This and the following page is dedicated to the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary and Point Bonito Flotilla in appreciation of their concern for the welfare of Captain Reta Banks (Captain Ducky), the subject of the following story.
Ducky’s brother (admittedly a baby brother) and his wife - Ducky’s sister-in-law, join with John Gavin in expressing warm appreciation.
What better way to commence these pages than to publish a photograph of the magnificent tall ship, the USCG Eagle.
Amazing women: Captain Ducky
Amazing women: Captain Ducky, is an adaptation of The amazing tale of Captain Ducky that was written for Issue 7-3 of the Eastern Perspective.
A horse rearing high on its hind legs may not be an uncommon sight in the American West. It is likely that even a slim attractive woman confidently occupying its saddle might not be extraordinary.
When pirates lurked along the Barbary Coast, it would have been somewhat incongruous for one to be named Captain Ducky. Pirates may be long gone from the Barbary Coast though some may still haunt the boardrooms of commerce. If perchance, pirates still roamed the high seas, there is a formidable force with which they would have to deal – the United States Coast Guard.
The fashion house of I. Magnin and Company is Macy’s West today. Magnin’s once attended to the fashion requirements of Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe, the Duke – John Wayne and even Imelda Marcos the wife of the then President of the Philippines.
A person who can talk about all these things is Reta Banks, the woman mounted on the rearing horse. For a start, she is a Charter Boat Captain with the Fisherman’s Wharf Fleet, holding the rank of Past Commander of the Coast Guard. Australian born, Reta Banks is well known by the name Captain Ducky. Until her retirement from industry, she was a fashion consultant with Magnin’s and has looked after all of these celebrities. Indeed, the Duke was a good friend. This remarkable lady has now turned ninety-five and recently told the Eastern Perspective, “I go to the wharf once in a while and take a ride out to Golden Gate. It’s only for an hour but if my health stay’s the same, I wouldn’t mind living to 100.”
Born in Rutherglen, Victoria on January 4, 1908, Reta’s family moved to Wonthaggi, a town in the south of Victoria in November 1909. Her father, a former gold miner, helped establish the Powlett Coal Fields for the State Coal Mines in Victoria. Reta was still less than two-years of age when with her infant brother and young mother, barely 21 years of age, took lodgings at the Dalyston Hotel for a time before moving to Wonthaggi, making a home under canvas.
The children were among the first on the Powlett Coal Fields. Reta’s mother was the second woman on the fields. The family grew with four boys and three girls including Reta. Two girls were identical twins. As a child on her parents’ farm in Australia, Reta’s interest in horses and animals developed. Many years later, another two boys’ were born. One died at age three after being kicked by a horse on the family farm.
In her teen years, Reta worked in Melbourne for a large fashion house. Moving to Sydney she continued her modeling/fashion career. This included clothing, swimwear and sportswear as Australia developed a more liberalized attitude to women on the beach and in sport. The Second World War was ending when she left Sydney on a military hospital ship repatriating wounded American soldiers. Within a few years, Reta became an American Citizen, once more working in the fashion industry. It was not long before she became somewhat a legend on Fisherman’s Wharf, establishing a place for women in the male dominated sports fishing industry.
In the mid 1970’s, Carrick Leavitt of San Francisco’s UPI reported, “Everybody knows Captain Ducky and Wacky Jacky at Fisherman’s Wharf. Both gals skipper commercial sports fishing boats. And Ducky, a diminutive 68 year old from Australia ranks right up there alongside old-time Italian captains on the wharf like Banjo, Diesel Sam, Coochie and Bandito.”
Soon after, in 1977, Frances MacIlquham’s story was published in the Toronto Globe and Mail The headline read, “San Francisco fashion executive leaves store to be a deckhand on a salmon-fishing boat:
From I. Magnin’s in downtown San Francisco to the Dora Bella’s moorage at Fisherman’s Wharf is 15 minutes by cable car. To go from fashion co-ordinator of that firm’s salon of haute couture to the first mate on a 50 foot salmon-fishing boat is not an ordinary route.
But Reta Banks is an extraordinary woman; actually the 68 year old retired fashion expert is much more than a first mate on a fishing boat. Besides being a qualified deck-hand, she holds her ship’s captain’s papers and the rank of past-commander in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. Not to mention swimming awards from her youth.
Australian born Captain Banks, who is known around Fisherman’s Wharf as “Lady Tyles” began her 25 year career with I. Magnin’s San Francisco Store in bathing suit sales and modelling.
A sports minded woman with a knowledge of bathing suits going back to the 1930’s when she swam competitively with the Essendon Swimming Club of Melbourne at home and abroad, she brought not only a fashion flair but practicality to the job, went on to designing sportswear and levelled off at the top as fashion co-ordinator for the store.
It was through her fashion career that Captain Banks was introduced to fishing. “I took some models out on the Dora Bella for photography and, well, I just had to try it. I was hooked.” She has been on the Dora Bella regularly ever since.”
In the December 1979 edition of “Soundings” the Coast Guard magazine, Reinea Goldseger talked about the waterfront women of San Francisco. Reinea described Reta, then aged 72, as the oldest bay area woman skipper, Coast Guard Auxiliary Instructor and self styled “international playgirl” who “began fishing to get away from women.”