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Community loses Capt. Bill Pritchard

By Staff | Jun 7, 2012


LAHAINA – Noted Lahaina sailor William E. (Capt. Bill) Pritchard passed away on May 19 at his home on Wainee Street.

Pritchard was born on Sept. 18, 1932 in Manila, Philippines. He was the youngest of three children born to a West Indian father and Filipina mother. His father, Thomas Pritchard, was the owner of a well-known Manila restaurant called Tom’s Oriental Grill. Capt. Bill lived through the horrors of the Japanese occupation of the Philippine Islands and saw the cruelty and inhumanity of war. His memories of that occupation remained with him his entire life.

Capt. Bill emigrated to the United States in 1949 and became a U.S. citizen in 1950. In 1952, he enrolled at San Francisco State University, where he played football on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Capt. Bill graduated from San Francisco State in 1956 and joined the United States Army, serving at the Presidio in San Francisco.

While serving at the Presidio, he would often drive for weekends to Big Sur in his white Jaguar. At Nephenthe in the Big Sur, Bill met and partied with Henry Miller and Lynda Sargent. Big Sur in the 1950s was a relatively unknown place, and Bill always had a penchant for finding just the right place at the right time and becoming part of that place.

Bill’s love of sailing also began in the 1950s. He bought his first boat, the “Jolly Roger,” in the early 1960s while working at Lawrence Radiation Laboratory. In 1961, the San Francisco Yacht Clubs refused to allow Capt. Bill to participate in the yacht racing season due to his color. It would be the first time a “Negro” would have skippered a boat in those races.

“Blackballing” Capt. Bill caused a sensation in San Francisco yachting circles and a long summer of front page news in the San Francisco newspapers. He received invitations from several other yacht clubs and unsolicited letters of support from the general public. In 1963, Capt. Bill sailed under the banner of the Sausalito Yacht Club, and his “Jolly Roger” won the title for all of San Francisco that year.

Bill left the United States for Europe in 1966, working as a radio isotope technologist in Switzerland and London. Upon his return to the United States, Bill returned to Berkley but spent large parts of the year sailing in international races, including the Trans-Pac.

Capt. Bill left the Mainland in 1977 and moved to Oahu. There, he captained the Skylark, the Endeavor, the Scottish Fantasy and other vessels. In 1982, Bill was selected to be the senior captain for the “Free Spirit Sailing Club,” an innovative, member-based sailing club whose purpose was to bring open ocean sailing to non-sailors. The Free Spirit sailed out of the Ala Wai Yacht Club and allowed novices the pleasure of exploring the neighbor islands – the North Shores of Kauai and Molokai, undeveloped Lanai, the coves of Kaho’olawe and the Big Island – by sea. The members of that group remember Capt. Bill’s competence, humor, enormous dignity in every situation and outstanding cooking skills.

Capt. Bill moved to Lahaina in 1988 and spent most of the following 20 years as the senior captain of the vessel “Whale Mist.” Bill was honored as “Captain of the Year” for Lahaina in 1996.

Bill retired from active sailing in 2006 and could be seen around Lahaina Town in his vintage, cream-colored Plymouth, and then the sparkling white VW Bug, barely large enough to carry such a large man. Often these cars would be taking Bill to jazz concerts or to fine dining locations in Lahaina. As the son of a famous chef, he never lost his love of fine food, good company, music and laughter.

The life of Capt. Bill will be remembered for its dignity and humor. A memorial in his honor will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 16, at Lahaina Yacht Club on Front Street. Call Lahaina Yacht Club at 667-6211 to confirm attendance by June 13.