Eight Bells: Jim DeWitt

Published on November 28th, 2022

Jim DeWitt

James Harden DeWitt died November 19, under the care of hospice at his home in Point Richmond, CA. He was 92-years-old.

Jim was born in Oakland, CA in 1930. At age 7, he drew pictures of sailboats while watching his father build a 19-foot sloop in the family’s backyard. Then at age 19, he purchased materials and built his own small boat, an El Toro (#216), and began racing it on Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA.

This launched Jim’s remarkable and highly unique career. He became internationally known both as a fine artist who specialized in action-packed, spirited and accurate portraiture of racing yachts, and also as one of the most successful yacht racers from the San Francisco Bay.

School was difficult for Jim as he was dyslexic at a time when nobody understood what that meant. Teachers told him he was lazy or stupid. Fortunately he took an art class in high school and did well. His mother was thrilled and got him into art school. This, he said, “saved his life”.

Sail GP

After high school, Jim trained for six years as an artist, first attending Oakland’s California College of Arts and Crafts, and then Los Angeles Art Center in Pasadena, one of the premier art colleges in the United States.

To save money while going to art school in LA, Jim started making dinghy racing sails for himself. This led to his own sail loft when he returned with his young family to the Bay Area in about 1960. DeWitt Sails operated for many years in a quonset hut on MacDonald and San Pablo Avenue in Richmond.

The business was moved to Brickyard Cove in Point Richmond into a brand new building that housed both the sail loft and his art studio in 1980. A few years later, Jim sold his loft to Sobstad Sails so that he could focus on his art career. Sobstad sold the loft to Quantum. It still operates out of the same building today.

Racing sailboats, Jim was known for his ability to pull tactical rabbits out of hats. He demonstrated this on numerous occasions in local highly competitive Big Boat Series and Lipton Cup races, for example, and also when he won the 1963 North American Men’s Championship— becoming the first West Coast skipper to bring home the Mallory Cup. He won the 1992 International Masters Regatta on San Francisco Bay.

As an artist, among Jim’s many honors was being named America’s top marine artist by the 1992 America’s Cup gallery in San Diego. Twenty years later, in 2012, Jim was named Artist in Residence by the Golden Gate Yacht Club, host of the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco. The following year, he was the featured artist at the Sausalito Art Festival.

Jim was a member of the Richmond Yacht Club and the St. Francis Yacht Club of San Francisco.

Survivors include his spouse of 50 years, Sallie, and his children Pam, Steve, and Timothy (known as Chip). Others include Pam and Bryan Delaney’s blended family with children Cassie, Katie, Patrick, and Meghan, plus their spouses and children—Cassie’s daughter Mackenzie and son Micah; Katie’s spouse Whitman and son Damon; Meghan’s spouse Shane and daughter Lucia; and Patrick’s spouse Nicky.

Memorial services are pending.

Resources:
• Jim’s website: www.jimdewitt.com
• Latitude 38 profile: https://www.latitude38.com/issues/february-2021/#62
• Jim DeWitt’s Sailing Art, narrated by Jim DeWitt: https://youtu.be/jta2M5nHaOw
• Jim DeWitt Painting Lulu, narrated by Jim DeWitt: https://youtu.be/vt34d0usZEM
• Lessons on Perspective for Artists, narrated by Jim DeWitt: https://youtu.be/DdBtX_KgQ44

Source: Sallie DeWitt; November 28, 2022

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