You may have read the maritime classic Stornoway East & West written in 1966 by Marjorie Petersen and be familiar with the history of this little 33-foot wooden cutter called Stornoway. You may have noticed her romantic visage bobbing about off Schoonmacher Harbor in Sausalito the past few years. And if you are familiar with the history and legend attached to this boat, then surely you will miss her presence on the Sausalito waterfront.

Stornoway, a Colin Archer cutter, was built in 1926 by Dauntless Shipyard of Essex, Connecticut. Featuringoak frames, longleaf yellow pine planking, and fir decks, this vessel was named for the main town of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, west of Scotland. The original owner was Lloyd Nichols.

From June 1948 to August 1952 Al Petersen single-handedly circumnavigated from and to New York via the two major canals with Stornoway. For his outstanding seamanship Petersen was awarded the most coveted honor among small boat voyagers, the Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America.

Alfred and his wife Marjorie then embarked on a 25 month voyage to the Mediterranean and called at 85 ports over 13,000 miles, including Horta, Lisbon, Malta, Madeira, and the Canaries. It was these adventures that inspired Marjorie’s book.

In the summer of 1970, Stornoway tied up at the small-boat harbor in Sausalito, after having completed a long and leisurely navigation of the Pacific, taking three years to reach Japan via the Marquesas, Tuamotus, Tahiti, and the East Indies. After a brief stay in Sausalito the Petersens set sail again to the Mediterranean. They returned to Sausalito in 1989 and sold Stornoway to Sterling Hayden who purchased the vessel with gold Krugerands. Tugboat master, Harold Sommer recalls the day at Annie Sutter’s house when Hayden asked him to haul two heavy bags and his surprise when he discovered the contents. Sommers and Hayden spent a good part of that morning running their fingers through the bags of gold coins.

To those who appreciate these things Stornoway was worth her weight in gold. She changed hands a few more times but was eventually left and forgotten anchored out off Schoonmacher Harbor.


In early February 2003 a young man aboard the vessel decided to take Stornoway for a run about the bay, but there were several factors he did not take into consideration. The boat had not been hauled out for quite some time and her hull was dragging a fair amount of debris. As soon as he pulled up anchor he realized she could not be controlled and broadsided an ex-military tugboat, the Cara Mia, located on the end-tie at Schoonmacher's. This set the stage for her ultimate demise. When the biggest storm of the season caught her the following week, Stornaway sank to the bottom of the San Francisco Bay.

Her hull was hoisted ashore by the Army Core of Engineers and the young shipwrights at the Northbay Boat Works managed to salvage her bronze, mast and sail before she was crushed, a sad ending for such a famous little boat.

Note to the readers: Anyone knowing the whereabouts of the Blue Medal Award of the Cruising Club of America awarded to the Petersens, please contact the author at (415) 332-6608.