Philanthropic Wave

Sailor Sandberg is a Philanthropic Tidal Wave

By David Goll, Good Business Columnist
July 29, 2005

Berkeley – Talking with Anthony Sandberg, one feels the late John Denver's expansive musical tribute to life on the sea, "Aye, Calypso" should be playing in the background.

It's not just that Sandberg's business at the Berkeley Marina is the Bay Area's largest sailing school and club. Sandberg launched the Olympic Circle Sailing Club Inc. - better known as OCSC - in 1979. His love for his work, zest for life and San Francisco Bay-sized personality is readily apparent. As is his concern for less-fortunate people and health of the world's environment.

But that worry seldom represses a generous spirit.

"Would you like to come sailing this evening?" is almost the first thing out of his mouth.

Every Wednesday evening, Sandberg's staff takes a few hundred people out for a cruise around the Bay aboard his veritable armada of 24- to 52-foot yachts. He 50 boats, along with 10,000 square feet of buildings on shore and 1,000 club members, all tended to by a staff of 75, including 45 sailing instructors.

The trips aren't free - cost is $40 per person, $30 for OCSC members - but those fees help pay for such programs as giving boat rides to 100 middle school youngsters from public schools in Richmond, Oakland and Berkeley. The July 1 trip was the first such experience for many of the kids who participated in a free day camp sponsored by Cal Performances, the UC-Berkeley performing arts program.

Sandberg believes in practicing philanthropy locally and globally. Every year, he and his staff lead "flotilla" trips around the globe to places as diverse as Mexico, Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Greece, Turkey, Tahiti, Tonga, Australia and the Seychelles islands off the coast of Africa.

On each trip, he donates at least 5 percent of his charter fees to environmentally oriented nonprofit groups in the countries he visits. That meant about $13,000 was raised to help preserve coral reefs around Tonga during a trip to the South Pacific. Other contributions have been made to plant 1,200 oak trees in Chile, preserve sea turtles in Greece and the coral reefs of Belize.

"I think it's important that business become a force for good in the world," he said. "Unfortunately, that seems to be a minority view, but I think it's an idea that's gaining strength."

Sandberg credits a lot of his life and business philosophy to coming from a family of Norwegian immigrants "who, quite frankly, had socialist inclinations." He especially lauds his late father - who left home at age 16 to travel the world, eventually becoming an officer in the U.S. Navy - with instilling in him a strong sense of egalitarianism and belief in social justice.

"I spent my early years growing up in Hawaii in the 1950s, which was wonderful because there was such a mixture of people," Sandberg said. "My dad taught me to respect people of all backgrounds. He was a lovely human being."

Not surprisingly, Sandberg learned how to sail in Hawaii, but learned to ski - on snow - after his family moved to Lake Tahoe when he was a teen-ager. He became so proficient he spent four years on the U.S. Ski Team and won a scholarship to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where he majored in political science, competed on the crew and sailing teams and protested the Vietnam War.

After graduation, Sandberg spent a year skippering a wealthy individual's yacht around the Mediterranean Sea. He then joined the Peace Corps and spent 18 months in Nepal, where he studied Buddhism along with working to improve living conditions for locals.

"I had a rambunctious desire to taste everything I could," Sandberg said.

He was in his late 20s when he got the idea to establish the sailing school, initially doing so in Alameda, "since it was the center for yachting on the Bay in those days." More than a quarter century of hard work has brought him professional satisfaction.

"Today the club is everything I envisioned 26 years ago," said Sandberg, who lived in his van when the club first started, preferring to pay rent on his sailing club and school than for a home. "I'm not living in a van any longer."

A big, warm van might seem downright luxurious in December when he travels to the only continent he has not visited - Antarctica. The two-week expedition aboard a Russian icebreaker will include Sandberg and his party camping on the ice during the 24-hour days of early summer at the globe's southernmost extremes.

In keeping with his adventurous spirit, Sandberg said sailing along the Antarctic coast will not be the only challenge of his journey.

"On our way back, we will go river rafting in Chile, ride with gauchos (cowboys) in Argentina and take tango lessons in Buenos Aires."