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Bruce Kessler: Remembering a Pioneer in Boating and Adventure

Seattle-born Bruce Kessler, renowned TV director, captain and adventurer, passed away on April 4 at the age of 88, leaving behind a legacy of daring exploits and remarkable achievements.

Bruce Kessler’s life was a testament to his unwavering pursuit of thrills and challenges. From his early days as a race car driver to his later endeavors as a filmmaker and seasoned mariner, he approached each venture with fervor and dedication.


Having circumnavigated the globe – and as one of the first Americans to do so aboard a motoryacht – Kessler’s passion for the open sea was unparalleled. Over the years, he logged an impressive 100,000 nautical miles as captain of his cruising boats, demonstrating his profound connection to the maritime world.


Transitioning from the fast-paced world of racing to the art of filmmaking, Kessler found success behind the camera. His directorial debut, “The Sound of Speed,” showcased his talent and earned recognition at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 1962. Known for his expertise in directing chase sequences, Kessler lent his skills to numerous movies and television series, including popular shows like “Mission Impossible,” “The Rockford Files” and “MacGyver.”


However, it was on the water where Kessler truly felt at home. Acquiring his first boat in 1960 marked the beginning of a lifelong love affair with boating and angling. As his passion grew, so did the size of his vessels, culminating in the acquisition of a 48-foot boat and later Delta Marine’s innovative 70-foot recreational motoryacht, Zopilote.


Named after the black buzzards that frequented the shores of Mexico, Zopilote became synonymous with adventure and exploration. Together with his beloved wife, actress Joan Freeman, Kessler embarked on a remarkable 35,000-mile journey across the South Pacific in 1990, solidifying Zopilote’s place in maritime history.


Despite facing adversity, including the sinking of Zopilote off the coast of Alaska in 1994, Kessler’s spirit remained unbroken. With the assistance of acclaimed naval architect Steve Seaton, he embarked on a new chapter aboard the Spirit of Zopilote, a vessel that would become the Kesslers’ home for nearly three decades.


Kessler’s contributions to the boating community extended beyond his personal adventures. He was a recipient of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s Spirit of Competition Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Passagemaker Magazine, among other accolades. As the first non-sailing powerboater to be granted membership to the Cruising Club of America, Kessler’s impact on the maritime world was undeniable.


In addition to his achievements, Kessler was deeply committed to supporting junior sailing programs. In 2007, he founded the FUBAR (Fleet Underway to Baja Rally), later known as CUBAR (Cruise Underway to Baja Rally), as a fundraiser for junior sailing at the Del Rey Yacht Club. This initiative continues to thrive, serving as a testament to Kessler’s enduring legacy and commitment to fostering a love of boating in future generations.


Bruce Kessler’s passing marks the end of an era in the boating community, but his legacy will continue to inspire adventurers and sailors for generations to come. He will be remembered not only for his remarkable achievements but also for his unwavering passion for life on the water.

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