the foremast tree, 98 years old. They were cut in the winter when the sap was down, stripped of their bark, and towed to Sausalito using an ingenious trailer rig. Billy then shaped the masts and dried them for two years, rotating and saturating them repeatedly with a linseed oil mixture.

In 1969 Billy took a job as a night watchman on the Balclutha, the centerpiece of the National Maritime Museum ship collection now berthed at the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. It was soon discovered by those involved in the restoration of the ship that Billy was a skilled woodworker, and they quickly hired him on to help in the reconstruction effort. As it turns out, Billy’s grandfather, Nils Christiansen, had been a seaman on the Balclutha when it had been named the Star of Alaska. During this period he learned from a generation of craftsmen with vast knowledge and experience on traditional sailing vessels. Riggers, ship’s carpenters, and historians shared what they knew with Billy and he paid attention. As a result of his work on the Balclutha, Billy met Harold Sommers, a veteran tugboat captain with Crowley’s Red Stack Tugs.

Harold had recently purchased an 80 foot German pilot schooner built in 1898 and had begun the monumental task of restoring the vessel. He offered Billy an apprenticeship on his boat, the Wanderbird, in Sausalito and Billy’s romance with schooners began. Over the next few years Billy became an accomplished sailor as well as craftsman. He voyaged on another schooner, the Mayan, owned by David Crosby of the band, Crosby, Stills and Nash. He sailed to Hawaii, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Coast of Central America, mostly on schooners.

Sailing on the GAS LIGHT offers a rare glimpse into the life of the Bay Area before the age of highways and bridges.

GAS LIGHT features a 18' by 30' wide-open cabin below decks with a 12' long mahogany salon table and plenty of cushioned seating. Because of her flat-bottomed hull design she sails very flat and stable, making food and beverage service unusually easy and comfortable. GAS LIGHT is now available for birthday parties, weddings, memorials, corporate tembuilding and special events. We also provide knowledgeable local guides for historical, ecological or educational tours of the Bay.

Overall length 72'

Length on deck 50'

Beam 19'

Draft with centerboard up 3'4"

Draft with centerboard down 7'4"

Height of mainmast above waterline 68'

Square footage of sail: 1991 sq ft

Engine: Detroit Diesel 671

Hull: steel

Masts: Douglas Fir cut from Humboldt County

Cabin tops and interior: Fir and Cedar

Rig: Gaff Schooner


Boatbuilding with Billy and his dad:


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