William Ekengren Hawkins

William Ekengren Hawkins

Died February 18, 1984

The title of Bill Hawkins’ life could be, with only slight exaggeration, “Twenty Years Before the Mast.” At Yale Bill majored in history and was a member of Yale Corinthian Yacht Club, participating in intercollegiate races and regattas throughout New England and beyond. Summers found him working, racing and cruising on sailboats – one summer as a deckhand on a local charter yacht in Holland, another sailing the Newport to Bermuda Race, one of his several ocean races. He also sailed from Maine to the Azores as one of a crew of four aboard a 55-foot schooner skippered by a Frenchman who also happened to be a paraplegic.

After Yale Bill joined the Navy. He went to Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI, and then was assigned as executive officer of the U.S.S. Terrell County, a tank landing ship which conducted amphibious landings on the coast of Vietnam, bringing men and equipment from Japan, Korea and the Philippines. The Terrell County also served as a mother ship in support of Swift boat and helicopter operations on the Ca Mau Peninsula. The ship was home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan, where he met his wife, Yoshiko Yamaguchi.

Lieutenant Bill Hawkins left the Navy after three years and joined the training program of the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. He did well there but found weekdays in the city agonizingly dull. He lived for weekends aboard his newly acquired 35-foot sloop, the Webfoot.

Bill left the city and his job, cruised off New England for a summer and then began the slow process of working his way up the ranks of merchant marine licensing requirements in pursuit of a full-time sea-going career. His Navy and yachting experience counted for almost nothing in the eyes of the U.S. Coast Guard, so he had to start as a deckhand and able bodied seaman. He shipped as engineer aboard the staysail schooner Westward, a research and sail training vessel from Woods Hole, MA, which operated throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean. Bill delivered yachts for Patrick Ellam from Rhode Island to Florida – mostly during the lousy weather in late fall – and on one occasion from the Mediterranean to England. He also worked on ferry and excursion boats between Cape Cod and Boston, for a towing and oil service supply company in New Orleans, and for a fuel barge transportation company operating in Florida and New England.

Having paid his dues, Bill landed a permanent job at Gulf Coast Transit, a subsidiary of the Tampa Electric Company. The company’s main business was carrying phosphates in giant tugbarge combinations from Florida to Baton Rouge on the Mississippi and on the return trip hauling Midwest coke for the utility’s operating plants in the Tampa area. Occasional charters required trips to the West Coast via the Panama Canal and even to Africa. Starting as a mate, Bill soon moved up to captain. He was as proud of his hard-earned Coast Guard licensing (ultimately master, any tonnage, any ocean, as well as Mississippi pilot to Baton Rouge) as his Yale degree. Despite the inevitable boredom of long runs at sea, Bill remained challenged and fascinated with the seamanship, engineering and people- management intricacies of his profession. Before falling ill, he was ambivalently considering taking a management job ashore.

On the side, Bill bought and renovated small residential properties in the Tampa area for rent or sale. Yachting remained a passion, but it was always just over the horizon given the difficulty balancing his long absences from home – weeks, even months at a time – and raising a family ashore. His marriage to Yoshiko Yamaguchi ended in divorce, but they had two children, Christoph Yamaguchi Hawkins (Y ’91), who lives in Charlotte, NC, and Audrey Wolcott Hawkins, an artist in New York City.

Bill spent his last nine months living with his sister and brother-in-law in Boxford, MA, while undergoing treatment for cancer in Boston. He died on February 18, 1984 at the age of 41.

Dorsey Gardner remembers: Bill was one of my roommates in Saybrook for a year. A terrific sailor, Bill skippered Wm. Buckley’s boat during one or more summers while we were in college. Intelligent, thoughtful, a great listener; Bill died much too early.