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


About Us

My photo
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.

22 July 2016


21 July 2016
Boats are in harbor––here comes a thunder storm.
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.

21 July 2016

❖ The Legend of Andy's Island ❖

"I suppose almost everybody has a favorite version of the legend of Andy’s Island. We acquired ours when we acquired the property. Not, as with real estate, 'or record,' but by word of mouth, as in 'Legend…any story coming down from the past, especially one popularly taken as historical although not verifiable.' [Webster]
      It didn’t matter about the details. The story and the island were a part of our lives. So when Andy’s Island was nearly destroyed by fire one hot summer day, I shed angry tears. Not for the legend- that can’t die- but for the man who made it.
     As we heard it, Andy Brown was a part-Lummi Indian fisherman who found and homesteaded one of the rocky bumps clustered near us off the west shore of Shaw Island. Navigation charts will not even dignify them as islands; they show them as reefs, snugged close to an inlet and barely managing to keep their heads above water at high tide. Andy’s was the largest, yet it was small enough to pace off in approximately two minutes. Nature had been there ahead of him to do the landscaping, and as always she had done a superb job. An exquisite coverlet of deep, soft moss had been laid across the seams and wrinkles, with accents of lichen and sedum, thickets of wild roses, low growing juniper trees and, incredibly, cactus plants. The island was so appealing that its miniscule proportions hardly could have mattered to Andy Brown. It was his, and he loved it with the peculiar passion a man reserves for his own land.
     He built a little cabin of beachcombed wood and put up a proper outhouse. When he was finished there was a driftwood compound that included as well, a smokehouse and another wood and stone building, probably intended for use as extra living quarters. Andy Brown fished, poached an occasional deer on Shaw, kept any eye on the summer folk nearby, and was known to be fairly sociable.
     During the nineteen sixties or thereabout, the federal government mandated active possession of the rocks and reefs that numerically comprise the San Juan Islands, and ordered squatters to vacate their premises. They made a few exceptions, but possibly because Andy Brown hadn’t had time to “prove up” his claim, he, too, was dispossessed with little ceremony.
     He walked out of the cabin, climbed into his boat, and went away leaving everything behind as it was. When I first stepped on the little island in 1969 I found what was left- a cardboard suitcase lying open on rusted bedsprings, some tattered clothing, chipped enamel kitchen utensils, and a few furnishings, crudely but lovingly, it seemed, created for his creature comforts. Even in that vandalized shambles I could sense the presence of Andy Brown’s dream.
     It was shortly after that exploration, the first of many visits to the island, that Andy Brown himself materialized on our beach one day, in search of some local friends he’d heard were helping us install a float. Lean, tall of frame, the man had a good face, seamed and bronzed by his life on the water. He responded with courteous reserve to an interview of sorts I conducted on the spot with, I am sorry to say, the raw curiosity of a newcomer eager for local color. Remembering that now, I think about the look in his eyes whenever his gaze went past us out to the little island a quarter of a mile away.
     For a couple of years after that, we saw his fishboat chug past, navigating the reefs with deft local knowledge and then leaving. I think he had come to pat his island, but we never saw him go ashore. And then we saw him no more.
     Meanwhile, we came to know and love his island, too. It was every child’s
high adventure, every grownup’s return to innocence, a place one approached reverently, best of all by rowboat. I cherished my quiet times there alone, padding across the green carpeting and making small talk with the resident harbor seals.
     On a hot, sad, July afternoon, two young men sped toward Andy’s Island in an outboard, landed, splashed gasoline around the sagging cabin, and set it afire. We could not get there in time to save it, and the cabin burned to the ground. When the miniature holocaust was spent, the stove and other debris lay in an obscene black heap on the knoll Andy had chosen for his homesite. Much of the island was severely burned; miraculously, two of the outbuildings and the rose thicket, some of the juniper and the cactus were spared.
     At the time, I wrote in the Islands’ Sounder  It will take quite a while for nature to repair the damage, for it was a fragile little island…. I don’t know what has happened to Andy Brown, but I’m glad he didn’t suffer the ultimate sorrow of watching what happened to his island.'
     I was wrong about the island’s fragility. But I did learn, later, that Andy Brown had died in an Everett hospital about a year before the fire.
     A woman who lived on Lummi Island and knew Andy Brown did me a great kindness. She had read my piece, constructed from one brief encounter and local legend, and wrote to tell me…'he was exactly as you described him…' She said that Andy Brown had been a special kind of man. The letter helped to heal the sense of outrage I had felt at the senseless act of arson, and I was compelled to row out to the island to see what, if anything, had been accomplished by an intervening winter. I beached the boat in the little gravel cove and with my heart in my mouth I climbed the knoll where the cabin had stood for so long.
     Something marvelous had happened. The only reminder of the fire was a gradually greening patch of black and the chunks of metal. The other part of the island inside the perimeter of lichen-covered rocks was knee-deep in grass; moss was coming back on the scorched places. A dozen purple finches popped out of the little stone house by the wild roses to scold at me for intruding during their nesting season. And splashed across the whole island were sweeps of blue camas lilies in rampant indigo bloom.
      It was a flamboyant, joyous memorial; the ghosts had been laid to rest. I rowed away with a singing heart, but I’ve not been back since."
Text from Oh Shaw! And other Islands. Jo Ann Morse Ridley. Long House Printcrafters and Publishers. Friday Harbor, WA. 1978.


12 July 2016


Words by author/historian/former San Juan County homesteader June Burn.
From Puget Soundings May 1930.
Not a sound except the lirrup-lirrup of the lazy swells against the piling. Not a movement save the smooth flow of a gull overhead. I am sitting alone on the rail of the dock at Upright Head waiting for the return ferry to Anacortes. There is silence. A sound of silence as if some board creaked as the quiet one stepped in her stockinged feet across the water.
      Until, suddenly, the always-thrilling noise of a gasboat putt-putting into sight around the point, breaks the quiet into smithereens. It goes chugging steadily across the pearl-gray water out of sight southward and the hush of twilight returns to the most beautiful land int he world.
      Out there, between here and Orcas, the level rays of the sun strike the glossy breast of a duck as he lifts himself in the water to stretch and flap. A thin fog hangs over Mt. Constitution, the sunset tinting its streamers. The straight glare picks out the white houses of Olga across the channel. The Monticello slips suddenly and silently down the path of the sunset, white against the dark bluffs of Orcas, her blue steam blowing behind her.
      Now two cars have come down the steep hill onto the dock and I am no longer alone. It is a half-hour until ferry time. The man talk in a low mumble across the dock from me. There is still quiet and the waters are forever and forever lovelier. Not a ripple nor a swell on the glassy surface. I could skate on this mother-of-pearl––or dance.
The sundown on 4th July 2016 weekend 
looking west from the home of photographer
L. A. Douglas, Blakely Island, WA.
A pairing of "now and then" with the prose of June Burn.

Click to enlarge.
Courtesy of L.A. Douglas

High slack tide at sunset––I've said over and over that it is the most precious time in this most wonderful land. Every cloud in the east catches the sunset, reflects it again in a long quivering path across the water nearly to the foot of the dock. The paths shorten as the sun sinks, and on the west, reflections of the great firs of Upright Head make lengthening black paths that advance as the cloud paths recede. The black ones never quite overtake the white ones, though. By and by the waters darken and a little sundown breeze crinkles the bay, breaking up the pattern.
      The men no longer talk. Very faintly I hear the chuttering sound of the ferry coming through Upright Channel. In another bit she will round the head, swing her blunt nose towards the slip, work her clumsy self expertly into the lane of piling, lower her plank, take the cans of cream and me aboard. Here she is all shining with sundown, her throaty whistle announcing that she is here. City of Angeles––lovely name for a ship, isn't it?
City of Angeles
Shaw Island ferry dock, San Juan Archipelago, WA.

Click to enlarge.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      It is just the luck of an undeserving gadabout that I should have come to Anacortes last night in the sunset and that I should be going on this morning to Bellingham in the sunrise. There is no stage out of Anacortes after 6 o'clock. But if every trip of the 5 o'clock Solduc is made down Padilla and Bellingham Bays in such splendor, you will not mind the overnight wait for it.
The calm of the setting sun.
Near Bellingham Bay, WA.
Original from the archives of S.P.H.S.©

      Here she comes now, a bit late, her forefoot treading the bright water like some sleek filly in a daisy field. Prettily she warps around to her place against the dock and without a second's delay a dozen men swarm out of her to begin trundling freight into the warehouse. Iron pipes, zinc tanks, tubs, boxes of produce, sacks of feed, auto tires, cartons of things, kegs, cases, crates, rolls of things, carcasses of dressed animals. In and out of the dark belly of the ship the men hurry.
      A man has come aboard to see one of the crew. The little Japanese steward is worried about him. He runs down the gangplank to punch the ticket of a passenger and runs up again to keep an eye on the man without a ticket. He thinks the man might have escaped him and he peers into the corners of the warehouse looking like a little bantam all fussed up over nothing.
      One belated passenger, looking sleepy and peevish and very English, comes out of his stateroom and goes ashore to board the City of Angeles for her first run to the islands.
P. A. F. dock, Bellingham, WA.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©

 At 5 o'clock we are ready. In the unhurried measured stride of a big boat we steam down the lake–smooth-Sound towards Bellingham. We overtake and pass a little black purse seine boat. I know how its little engine is going noisily while ours clicks off easy knots quietly. A man in an early rowboat––I can not hear his oarlocks click, but I'd like to. It is a good water sound.
      The smokes of Bellingham, and a great blue-and-black freighter coming out of the mist, gargantuan in this eerie cloudiness that had come over the sun. Four ships tie motionless at the P.A.F. docks, the masts tangling in the mist. I wonder if anybody in the world has ever got used to the sudden sweet beauty of a city studding the hills at the rim of a great harbor? Smokestacks and derricks, factories, a jungle of ships' masts, movement of small craft in and out of the harbor. Church spires, stacks of lumber, seagulls––the gangplank goes out. I am first ashore. Hello again, my beautiful Bellingham! How good you smell! How I love you!

05 July 2016


L-R: Mariners Jo Ann Morse Ridley (1925-2010) 
and Zan Whitaker (1918-2005,)
on board the M.V. Vashon, summer 1978.

They were two of a committee of SJC ferry riders 
to organize
 a party, the BASH ON THE VASHON.

The celebration was held on board, on the last run of the day, 
with all cars left ashore so over 650 passengers 
could eat sandwiches made by dear Loa and helpers
AND dance to the brass band of 

One More Time band, led by Paul Dossett.
That is true; Jo Ann took the photographs and wrote 
a column for the Friday Harbor Journal. The One 
More Time band still has Tom Starr but plays on 
without the Honorable Mr. Dossett or the faithful Vashon.
This photo courtesy of the Journal of the San Juans

Beginning in 1941, the largest and fastest ferry that ever operated on the San Juan Island run to that time, the M.V. Vashon, then eleven years old, was on the scheduled run to carry 68 cars and  passengers from Anacortes through the islands with a chance to go all the way to Sidney, B.C. 
      The Vashon stayed on this route until she sailed off to help out at the Mukilteo-Columbia Beach, Lofall-Southworth and other runs for a few years but no where was she more appreciated than in the San Juans where farmers working in the fields could set their watch by the gentle ka-puckety, ka-puckety, ka-puckety  coming through the islands, heard from down the channel before she was seen at the dock. 
      The Vashon was chosen for a close-up, color cover shot for Sunset magazine in 1965, as she wove her way through sailing vessels at the start of the Shaw Island Classic Sail beginning in Friday Harbor. Artists painted and sketched her and then for some down home good cheer in 1978, islanders threw a welcome-back party for her when she returned to the islands to serve as the "inter-island" boat. 
      Were you on board for the BASH? Someone writing a history book is looking for a few more images before the looming deadline. 

27 June 2016


and her Sea Explorer crew
Elliot Bay, Seattle, WA., 1955.
Happy sailors without a vang, but they have
 Charley Noble and John Kelly aboard.

Click to enlarge.
Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
"Count me among the dissenters against crotchety nautical terminology. I refuse to call a stove's smokestack a Charle Noble. Up with plain old tin chmineys.
      If a guest aboard my boat asks where the bathroom is, I tell him or her. I have no bathroom aboard. It is a head. But no matter. Let them call the fantail the back porch and never mind.
      Thank heaven I have no vangs aboard. I am not sure what vangs are or is. My handy-dandy mariner's dictionary does not adequately define vangs. I think none is lurking in my gaff-rigged sloop. Or if one is, may it rest undisturbed. My baggywrinkles are fine, thank you.
      I have crutches aboard that have nothing to do with physical impairment. They hold up the mainsail boom when the sail is furled. They are two varnished boards hinged like scissors. The boom rests on the X.
      Nautical terminology is as complicated and wispy as the English language. We try to describe ships, scantlings and rigging in a hodgepodge borrowing from French, Dutch, Spanish, Latin, Scandinavian and Chaucer-era English that when read aloud by an expert sounds like High German.
      It is hopeless.
      I have a doghouse aboard but no dog. I herewith avoid mention of cats and houses for obvious reasons. But "cat" does figure prominently in nautical terminology.
      I am in deep trouble, subject to censure, by my grumblings over traditional nautical designations. I should be an example-setter as the Times maritime editor and an avid weekend sailor and professed old-ships buff. But there comes a time for bare-faced honesty in the name of common sense. 
      I am thinking of installing a gallows on my sloop, but nobody will be hanged. A gallows is a permanent support for the main boom. 
John Alden cutter JOHANNA
launched Shaw Island, 1987.
Sailing the San Juan Islands with her Boom Gallows, 
designed and crafted by Kit Africa.
I used to call a gallows a "fixed boom support" until I was severely corrected.
      The incident happened when I visited a salty-socks live-aboard crony to inquire about his main-boom support on his doghouse topside. It was teak and handsome.
      He listened and then looked at me questioningly.
      'I'm going to eliminate my cock-pit crutch in favor of a fixed boom prop atop my doghouse,' I said.
      How would I have stated it more precisely?
      What you really want is a gallows,' he said smugly.
      'Which would belay the vangs,' I said matter-of-factly with intent to befuddle. Then I laid my topper on him: 'that way, I won't have to watch for bothersome dollops.'
      If you're ever a guest aboard a freighter and wish to impress a master mariner, ask him about the Plimsoll mark on the ship's side. It shows when the maximum load is aboard. Samuel Plimsoll, a Briton, fought valiantly for adoption of the Plimsol mark. He finally won the consensus of an international maritime convention in 1929. 
      Plimsoll marks are complicated. But simplified, the abbreviations signify drafts, such as FW for fresh water, IS for Indian Ocean summer, S for summer, W for winter and WNA for winter in North Atlantic.
      Remember that.
      On your first visit to a yacht, don't call ropes ropes. There are only two ropes aboard––the bell rope and the foot rope on old sailing ships. Call the others lines, sheets or halyards. Please don't ask me why. (Except that a halyard once was a 'haul yard.')
      Speaking of salts, I'll never know why a three-cornered sail is so hard to identify by its parts. 
and some crew of the West Seattle Sea Scouts.
Trying to determine the leach from the luff en route to the
Swiftsure Race in Victoria, B.C., 1955.
L-R: Andy Pederson, Ron McFarlane, Mate Wayne Watters,
Tom Emerson and Lorne Wilson. Out of the photo is the
Skipper, and Sea Scout Master John Kelly.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
To my oversimplified way of thinking, there's a foreside, bottom side and slant side. But heaven forbid substitution for luff (fore,) leech (slant) and foot (bottom.) The ropes, hanging from it are the halyards and sheets. And watch out for the lazy jacks. A lanyard is something else, which many an old salt will defend as a bell rope.
      Once when writing an article I wearied of the repeated word 'sails.' The subject was about sails, but he word became unbearably excessive. So I deftly inserted 'sheets' as inconspicuously as I could––in the vernacular of 'bed sheets.'
      The uproar of reaction in my mailbag was startling. A sheet is a line used for maneuvering sails. On a boat a sheet is a sheet is a sheet.
      There are other peculiarities. A john boat is not what the word implies.
      A gin pole has nothing to do with a martini, but splicing the main brace does. A gimlet is an anchor turned after it has been rove to the hawspipe. Gins are iron sheaves set in iron shells. A jigger is light tackle for various work about docks or to rig booms in or out.
      Port is one side and the starboard the other. Time was, port was known as 'larboard'––often confused in high-wind noise with 'starboard.' So the word was changed.
      Legend has it that a master mariner acquired a secret box when the change to 'port occurred. He kept the box locked. He often left the wheelhouse watch stealthily to open the box and furtively peer within. Then he'd slam the lid and click the lock.
      Finally he retired in old age––swallowed the anchor––and settled ashore in a snug haven. The box was left aboard and unclaimed. It was forced open by those who remembered the old gent's peculiar manners.
      Inside was a scrap of paper with the notation: 'Port means left and starboard means right.'"
Above text verbatim from My Waterfront. Carter, Glen; Seattle, WA. Seagull Books Pub. 1977.



Blog Archive