Dan Hicks — better known as Sailor Dan — is well-known throughout the city for his infamous sailboat drawing that sells for $40 a sketch. He was born and raised in Saskatoon and has no intentions of ever leaving the city. My friend Daryl and I tracked him down to talk about the city he calls home.
“I was born here in 1954,” he said. “It’s been my home for the last 56 years; I like it here and everybody knows Sailor Dan here.”
He said that after dropping out of school and trying his hand at a few labour jobs throughout the province, he joined the HMCS Unicorn — a unit of the Canadian navy — in Saskatoon.
“I was the boatswain. My boat was the minesweeper; HMC Thunder was its name,” he said. “It was just an adventure was all it was.”
After his service with the navy — he was given an honourable discharge after two years — he found himself struggling to make a living.
“I had no dough,” he said. “What was I gonna do? I wasn’t gonna break in, I wasn’t gonna be a thief. I just wanted a few bucks for a lousy cup of coffee.
“I just started panhandling.”
However, he felt guilty about not giving anything back for the money he earned and with a small suggestion from a random coffee shop customer, he decided to start selling his artwork.
“I sat in the Robin’s Donut shop for years just drawing the small ones [ships] on napkins. One guy says, ”˜Well, why don’t you make it bigger?’ ” recalled Hicks. “It took me about a year and a half but I mastered this one [the big ship] and I’ve been able to reproduce it.”
He said it takes him about three and a half to four hours to finish a ship and that each drawing sold is an original.
“I haven’t sold a photocopy once,” he said, noting that he sells about two to three a day.
However, he said that finding a place to both draw and sell his sketches is often a difficult process.
Right now, Wendy’s is his favourite restaurant in the city simply because they let him sit inside and draw. Other restaurants are not as kind.
“They just kicked me out of McDonald’s. I’ve been going there for years. I was smoking in front of the door and the manager gives me the boot.”
Maguire’s also kicks him out whenever he enters, he added.
“What kind of guy am I? I didn’t murder anybody. I didn’t shoot anybody. I didn’t get in a fight with anybody in the bar,” said Hicks, perplexed by the recent turmoil.
Still, it hasn’t deterred his love for Saskatoon.
He currently lives in a duplex on 7th street but does wish he could live closer to the river, his favourite part of the city.
“I always had a dream to live in a deluxe apartment in the sky,” he said. “Those big fancy apartments on Broadway, they’ve got a view on them.”
He even gave Daryl and me some advice about the ultimate summer plan.
“You guys get together — about half a dozen of you guys — rent a boat, fill ”˜er up, wade down the river, find an island and just go wild out there.”
As for his own future plans, he is pretty content just being the city’s favourite sailor.
“I’m looking forward to summer and lots more years of just shittin’ and drawin’,” he said. “I may go out for an adventure, but I’ll be back.”
image: Kevin Menz/The Sheaf