"The cure for anything is salt water––sweat, tears, or the sea."
Isak Dinesen

LOG OF THE SALTWATER PEOPLE HISTORICAL SOCIETY



About Us

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San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 400, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

20 August 2016

❖ COOLING OFF ON THE BERING ❖ 1937

Schooner SOPHIE CHRISTENSON
Coming home from the Bering Sea.
Photo dated 2 years before James Flynn story below.

Original photo from the S.P.H.S.©
"James N. Flynn of Issaquah and his cousin, Richard Holder of Langley, Whidbey Island, remember codfishing in the Bering Sea aboard the four-masted SOPHIE CHRISTENSON as the most difficult $300 they ever earned.
      Flynn kept a pencilled 1937 journal of their ordeal. Most of the pages were accidentally lost, but his memory is keen. The SOPHIE'S exploits, and those of her captain, J.E. Shields, are documented.
      Men like Flynn and Holder are significant to me because each day I can look out my office window, north over Lake Union, and see Seattle's last remaining sailing ship, the forlorn-looking three-masted WAWONA. She, too, was a codfisher in the Bering Sea, at times within hailing distance of the SOPHIE.
      Equally important, Flynn's penciled journal and his recollections convince me that wooden ships were manned by men of iron. Ashore, many of the men were stumbling, rum-soaked derelicts. One readily admitted he chose thieving to working for wages. Two were tough, grizzled men in their 80s who had been at sea all their adult lives. One was a stowaway deaf mute. There were 45 men in all, and every one performed courageously and well.
      One day, Flynn handed me the age-yellowed pages of his journal. I looked at them and asked what would have been the title. He grinned and said, "Five Months Without a Bath."
      This is James N. Flynn's story.
❖  ❖  ❖
      My cousin, Rich, was only 17 but he was around 6 feet and husky. I was 22, and both of us and been toughened by manual labor. Neither of us and been at sea. We hired on as salters, helped by 'connections.' Times were lean.
      We were aboard the SOPHIE somewhere near Pier 51, waiting to be towed by tug beyond Cape Flattery. It took seven hrs to get the crew on board. They were trying to drink enough to last them for five months.
      I was in awe. Thirty men out of their drunken minds. The mates would herd a group aboard, then go into the taverns for the others. While the mates were gone, those on board would wander ashore again.
       We got under way in the evening, in tow. Up on the forecastle, the jugs and bottles were open. They were drinking everything dry before we were to let go of the tow line.
      When the tug's tow line let go, beyond Cape Flattery, the drinking stopped. According to some kind of code, all remaining booze was tossed overboard.
      Then began a weird transformation in the men, like a Jekyll-Hyde change. The drunks straightened up and became sailors. They cleansed themselves, changed clothing and went to work. We hoisted sails and got under way. I went aloft and was scared at the 100-foot height, but the old hands understood and helped me. 
Aloft on SOPHIE CHRISTENSON
Undated, unknown fishermen,
Unknown photographer.
Courtesy of R.R. Burke

I learned that if you are willing to pitch in, you get help and respect.
      The men were mechanical wizards. We had 22 fishing dories aboard, each equipped with a 10-HP Johnson outboard engine (only recently the dories had  been sail-powered.) The men disassembled the engines to basic pieces on the docks, right down to needle valves. They cleansed and inspected every part, then reassembled the engines and honed them to perfection, as if a man's life depended on a perfect engine. It did.
      We hauled out ropes and lines, canvas and brass. The old-timers went to work with their needles and twine. The dress gang sharpened knives.
Aboard Fishing Schooner SOPHIE CHRISTENSON
Unknown date, crew or photographer.
Click to enlarge.
Courtesy of R.R. Burke

      We sailed through an Aleutian pass, probably Unimak, and into the Bering Sea.
      Now, were organized into rosters: 23 men listed as fishermen, 18 in the dress gang. The deck fisherman was Jalmar, the tongue cutter was Mac, the watchman was Harry, and the cooks were Walter and Frank. I did not record last names, but two men signed themselves as Cash Money and No Dory.
      The captain, J.E. Shields, and his brother and son owned the codfish packing plant at Poulsbo, the SOPHIE, C.A. THAYER and MY NORDIC MAID.
      Captain Shields operated the ship's store and, as we sailed northward into cold, sold us warm clothing and foul-weather gear as desired. He was the doctor, provisioner, chaplain, navigator, and judge.
      But crewmen settled their differences among themselves. When Finns and Swedes became clannish and segregated themselves, we insisted that everybody speak English. AS for medical aid, nobody during the 4 1/2 months became ill in that adverse climate––no flu, no colds, no lung congestion. Health was excellent.
      The SOPHIE was traditionally a good-luck ship. By reputation, illness or storm damage never enfeebled her. By 9 July we had taken and salted down 212,154 cod. Fourth July is memorable, not because it was a holiday, but because a one-day blizzard, or williwaw, iced the decks and sent us below.
      There was no heat in the crew's forecastle and no electric lights. We had no bathing facilities, except for buckets or whatever we improvised. The toilet was on the weather deck, extending over the side.
      These dorymen awed me.
Crew of SOPHIE CHRISTENSON
Bering Sea
Undated, unknown crew names,
unknown photographer.
Courtesy of RR Burke.
 They fished from dawn to dusk, and there wasn't much darkness. We worked up to 18 hours a day. They did not wear life preservers, because they reasoned the cold water would finish them in seven minutes. They would come back to the ship, heavily laden, and disappear behind giant waves. They would come alongside to mountainous gray swells and pitchfork their catches to us on deck, using one-prong forks. 
      Our hands were calloused like dogs' paws by rock salt and sea water. Our hands would split wide open and bleed. Men would strike matches on their horny palms. One common healing balm for split hands was human urine––our own.
      Maybe you have heard of the codfishermen's war against the Japanese. The Japanese fishing ships laid a net around us, entirely hemming us in. The captain was infuriated and gave orders to sail through it, ram our way out. We became entangled, our rudder was disable, and men tried to dive down and cut us fee. The cold water immobilized them. Finally, using knives attached to the ends of poles, we cut our way free of the nets. Captain Shields threatened to shoot at the encroachers with rifles, but he was dissuaded. (But the next year, in 1938, he instigated an arms buildup among fishermen which bordered on a shootout.)
      We returned to Seattle in late August 1937. I was a year older, having observed my 23rd birthday on 8 May. We sailed into Poulsbo, to Captain Shields' codfish processing plant, carrying about 400,000 pounds of cod. We had been gone about 4 1/2 months, and my wages were $300 net. 
Schooner SOPHIE CHRISTENSON
Home at winter moorage, Seattle, WA.

1941 photo by James A. Turner from
the Archives of the S.P.H.S.©

      Many of the crewmen collected their pay and resumed where they left off––in the taverns. My cousin and I returned to Issaquah in time for the potato harvest in the Yakima area. I had gained 25 pounds.
      I know you wonder whether I would sail aboard the SOPHIE again. Yes, I would––as a young man."
Above text from: My Waterfront. Carter, Glenn, Seattle, WA. Seagull Books Co. 1977.




      
      

      

  
      

13 August 2016

☀️ POCKET FULL OF AGATES ☀️ by June Burn 1930

Agates from beaches of Shaw Island, San Juan Archipelago.
A seventy year collection found by Don & M.L. Clark
kindly donated to Saltwater People Historical Society.
"Agates, now. Have you strolled along a sun-struck gravelled beach hunting agates, the surf from Juan de Fuca rolling in at your feet? Have you sat beside a dying campfire watching the sun set across many waters while the tide comes slowly in rattling the gravel at its every measured step?
      I am sitting now on warm gravel at the top of Bloor's beach that seems to me the beach at the head of Davis Bay on my map, though I cannot be sure. Every shining strand seems to have a different name on every tongue.
      The tide is at the flood. Iridescent glory lies on the smooth waters of Puget Sound. I look out across the channel to San Juan Island; across the wide and wind-wrinkled strait to the Olympic peninsula.
      I am thinking how the spring salmon slide along just underneath the rosy glowing surface of the Sound; how the flounders sail across patches of sand where grows the dense sea lettuce in the shallow edges of Davis Bay.
      Down the bright curve of this sunny beach I shall crawl on my hands and knees to find his very sunset congealed in little hunks that I shall call agates.
      Pocket full of agates––ecstasy to possess you! Foolish to love you so as if one's life were meager else. As if there were no hermit thrush a-singing in the swish of Douglas firs behind the beach. As if Puget Sound were not freckled with a hundred islands surpassingly lovely. As if one never slept on hemlock beds in virgin forests far from towns. As if one had no little boats to ride the tides to other beaches––oh, one is not poor in romance! There is plenty of beauty and adventure.
      Still, these little gobs of sunset thrill me to the core. 
      This one a cloudy blue as if the sky, on a misty day had petrified and lost a bit of itself. Juan de Fuca, rolling in mightily, brought it, maybe, from far. Brought also this little flock of clear saffron drops like sun on dry grass––thimblefuls or it turned into amber fossils.
      This big luscious pink agate––what can it be but a chunk of sunset squeezed into a hard precious pebble-jewel? These little clear drops of adamantine water fell somehow out of the sky. They have no color, but I love them for the sweet tranquility of them.
      Some day I shall carry my bag of agates to a jeweler to have a necklace made––a necklace of fossilized sunset! The jeweler will laugh at me and show me emeralds and rubies and marvelous, moss agates, maybe, and sapphires and topazes from far places. He or she will explain, as to a child, how one might have real jewels for the price of cutting and polishing and mounting my incredibly hard, tough stones.
      For of course they will think my bag holds beach agates. He or she will not know that they are chunks of rosy sunsets, little drifts of rain clouds, handfuls of sunshine from golden slopes, petrified and planted for the lovers and combers of beaches!
      It is still another day and with wholehearted hospitality the brand new innkeepers, the entire Kilpatrick family and several others are escorting me to Spencer spit for an all-day picnic. I wonder, now, if there is always a spirit of an all-day picnic. I wonder, now, if there is always a spirit of holiday in the islands? I wonder if one went in the middle of the harvesting season, if one would find everybody willing to drop everyday tasks for a picnic or a stroll or a sightseeing trip with what was day before yesterday a complete stranger? It is a wonderful way to live––this easy, casual islandering!
      Spencer spit is a  long, triangular strip of sand and gravel and sparse grass which cranes its neck to reach Frost Island on the northeast corner of Lopez Island. It is reached by an imitation road down a rather precipitous slope through shrubbery to the top of the ridge overlooking the spit. Here the homes of people in love with quietness and the changing rhythm of the surf.
      In the center of the triangle a lagoon. And at the very apex, a tiny log cabin built of driftwood. Here, in the lee of the cabin we build our campfire, make a great pot of coffee, and eat our lunch.
      At low tide one can stand at the end of the spit and toss a pebble across to the high rocky cliff that is Frost Island on its western side. Big steamers can pass through this channel through hugging the shore of Frost where the water is very deep. A little boat comes around the headland of upper Lopez, slips along this narrow channel now, bound for Decatur Island, they say, to see a pretty girl.
      Down both skies of the triangle the gravel yields its hidden store of agates, turned up by the surf. Within, the lagoon warms up and there is fine swimming in summer. An idyllic place. See you tomorrow. June."
Puget Sounding. Burn, June. May 1930


09 August 2016

❖ SUMMER AND THE LIVING IS EASY ❖

Here they come––
from beautiful Steamboat Bay, McConnell Island where the
Puget Sound Live Steamers enjoyed their annual meeting
in August 1970, this crew steamed to Squaw Bay (above.)
A barbecued salmon dinner was served to 208 people
at the home of Robert Ellis of Shaw Island. Ellis' steam yacht
OCEANID is underway on the right in the above photo by
live steamer, Mahlon Lamoureux, of Shaw Island.

Click to enlarge.

OCEANID
285719
Built in 1946 at Ipswich, UK.
52.5-ft Harbor Service Launch
with a Scotch boiler by Ruston & Hornsby and
the oil-burning equipment by Laidlaw-Drew.
Found in Plymouth, Eng in 1960, she was rebuilt at
A.H. Moody & Son, Ltd near Southhampton and
 shipped to Seattle, WA, arriving May 1961.
 This photo taken in the San Juans is dated July 1962,
with notation on verso––"the black smoke was requested
by the photographer."
Saltwater People has posted more history of the steamboat OCEANID here

30 July 2016

❖ THE FOUNDING OF THE SEATTLE SEAFAIR PIRATES 1949 ❖

To honor Seattle's Seafair Torchlight Parade that entertained the city last night, here is some background of the annual festival. 
Seattle Seafair
Verso date July 1959.
L-R:  Kathi Ferguson and Diane Gadotti
with Bill Durfee, (who became Capt. Kidd in 1959)
Weaver Dial, (who became Capt. Kidd in 1962)
and Fred Lanouette.
Click to enlarge.

Photographer unknown.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©

"How many people realize that the name "Seafair" was coined by an 11-yr old kid named Mike? The real truth is, no single individual or organization can really lay claim to starting the Seafair Festival. True, the Seafair Pirates often claim to have invented the whole thing, but that's too simple. An obvious case of "victors" writing history. 
      As far back as 1909 when the great Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition whetted Seattle's appetite for festivals and fairs in general, there had been plans and attempts at creating an annual summer festival. In 1911 there was the first Golden Potlatch. The "gold" came from the gold rush that steamed down from Alaska, straight into Elliott Bay. And the Potlatch was a Northwest Indian tradition involving a prodigious party where the host gives away pretty much everything but the shirt on his back. The Potlatches were a great success, featuring the election of the King d' Oro, (King of Gold) a fleet of Navy ships and an Indian encampment on 4th and Lenora. Believe it or not, they even had a Hydroplane that year, and two more turned up in 1912. Everything was a rousing success until 1914, when riots, looting, and politics halted the whole thing.
      Not that Seattle didn't know a good thing when they saw it, but the great depression and WW II caused every attempt to revive the Potlatch to fail.
      Seattle still needed some kind of Summer Festival, but what was it going to be?
      In 1947, then Mayor William Devin, began pushing for a new festival to celebrate Seattle's Centennial. A lot of groups answered his call In 1949, the WA Federation of Garden Clubs created the City of Flowers Festival. The festival chairman, Ralph Grossman, wasn't sure that flowers struck the right note. While clearly the festival was a good idea, he and his group wanted Seattle's event to celebrate the SEA. (click "read more" below leading  to another historical photo and more history from an unidentified, authentic Seafair Pirate.)

22 July 2016

❖ NIGHT SKY BREWING OVER BLAKELY ISLAND ❖

21 July 2016
Boats are in harbor––while a thunder storm brews.
Photograph by Lance Douglas, Blakely Island, WA.
Night sky captured by Lance Douglas, Blakely Island, WA.
21 July 2016.
Thunder clouds captured by Lance Douglas,
Blakely Island, 21 July 2016.

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