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 over 200, 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. The photo in this profile features a handcrafted windvane of the 1902 WA-built lumber schooner CAMANO. The metal vane was designed, fabricated, and given to the maritime community by John M. Campbell. The schooner was linked to the life of one of the early, well-known, residents, Captain Lyle E. Fowler, born in 1901 on Shaw Island. Following a long passage on the CAMANO, he spent his entire career working on the inland waters of the PNW. The CAMANO windvane is installed on the roof of the Shaw Island community building, near Blind Bay, where she is easily viewed by passersby.

20 April, 2014

Geography Lesson

1923 multi-page brochure
to promote SJ County.

 Photo images (inside) by
James A. McCormick.
Latest ephemera archived 

April 2014, S. P. H. S. ©

Day No. 4, before casting off from Waldron Island, WA.
100 Days in the San Juans 
by June Burn
Text published by the Seattle Times, 1946.

"The actual number of islands in the San Juan Archipelago varies with the person who does the counting. McLellan gives 786 at the lowest tides, 457 at high tide, with 175 of them large enough to have names.*
These 175 islands make up 206 square miles of land. Orcas is the largest island with 60 sq miles of 36,432 acres, San Juan next with 35,448 acres, then Lopez, Cypress, Lummi, Guemes, Shaw, Blakely, Waldron, and on down to Pointer Island with a quarter acre that sticks up above high tide and Shag Rock with only a few sq ft. So far, the smallest island to which we have been invited is Towhead, 2.15 acres in size.

      There are many curious things about the islands, one of the most curious that two of them are called James. One is called Bare and another Barren. One is called Flower and another Posey.
      Now and then you will be digging a well and will strike a geyser that spurts out and never stops spurting. Once I heard an eminent engineer say that there is an artesian flow of fresh water boiling up in the salt water channel between Guemes and Fidalgo Islands. When he was asked to put in the Anacortes water system, this artesian flow was suggested as a possible supply.
      He said that on calm days fishermen and boatmen who know of it can dip their buckets down at the right place in the channel and bring up fresh water.
      Of animals we have deer on Orcas, muskrat on Stuart, a pest of rabbits on San Juan, and a very menace of huge rats on Waldron. One hears of an occasional mink and there are birds here that occur nowhere else. This summer we will probably learn of hundreds of others.

The water around the islands make up in animal life what the land lacks, however. I don't mean water fowl––there will be a column on them later on ––but life within the sea. These are said to be the richest waters in the world, plants and animals in almost limitless variety from microscopic forms to killer whales that come spouting and sighing every summer.
      When we visit McConnell Island where Prof. Tommy Thompson lives in the summertime, we'll learn why Puget Sound is so rich in life. He is director of the famed oceanographic laboratories at the University and at Friday Harbor. All his faculty and students have made exciting studies of our waters.
      The San Juans are bottled up here in a rather tight place. The channels between are sometimes very deep, sometimes shallow, sometimes wide, sometimes narrow. The great wide, deep Strait of Juan de Fuca can let in a mighty ocean of water to sweep in on the flood and rush out again on the terrific ebb tides. These channels have to receive all that water somehow, push it through, suck it through, whirl it through. There are boiling, leaping tide rips where two big channel tides come together. There are whirlpools in narrow passages when more water than can possibly get through comes roaring along.

      Sometimes the tidal rivers go flashing past at eight knots an hour. When that happens, you might just as well turn around and go with it, if you are rowing––which is why we can't make definite dates for this summer. We have an 18-ft metal boat with only a small sail.
      (And if there is no wind, we'll be rowing and not against those tides. If we meant to go north and the tide starts south before we get there, why we'll go south forsooth. As one experiment we plan to drift with the tides for a day or so to see where and how far we'll go.)
      The islands are in a dry belt. We have less rainfall than occurs on the mainland. We are warmer in winter, cooler in summer. But the temperature of the water around the islands changes so little the year round it takes a thermometer to measure it. It's blizzardly all the time!
      On hot days you can get might cold in the shade or you can burn up in the open sun. Semi-shade is man's natural habitat in the summertime.
      The prevailing wind is from the southeast and in winter it can blow down big trees without half trying. In summer, though, there isn't much wind as rain––an ideal holiday climate.
      See you tomorrow, June."
* San Juan County, the smallest of 39 Counties in Washington State, now claims 176 named islands and reefs. Official statistics can be viewed here

15 April, 2014


Shellback papers for "Pappy" Beachum
Captain Walter Clarence Beachum

grew up on Whidbey Is. where he learned
his trade from Captain Bartlett Lovejoy,
of the Black Ball LIne.
Pappy was master of ferry IROQUOIS on the
Seattle-Victoria route before becoming
 Chief Pilot for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard
 for 23 years––retiring 1968.

From the archives of the S. P. H. S.©

"The sailor's commendatory term for the landsman's old salt. Some authorities say that it comes from his back being bent like a shell; but it seems more probable that the implication is that the shellback is growing barnacles from having been at sea so long.
      The term is fairly well known to landspeople. The degree of "able shellback," signed by Rex Neptune, is currently [1945] being conferred upon men crossing the Line for the first time aboard troopships."
Sea Language Comes Ashore, Joanna Carver Colcord. Cornell Maritime Press, N.Y. 1945.

12 April, 2014

Steamboat MOHAI

Steamer MOHAI, 1961.
L-R, Murrey Amon, Mark Freeman, "Capt." Jim Vallentyne,

A touch of the past as they chugged through the 
Montlake Cut in the rebuilt steamboat MOHAI

also known as AFRICAN QUEEN.
Photo by Johnny Closs for The Seattle Times.
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.
"This little boat had been one of two sister work boats carried by the Bureau of Indian Affairs supply ship NORTH STAR to carry goods ashore in Alaska at places without docks. When they came up for bid, Dad (Doc Freeman) bought one and Lloyd Frank bought the other. Lloyd built her into a small tug and installed a 165-HP gas engine. Today she is known as TWOBITTS and I think Elwood Avery still owns her as a pleasure boat. 
      They were both open boats; ours had a 115-HP Chrysler Crown and we used her just the way she came for shifting all the big boats Dad had at Northlake Boat Sales. 
      Our friend and employee, Jim Vallentyne ran her for me as an assisst boat. Jim and Dad got to talking about making her into a steam boat. Frank Prothero donated a Model K Navy engine c. 1900 and Jim rebuilt it. They found a real Scotch Marine Boiler that would burn coal or wood. They installed the engine and boiler and fitted a rebuilt 24-inch diameter propeller and had the wheel repitched to 40" and it was just the right combination. We still used her as a tug but you had to build up steam before you could shift––we all had a lot of fun with her. We even took her to opening day in 1961 disguised as the AFRICAN QUEEN with empty cases of Gilbey's gin stacked on the aft deck just like Humphrey Bogart would have done.
      Dad died in December of 1963; mother and I gave the steamboat to Jim Vallentyne and his wife Loretta. Jim and our old engineer, Edmund Anderson, built a house on her and renamed her the DAVID T. DENNY. 
      Jim drowned on the Columbia River Bar tying to deliver a 50-ft Chris Craft [NUNY II] from San Diego to Seattle when a huge Pacific storm caught him [in October 1967.]
      The steamboat was sold and ended up in our moorage at Fremont Boat; I understand it was shipped to Europe to do the canals and now is somewhere in the Eastern US."
Text written by Mark Freeman of Freemont Tugboat Co.

07 April, 2014

Bones and Stones on San Juan Island, WA.

Bone implements and stone tools 
Excavated at Cattle Pass, San Juan Island,
 by the U of WA researchers, 1946.
 Arden R. King (L) & Richard Dougherty,
the latter a University senior signed on to assist
King the following summer.
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.

Segments of the report are far outdated for the knowledge scientists have gained since 1946; this is an abridged portion, published by historian Lucile McDonald when she interviewed Arden King.

In the summer of 1946, the University of Washington archaeology department sent an expedition to excavate an ancient native campsite near Cattle Point, San Juan Island, WA. Arden R. King of the anthropology department faculty, who supervised the work of 18 student diggers, told of how it may be possible to offer more information about the earliest island Indians when the 500 or more artifacts gathered in the field are studied.
      "We found two cultures, with a clear cut division between the earlier and later groups," he explained. They may represent either different peoples of the same people after they had become adapted to life on the shore. Those of the first culture appear to have eaten mainly deer and elk––yes, in historical times there are reports of elk swimming to the island. People of the later period ate shellfish.
Bone and stone tools found at Cattle Point, SJ Is. site, 1946.
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.
Click to enlarge.
King learned that children of white settlers in the neighborhood used to find skeletons at Cattle Point, set them on fence posts as targets for rocks, and thus demolish a large number which would have materially helped the archaeologists.
      The Cattle Point site was also a backstop for military target practice, soldiers in the pioneer period coming down to the beach from American Camp and shooting toward the slope. We found a hand-molded bullet with a rim-fire type shell in our diggings, King added.
      The students dug a series of trenches and kept a record of depths at which their finds were made, describing positions and the accompanying material King said.

01 April, 2014

Eastside of Orcas Island with Author/Historian June Burn

"A Chapter Out of the Old Days"
Day #30 from 100 Days in the San Juans
Series first published in The Seattle Times, 1946
Text by June Burn, former resident of the San Juan Islands.
Viereck family, early mariners
in the San Juan Archipelago.

Top left, Bill Viereck.
Bottom image inscribed "John Viereck's boat, 1898."
click to enlarge.
Copies courtesy of the Viereck family descendents.

"It's getting along towards evening again. All day I've been sitting out in the boat writing, catching up. Farrar has been up to see the Carlsons again and returned with boxes of strawberries and a bottle of cream. We hate to leave this place! But if we are to get away tomorrow we must go up to see Mrs. Willis this afternoon. Everyone says she knows a lot about the old days on Orcas.
      "That's mother's house up on the hill," Mr. Culver Willis says. He lives with his little family in a cottage on the waterfront. We traipse on up––and enter a house so full of old, old, things, beautiful things, utile things, that we could have stayed there a week without seeing them all. Things "Father Willis" brought around the Horn from England in the 1880s, when he came the second time with his family and homesteaded right here. Pictures, books, candlesticks, chairs, spectacles, a square piano, some of items dating from the 17th C. One handsome painting that might be a modern "primitive" done by Mrs. Willis' mother in Vermont 75-yrs ago, or nearly.
      From Mrs. Willis and from others with whom we have talked we have learned that this eastern arm of Orcas was a rather self-contained unit in the old days. The Vierecks, Moores, and Grays were the first settlers here. They all came sometime in the 1860s. 
      In 1873, when San Juan County was cut off from Whatcom and began to keep its own school records, there was a school election in which 43 people seem to have cast ballots. Shattuck, Viereck, and Shotter were elected to the school board on that day and it was decided that school should henceforth be held in the church at Eastsound instead of in the school house which had theretofore been used.
      Family names listed in that 1873 school record are Lyons, Dixon, Trueworthy, Gerard, Wright, Iotte, Laplant, Underwood, Kion, Dawsy, Shotter, Badine, Moore, Viereck, Kettles. Other families who had no children of school age were the Legbandts and Grays.
      All of which means that Orcas Island was a going concern years earlier than history has recorded it. There were roads and school houses, churches, cleared farms, stores. Population before 1870, perhaps before 1860, some before 1850, no doubt.
      Indeed, it becomes more and more clear that there were settlers here perhaps as early as the 1840s or even earlier. Hunters from the Astoria settlement, in 1812, may have come this far. Hudson's Bay men were both north and south of the islands in he early 1800s, why not here? In a history of British Columbia I ran across a casual mention of a San Juan Island settler who did something or other in 1843. If they were on San Juan, they are likely to have been on other islands as well. It is most unlikely that sailors, hunters, adventurers, deserters from cruel ship usages in those days would have passed the islands by. 
      We finally leave this interesting Willis house. Outside, in the yard, we come upon the Olga volunteer meteorological station where temperatures and rainfall have been observed by Willises since 1890. We see the first record book and the last one. The story is missing for just one week in those 56 years.
Vintage postcard photos,
Archives of the S. P. H. S.

      And so off again, not on around Orcas to the north, as we had planned, but back down around Deer Point and up into Eastsound if wind and tide are right, for we have heard of so many people there whom we should see "for the recording of the old." But the wind and tide are far from right! It is blowing whitecaps out of Eastsound. We'll camp then, in Obstruction Pass on one of those sweet beaches between long rocky points––we find John Shephard and John Gray––of the pioneer family of Grays, on the longest, loveliest, of those beaches, mending boats for the purse seine season. They show us a fine spring in a deep, secret bay. How good it smells in the close, dark woods where the cold water lies in a shade pool!
See you tomorrow, June"