Shel's Boat From The Madonna

1972 - Shel's Boat From the Madonna

This was a scene I did on location from the upper level of the Madonna, a large structure created by master craftsman Chris Roberts. Chris, who was somewhat of an architectural genius and a resident of the houseboat community, created his amazing structure over a pile driver with the aid of friends. Everything in the Madonna was oversized. A truly magical place to enter, the Madonna gave one the feeling that you were entering a location that might be found in Alice in Wonderland. With its stained glass windows casting beautiful light on the interior you immediately had the sense that you had somehow shrunk to a miniature size upon entering. Everything inside was oversized. You actually had to climb up into one of the tall chairs in order to sit at the massive bar within.

The boat in the foreground called the Evil Eye, also created by Chris Roberts, was owned by the legendary author, singer/songwriter Shel Silverstein who purchased this amazing floating home back in 1967. Larry Moyer, a close friend of Shel, who now resides on Shel's former houseboat, recalled how he and Shel originally arrived here, in Sausalito's legendary houseboat community, 45 years earlier. Moyer - a filmmaker, painter and photographer who now stewards the Evil Eye - traveled with "The Giving Tree" author for years when they worked together as a writer / photographer team for Playboy during the magazine's first two decades.

Moyer recalled "In February 1967, when Shel and I were both living in our Greenwich Village apartments, a woman named Nicki, who was carrying a birthday present for me knocked at my door, delivering a hot pastrami sandwich and a pickle." Having just returned from San Francisco, Nicki suggested that the blossoming Haight - Ashbury scene would make a great feature for Playboy. As Moyer so aptly put it in his strong New York accent "So Shel and I got sent out West. We spent three months in the Haight. While we were there, we visited a friend of Nicki's - rock guitarist & singer Dino Valenti - here on the Sausalito waterfront." Moyer and Silverstein looked around at the few hundred boats there and felt the total freedom of the small community. They were both taken in by the music, the people, the architecture, and the nudity, and could only say "WOW!" as Moyer put it. At that point Shel bought a boat, the Evil Eye, and Moyer bought a boat, the Becky Thatcher, and that was that.

This view looking North towards Gate 6 shows the San Rafael ferry (which Shel had to walk through to get to his boat) on the left and the prominent Owl, with its horned wooden tower and wide-eyed windows, also designed and built by Chris Roberts, on the right. Shel's boat the Evil Eye, seen in the foreground, was another creation of the multi - talented Roberts. This structure, formerly a World War II Navy ship, re-imagined as a private floating home, was built atop a balloon barge, whose lofted cables were designed to snare kamikaze aircraft. Many of the original houseboats at the community rise up from barges, tugboats, World War II landing craft, and even sub chasers. Mt. Tamalpias is seen in the background.

My Master's Degree in Creative Arts from San Francisco State College, which I received in 1972, was filmed on Shel's boat. My Master's project, which was a film featuring my original sepia pen & ink wash drawings, still photographs, and colored slides of the area was filmed by Lawrence White, who was working on his Bachelors Degree in Filmmaking at the Art Institute in San Francisco at the time. Larry received his degree in Photography & Filmmaking in 1974 then went on to get his Master's Degree in 1976. We were both care taking on Shel's boat back then while Shel spent the winter in a room at the Playboy Mansion. As Shel put it when he asked Larry and Ito watch his place "Hef just called me and offered me a room at the Mansion. I'm not sure whether I should stay on my boat freezing my ass off through the winter or take him up on his offer. He added, the room WOULD be much warmer and it comes with GREAT visuals." His decision was obvious!!!

Lisa Rogak, who wrote a biography about Shel called "A Boy Named Shel" interviewed Larry and Ito get a sense of what it was like to know Shel back in the day, and what it was like actually living on his boat. We are quoted numerous times, especially in Chapter 5, "Drain My Brain." This scene is featured in the book. Shel has been gone since 1999 but I felt his spirit on board the Evil Eye when I visited back in 2008. I had left the community 30 years earlier in 1978, during the houseboat wars, and decided it was time to check out the changes there. It was great visiting Shel's old friend Larry Moyer, who has been living on Shel's boat since Shel passed. I felt like Gandalf the Grey visiting Gandalf the White when my old friend Larry greeted me. Moyer, now in his late 80's, is considered "The father of the waterfront." This incredibly creative character is still a painter, photographer, filmmaker & Universal Life Minister among other things.

Shel's Boat from The Madonna

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