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The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

In Memoriam: William Joseph (Bill) Sassaman

Donna Sassaman

Spencer 44
October 10th, 2023

William Joseph (Bill) Sassaman
December 24, 1942 – October 1, 2023

Bill was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, the first of four children. His parents, Carl and Marguerite Sassaman, were both teachers with wanderlust, and they moved the family to different parts of the US just about every year. By the time he graduated from high school, Bill had lived in 18 towns, from Pennsylvania to California, from Nebraska to New Mexico. I think it inspired a sense of adventure in him!

After graduating from the University of New Hampshire in 1969 with a degree in Forestry, he and his first wife, Virginia, along with their 4-year-old son, Scott, and infant daughter, Heather, headed for Alaska, where Bill planned to be a forester and bush pilot (he had his private pilot’s licence). On the way, they detoured to Nanaimo to visit a university friend, also a forester. That friend gave Bill the best piece of advice ever: “Why go to Alaska? Stay here. BC has everything you’re looking for!” Bill got a job with MacMillan Bloedel that day and was granted landed immigrant status the next day.

He worked for MacBlo for a year before the family moved to Argenta in southeastern BC, to teach and houseparent at the Argenta Friends School (Quakers). In 1971, Bill and Virginia separated and he returned to New Hampshire to earn a master’s degree in Forestry Mensuration. The family reunited briefly in NH before he became the single father of two. He enrolled 3-year-old Heather in the Newmarket (NH) Day Care Center, where he met me, the head teacher of the three-year-old class and single mother of 5-year-old Caitlyn. In 1973, Bill and I fell in love and soon formed a family with our three children.

Bill’s next educational venture was at Virginia Polytech, working on a doctorate in Forestry Mensuration. After a year, he knew it was time to forego the Ph.D. and return to Canada. We arrived at the Peace Arch Crossing on July 15, 1974. Bill worked again as a forester in Gold River and Tahsis before we went in search of our homesteading dream, which, as it turned out, we found in Argenta. We became Canadian citizens in 1978.

Bill, our teenagers, and I moved to Victoria in 1983. It was the first time Bill had lived in a city and he knew that he needed a way to get out of town. After decades of climbing mountains, skiing downhill and cross-country, and playing basketball, Bill discovered sailing! He had to convince me that moving onto a boat and sailing oceans was an excellent plan. It took a lot of convincing but he was persuasive. We joined Bluewater Cruising Association in 1986 and bought an offshore-capable 34’ ketch, Emrys. We moved aboard in 1987, to learn how to live in such a small space, pare down items that we didn’t need, and to build a cruising fund. From 1990 to 1993, we cruised the U.S. west coast, the Sea of Cortes, and then made long passages to French Polynesia, Hawaii, and back to BC. It was an adventure of a lifetime and I am so grateful that he was so persuasive!

Our post-cruise plan had been to sell the boat, buy a house, and get another dog. Instead, we agreed that we loved living in a small, mobile space and opted to remain liveaboards. We sold the ketch, bought a 52’ sloop on which we lived and ran charters along the BC coast, before buying our present boat, Alia, in 2002. It was also in 2002 that we rejoined BCA, after a hiatus of eight years.

Bill and I have lived aboard in Victoria, the Lower Mainland, and since 2012, in Cowichan Bay. It was during our 8-year on-and-off life at anchor in False Creek that Bill became passionately concerned about the rights of liveaboard boaters. Eventually that concern would lead him to form the BC Nautical Residents Association with other like-minded liveaboards at the Wharf Street Docks in Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

Over the course of his life, Bill was a forester, teacher, logger, wild fire fighter, backhoe operator, car salesman, charter captain, realtor, and small business owner. He enjoyed learning new skills in each profession or job. A pacifist, Bill was first an attender of the Argenta Friends Meeting and for the past twelve years, of the Cowichan Valley Friends Meeting.

In the final weeks of his “journey with cancer,” he liked to say that he had lived the best 80 years of his life “so far” and had no regrets. I know that I have no regrets about our 50 years together of love, friendship, and adventure.

Our family will hold a celebration of life for Bill in the late spring or early summer of 2024.


  1. Rosario Passos says:

    I am so deeply sorry for your loss Donna. Sincere condolences are being sent to you and your family at this very difficult time.

    Words seem so very empty at these times… I know that Bill will always be in your heart. You were an inspiration couple to Denis and I as we pursued our own dream of adventure through sailing. Hang in there my friend and please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help through this challenging time in your life.


    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you, Rosario. Safe and happy cruising adventures to you and Denis.

  2. Richard Lees says:

    You two are a credible genuine couple with your heart in the right place. It was an honour to know Bill and I want to express my condolences to you Donna.

    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you, Richard.

  3. CJ Daley says:

    Dear Donna, we are so sorry to hear of Bill’s passing. You two were so welcoming to Kathy and I when we joined BCA and began the process of preparing ourselves and our boat for our passage to Mexico. It was also a delight to find you two at our reciprocal dock in Maple Bay from time to time. Stay well and know that you will have the support of many friends and your BCA family over the days and months to come. We will be in touch.
    Carolyn & Kathy (SV Shannon’s Spirit).

    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you, Carolyn and Kathy. It was good to see you last week in Nanaimo. Safe travels to warmer climes!

  4. Blake Williams says:

    Dear Donna ,
    I am so sorry to hear of Bill’s recent passing.
    While you and I have known each other for years, it was only in recent BCA rendezvous events that I was able to spend time with you both and discover the depth and beauty of your adventurous lives together. I’m so grateful for that opportunity.

    You’re both in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for all your significant contributions to BCA over these many years.

    Warm regards,

    SV Sea Fever

    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you, Blake. In Bill’s words, “We had a very good run at it!” We did, for sure.

  5. Sally Holland says:

    Dear Donna,
    My heart breaks for you and Bill at the news of his passing.
    You both have been an inspiration with your courage, encouragement,
    and understanding of others and you’ve set a fine example for fellow
    sailors to follow.
    I send you hugs, and my love and prayers as you go through the next
    weeks and months.
    With deepest sympathy,

    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you, Sally, for being a part of my circle of support.

  6. Devin says:

    Sincere condolences Donna.

    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you, Devin.

  7. Nancy Carlman says:

    Dear Donna,
    Thank you for writing about Bill’s life for Currents. We learned much about him that we did not know. In fact, it turns out that we knew almost nothing about him except your cruising life and contributions to BCA.
    Our thoughts are with you as you move into your unwelcome single life without Bill.
    Nancy and Stephen

    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you, Nancy and Stephen. I’m glad that you learned more about Bill. If it hadn’t been for him, I’d most likely still be a Connecticut Yankee!

  8. Dee Logan says:

    Dear Donna
    I am so sorry to hear of the recent loss of your dear husband, Bill. What an adventure you have had together!
    Wishing you comfort and peace at this difficult time.
    Denise Logan

    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you, Dee. Bill and I had many adventures together.

  9. Al Kitchen says:

    Dear Donna
    Like many in the B.C.A., I’m sure, I learned so much more about Bill than I knew through my involvement with the group courtesy of your article. Thank you for sharing and please accept my heart felt condolences on your loss.

    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you, Al. Bill was an extraordinarily adventurous spirit and I’m grateful for the years with him.

  10. Scott and Sonia Crawshaw says:

    Dear Donna,
    We are so saddened to hear of Bill’s passing. Thank-you for the tribute you wrote for Currents. We too are glad of his persuasiveness in going cruising and living aboard, as it brought you both to us! Our heartfelt condolences go out to you, please reach out if you need anything.
    Hugs and love from Scott and Sonia

    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you so much, Scott and Sonia, for your kind words. What adventures Bill and I had, with living aboard and cruising offshore being one of the best! Hugs and love back to you.

  11. Peter McMartin says:

    Dear Donna – Connie and I were very glad to be able to say “thank you and goodbye” to such a sweet man and we send our love and sympathy to you and your family.


    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you, Peter and Connie, for your visit to Bill and the gifts of raspberries and flowers. He was a lovely man with whom to mess about in boats (and other adventures)!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Dear Donna, Your words truly spoke of a wonderful life together with such an amazing and accomplished human being as Bill. It was always obvious that you two were very close and had a very rich life together.
    Thinking of you at this difficult time.
    Daragh and Cathryn

    1. Donna+Sassaman says:

      Thank you, Daragh and Cathryn. Your words brought tears and smiles. Thank you.

  13. Micki Stirling says:

    Sending our condolences. Micki Stirling

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