Eight Bells: Bill Herrschaft

Published on September 21st, 2021

Bill Herrschaft, 64, passed away unexpectedly on September 14, 2021. Based in Marina del Rey, California, he had been an integral member of the North Sails team since 1989.

He grew up sailing at Santa Monica Yacht Club and won the Sabot Nationals in the early 1970s. He went on to win the Coronado 15 Nationals, and he was a two-time winner of the Santana 20 Nationals. Offshore, he sailed five Transpacs and countless races to Mexico. He was also very involved in the Farr 40 class.

To capture some of his spirit, two of Bill’s long-time North Sails colleagues, John Gladstone and Jon Gardner, share a few memories:

John Gladstone:
“He was just Mr. Marina del Rey, and a one-man band. Even big jobs like bending on a sail on a big boat, he’d just find a way to get it done by himself. And he’d never complain about it. He was really nice, no flash and no drama. I think he often was underrated because of that.”

“He also had a really good sense of humor and was always upbeat, never had bad things to say about other people. He had a lot of dedicated clients who would never go anywhere else. And if Bill had a complaint you knew it was valid, because it was just not his nature to do that.”

“He worked mostly by himself, but he was very realistic about not taking on too much and spreading himself too thin. When you’re a one-man band, there’s only so many hours in the week. And he was officially a salesman, but he could do the sailmaking work too; if he had to jump in the pit [to stitch a sail], he could do it and he would do it.”

“He was also a really good sailor. I never raced with him, but I raced on a lot of boats against him. He had a bad back the past ten or fifteen years, so he didn’t race offshore anymore. But he was an avid biker and kept himself healthy.”

“Two months ago, I sold a boat to a Hollywood couple who planned to keep their boat in Marina del Rey, so I introduced them to Bill. A month ago they sent me a note thanking me so much for the introduction, because he just took care of them; set them up with membership at Cal Yacht Club, went out sailing with them. There was no sale of anything, he was just being Mr Marina del Rey.”

“I loved the guy. It just breaks my heart. I’ll always remember that deep-voiced “Hel-lo?”, and that smile.”

Jon Gardner:
“Bill started at North Sails in 1989, a year before I did. My nickname for him was “Slick Willy,” because he was always joking around. I’d answer the phone and say, “Hey Slick,” and he’d say, “What’s shakin’, Gar-din-errrr.”

“We worked together closely for two decades, and he was one of my best friends within North Sails. The last several years, we’d be on weekly video conference calls together and he’d log in from his garage, where it was always much cooler than outside. Even in the summer, he’d always be wearing a North Sails hat and jacket, so we nicknamed him The Navigator. Because he looked like he was down below navigating, while the rest of us were in short sleeves, like we were ‘on deck.’ And he always had a smile on his face. I wish I’d taken a screenshot of him…”

“He made sailing fun. He really did love helping his clients to succeed, even if it was just Wednesday night beer can racing. People always wanted him to do the offshore stuff and he was a very accomplished offshore sailor, but I think he actually preferred the inshore buoy racing. He sailed a lot with Brack Duker on the Santa Cruz 70 Holua; he actually had a ton of sled clients. He also sailed on several of John MacLaurin’s Pendragons, and with the maxi Sorcerer back in the day. More recently, he sailed with John Sangmeister on OEX.”

“You just could not meet a nicer guy. Very genteel. He was a great sailor, but also a great human being. An avid bike rider, and an amazing husband to Sue. And he absolutely loved North Sails; his blood ran blue.”

“He was just so much fun, and so easy to be around. Once you were his friend, he’d do anything for you. I was just chatting with him last week, telling him I’d help out one of his clients who was down here in San Diego. He was so easy to work with, and I’m really gonna miss him.”

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