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


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 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.

17 September, 2014


One of the most visited posts on this Log is an abridged biography of M. Wylie 'Capi' Blanchet by author Edith Iglauer Daly, with permission from the publisher, Harbor Publishing. Link to post

Today we are updated by Allison Hart Lengyel with a review of the audio version of Blanchet's The Curve of Time, published by Post Hypnotic Press. This is Lengyel's fourth review for Saltwater People Historical Society; book reviews are easily accessed by viewing the search labels at the bottom of the Log.

I’m just a wild sea gypsy
Born of the wind spray
Restless of all that would hold me
Bidding me come and stay.

Safe in my heart I kept my dreams
And laughed the hard years through
Now before your eyes I bring them out
Softly uncover and spread them to view. 

-M. Wylie Blanchet

Wylie Blanchet turned many actual summers into a narrative of one apparent long season spent motoring about the Canadian Pacific Gulf Islands with five children, and sometimes a dog, in the family’s 25’ cedar cruiser. She and her husband had bought the boat together sometime after they came west from Toronto to British Columbia in 1921. But he went out on a solo trip one day in 1927 and disappeared; the boat was found bobbing off Knapp Island, without a captain.  It was not without a captain for long, as Blanchet surprised her eastern relations by choosing both to keep the boat and to remain in BC, home-schooling her children during the year in the little house they’d bought on Curteis Point, near Sidney on Vancouver Island, and spending June to October free and independent, exploring the inland sea’s island- and inlet-strewn waters. 

To pull off this feat of self-reliance, Blanchet had to be an able diagnostician of marine mechanical and electrical problems, ready to improvise with what was at hand or to make do, while mindful of the weather, the currents, the winds, and safe spots to anchor. A boat of that size—the Caprice’s beam was only 6’ 1/2’’—couldn’t hold enough food and water for six people for five months, so the family learned the locations of reliable freshwater waterfalls and streams and sources and seasons for forage food (huckleberries, thimble berries, trout, salmon, clams, crabs, apples). In the 1930s and 1940s, when the family’s travels took place, there were a few isolated outposts, points of civilization, where mail and replacement parts could be forwarded; fuel, matches, batteries, and coffee purchased. Blanchet also administered the family’s first aid and protected them all from black bears, cougars, and a few shady human characters met along the way. Most of the people the family encountered were friendly, harmless recluses. And although it’s hard to imagine now, for the most part there were no marinas, no game wardens, and few evident rules about catch limits or private property. 
The book Blanchet wrote in 1961 is now available in audio format, narrated by voice actor Heather Henderson, with a forward by Timothy Egan. Henderson does a good job of conveying Blanchet’s no-nonsense demeanor. As captain of her little boat and crew (a role that earned her the lifelong nickname “Capi”)—and often the only adult around for many miles—Blanchet had to be unflappable and accomplished in multiple practical skills. Yet lucky for her family—and for the audience of her story—she had a philosophical, poetic side, intensely curious about the natural world and full of insights linking this water world of dense trees and fog with the greater world of literature and ideas. 

My only criticism of the audio book—and this is a small one—is that Henderson lacks any sort of Canadian accent. Blanchet, born in 1891 in Lachine, Québec, surely would have had one. Henderson’s characterization of the children’s voices is also perhaps a bit unrealistic--the way someone who had never spent summers on a boat with small children might imagine them. [Full disclosure: this reviewer has three school-age children and a boat.] On the plus side, Henderson’s narrative is easy to understand, with careful elocution and unambiguous phrasing.

The title of the book comes from the writing of Belgian Maurice Maeterlinck, who compared time to a curve, from the apex of which one can see the past, the present, and the future. Blanchet had Maeterlinck aboard, as well as a copy of George Vancouver’s travel diary from his 18th-century voyages in the area. As the Blanchet family traveled about in apparent aimless wandering, spending long days swimming, drying their freshly washed clothes on the rocks, gathering berries and hiking, motoring down inlets and weathering storms, they were actually also following the  stops made by Vancouver and noting his observations along the way, visiting Indian villages and logging camps, noting the indigenous plants and animals, and learning the skills of navigation. 

Thanks to the motor car, Maeterlinck wrote in 1904, it has become possible for people to absorb “in one day, as many sights, as much landscape and sky, as would formerly have been granted to us in a whole lifetime” (Maeterlinck, “In an Automobile,” 1904). In similar fashion, touring the waters of the Gulf Islands in a motor boat, even a 25’ gas-powered cruiser, opened up a wide world of experience to Blanchet and her family and allowed them to become deeply acquainted with a place formerly comprehended at the pace of dugout canoes, sail power, and the occasional steamship.

“When was that we had watched them? Yesterday? A hundred years ago? Or just somewhere on that Curve of Time? Farther and farther into that Past we slipped. Down winding tortuous byways—strewn with reefs, fringed with kelp. Now and then, out of pity for our propeller, we poled our way through the cool, green shallows—slipping over the pointed groups of great starfish, all purple and red and blue; turning aside the rock cod swimming with the lazy tails; making the minnows wheel and dart in among the sea grapes. In other stretches herons disputed our right-of-way with raucous cries, and bald-headed eagles stared silently from their dead tree perches. Once a mink shrieked and dropped his fish to flee, but turned to scream and defy us. Perhaps, as Peter suggested, he was a mother one. We turned into more open water, flanked with bigger islands, higher hills. ‘Mummy! Mummy! A whale!’ shouted Jan, and almost directly ahead of us a grey whale blew and dived. ‘Two whales! Two whales!’ shrieked the whole crew, as a great black killer whale rose in hot pursuit, his spar fin shining in the sun. He smacked the water with his great flanged tail and dived after his prey—both heading directly our way. We were safe behind a reef before they rose again.” (Blanchet, The Curve of Time, p.75-76)

Thanks to the audio version of Blanchet’s classic, The Curve of Time, we can now listen in on those long-ago summers, experiencing as Maeterlinck said, the “landscape and sky” of a whole lifetime, at the speed of a motor boat and our automobile.

The Curve of Time, M. Wylie Blanchet
Unabridged, 7 hours, 24 minutes
2014 Post Hypnotic Press, Canada

05 September, 2014

By-Passing Deer Harbor Wooden Boat Show ❖ ❖ ❖ Yacht "A" Headed South

Yacht "A",
San Juan Archipelago, WA.

Passing through this archipelago, was the 394-ft yacht "A," kindly recorded this week and shared by Blakely Islander, Lance A. Douglas.
      Russian banker and his wife, Audrey and Aleksandra Melnichenko, were cruising down from Ketchikan, AK, to Seattle, to refuel at Pier 90. 
      "A" was built by Blohm & Voss in Kiel, Germany. For more stats, she has her own Wikipedia page that can be seen here.

23 August, 2014

S. G. SIMPSON ◆ ◆ ◆ Sternwheeler to Tug

Vintage postcard detail
Olympic Peninsula

postcard pub. by C. P. Johnston Co., Seattle, WA.
From the archives of S. P. H. S.©
"An array of the time-worn craft plying the Shelton run in the '80s and '90s would be an interesting sight today. The tri-weekly boats from Tacoma making all the way-stops included the ancient JOSEPHINE, MESSENGER, OTTER, and NELLIE. Later the more up-to-date CLARA BROWN, and for a brief period the smart MONTE CRISTO handled this trade. None of these packets were averse, when en route, to dropping a log tow out of the numerous shallow inlets to deep water tugs. This was accepted by the  occasional passenger, as a matter of course.
      All these steamers were stern wheelers, as was the pioneer on the direct Olympia-Shelton route, the WILLIE, operated by the Wiley Navigation Co. The similarity of names between owner and boat is but a coincidence. She was built for Capt. W. H. Ellis, intended for the Nooksack River and named for his son William. For the record, the WILLIE was 65-ft x 15-ft. On this meager hull was piled two full houses, topped by a pilot house on the boat deck.
      Her most noted characteristic was the constant list to port, unless one considers her lack of speed paramount. "Port list, long passage," is a sailor's maxim. The WILLIE surely lived up to this saying were the tides adverse. The whistle was enormous. In fact, the descriptive term "wheel and whistle" was coined for her long before the GREYHOUND made that appellation famous. That whistle by the way, is still in use [1948] on one of the few surviving steam tugs.
      In 1986, the WILLIE was succeeded by the larger an speedier (still with reservations) CITY OF SHELTON. Built for and operate by the Simpson Logging Co. interests, the SHELTON gave good service for ten years. 
Photo pre 1910.
Vintage postcard from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
Then came the S. G. SIMPSON, without doubt the finest small stern wheeler ever on the Sound. She was built by Crawford & Reid of Tacoma from designs by Capt. Ed Gustafson, longtime master of the SHELTON.
      The new boat went into service in 1907. Her engines gave her a 15-mile speed, well above the average for her class. 
      Hammersly Inlet, better known as The Big Skookum, is an attractive waterway so the designer provided the SIMPSON with a neat observation cabin forward on the passenger deck. At that period the camps had three crews. One working, one coming and one going. You guessed it, the observation cabin became the "Bull Pen" for the loggers, with their caulk shoes and like gear. Her service was light, two round trips daily and except for the tricky shoal navigation between Arcadia and Shelton, the run was a sinecure.
      In 1922 land transportation had ruined the once prosperous trade, relegating the SIMPSON to service as a freighter with Tacoma as the northern terminal.
      Puget Sound Freight Lines took over the boat and route in 1926. Her excess power and fine lines made her unsuitable for freighting so the Freight Lines sold the SIMPSON two years later to Martin Tjerne and associates of Stanwood. 
Cropped detail of original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©

She was rebuilt by Harold Durham at Everett as the tugboat E. G. ENGLISH, again bearing the name of a well known pioneer logging operator. Her new service was even more limited, towing log rafts from the mouth of the Skagit River to Camano Island. 
Her length of 115-ft was a detriment in the narrow confines of Tom Moore Slough, where the logging company had their rafting grounds. Mr. Tjerne pioneered by having a dredger type spud fitted forward of the house. This innovation was a success and was later adopted by other streamers using the same waters. Progress, so called, again caught up with the ENGLISH (ex-SIMPSON.)
      In the early 1940s the business intermittent at best, could be better handled by smaller Diesel powered tugs. Ol' Scutt saw the pathetic E. G. ENGLISH recently abandoned and weatherworn on a lonely strip of beach, but still showing traces of the thoroughbred that she had been in her better days.
      Nearby were the bones of her predecessor, the even more historic LILY. Two fine old craft mouldering on to oblivion."
Pacific Motor Boat, August 1948.
For J.R.


19 August, 2014

Schooner C. S. HOLMES with ● ● ● News Photo Scoop

"News picture scoops these days usually suggest wire-photos flashed over sea and land and swift airplanes rushing prints of sensational events from city to city, but first filing of explorer Roald Amundsen's history-making flight over the North Pole in 1926 came to Seattle by sailing ship.
      The newspapers had been full of stories of the top-of-the-world voyage of the dirigible NORGE from King's Bay, Spitzbergen, to Teller, AK, carrying Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth, and their daring crew of North Pole explorers. I was intensely interested in the passage of the ship-of-the-air over the top-of-the-world, but had no idea I would have a part in the stories of the flight told in pictures.
Schooner C. S. HOLMES
Framed print donated by Miles McCoy.

Saltwater People Historical Society©

      One summer afternoon in 1926 as I wended my way up the Seattle waterfront to meet the romantic old sailing schooner C. S. HOLMES, I anticipated a pleasant chat with her master, Capt. John Backland, Sr., and the story of a trading cruise to the Arctic Coast of AK. As I climbed aboard the HOLMES, I was given a warm greeting by the bearded skipper of the trim four-master. He introduced me to a stocky young Norwegian who spoke very little English.
      Capt. Backland, to my astonishment, explained that the young fellow, who joined the C. S. HOLMES at Teller, AK, had been the photographer of the NORGE during the ship-of-the-air's voyage over the North Pole and had the film of numerous shots taken during the flight. He wished to buy some cigarettes and use a telephone. Would I help him?
      I realized that the young Norwegian had in an important-looking black case, a part of his luggage, a great world-wide news picture scoop and I was not long in warming up to him. I would be very glad to assist the visitor to our shores, the first to use the top-of-the-world route, I told Capt. Backland.
      When we reached the shoreside end of the dock house at Pier 5, where the HOLMES was moored, I saw a newshawk of the rival sheet heading for the vessel. Click read more below.

16 August, 2014

Cruising with the Crew, June Burn 1927

"It was 6 o'clock and dark when the COMANCHE drew into the dock at Sekiu last night. 

The tide was exceedingly low so that a foot-wide, inch thick board that was serving duty as a gangplank, lay across the dock and the upper deck, on the level. In the middle of that board was a knot and every time a man came across her I expected to see him go wallowing down the long narrow way to the water below. But the board held till all the crew were ashore and another stouter one was substituted from the dock for me. But I wasn't sorry, I tell you, though when I saw the not very slender, smiling Indian woman who had braved that board, I was ashamed of myself that I had looked so worried that they had dug up a big plank for me. 
      After what seemed hours of unloading freight at Sekiu we steamed off to Neah Bay. I had wanted to see that historic village by daylight, but full moon would have served nearly as well if I could have stayed awake till we got there!

      At Neah Bay is another logging camp and there a pulp plant to use the logs just as soon as they come down from the hills. I don't like to think, somehow, of hearty spruce and fir going into pulp when all over the hills lie logs fit for nothing else. Somebody is going to make a million dollars some of these days soon by inventing a way of getting into the hills with some grinding machinery to use the by-products of logging right there on the spot. 
      From Neah Bay to Seattle, I was the only passenger aboard the COMANCHE. What a good time I had getting acquainted with the crew! Captain Van Nieuwenhuise came from Rotterdam when he was 11 and he can remember old Holland vividly. He used to play on Whidbey Island, logging there, trying to farm a little, too I think, but longing for the sea all the time.
      Mr. Boyd, purser, is a Scotsman with an Irish twinkle in his eyes. Now, I was always frightened of pursers thinking them a hard boiled lot. I learned long ago that boat captains are all bark and no bite with a very soft heart underneath a necessary crust. If all pursers were like Mr. Boyd, I shall decide that they are deceivin' critters, too. In fact there is something about the sea that hardens men outside, softens them inside.
      After dinner during the long hours between Pt. Townsend and Seattle, everybody gathered around Mr. Sam Campbell, second engineer, maker of violins, to see how fiddles are carved out of hunks of wood. This mechanical genius has evolved and manufactured his own tools for making his fiddles, one of them being a darling tiny brass plane about the size of my thumb, curved to plow off microscopic shavings from Italian maple so as to form it into the back of the violin. One of his fiddles is made from Puget Sound maple and is more beautiful than the others, our maple having a gracious waving figure much more attractive than the straight zigzag grain of the Italian wood.
      Mr. Campbell spent ten years carving out a perfect ship only to have it stolen. He turned to violins for consolation, perhaps, and is beginning to turn out instruments of true, rich, vibrant tones.
      With another two or three days aboard the freighter who knows what other surprising people with surprising gifts might have been discovered? Many of the crew I didn't even see. The stoker might have turned out to be a poet; the chef, a painter; the deckhand, a sociologist!
      From Seattle by stage was a long comfortable way, the day disappearing across the San Juan islands as we drew near home. See you tomorrow."
Text by author June Burn, former San Juan County islander. 1927.

13 August, 2014


The Highliner of the Codfish Schooner FANNY DUTARD
Red Oscar
The clock on the wall of the newsroom of Seattle's morning newspaper was ticking away the last minutes of a warm night in July. The early-shift reporters had been given "thirty" and were checking out at the platform-raised desk of the city editor. I had a feeling of self-pity as I watched the scene from my desk near a window overlooking Fourth Ave at Union St for I had been given an assignment to meet the steamer HUMBOLDT, due from SE Alaska at midnight.
      The city editor, a small balding fellow who had developed into a bundle of nerves, seldom gave a reporter an assignment without telling him how dull and uninteresting the paper was growing. He had experienced the jitters ever since the $50,000 gold robbery in which the HUMBOLDT was involved. 'Scoopy' MacDonald a reporter on a rival sheet, had scored a beat on the story and we felt we could not have been more disgraced if we had hauled down the American flag. At any rate, it appeared that the HUMBOLDT gold robber story was going to be shoved down our throats for many months to come and meeting the famous old ship was going to be a must.
     In a corner of the newsroom was a reporter pounding out a later story between puffs on a cigarette. He had been watching me and finally came over to my desk with an inquiring expression on his face.
     'Tough break, that late assignment, but that's the newspaper game. However, cheer up, I'll go along. Always wanted to give the HUMBOLDT the once over, ever since that gold robbery story.'
     In a few minutes, I was on my way to Pier 7 to meet the HUMBOLDT, accompanied by William Slavens McNutt, then a struggling reporter on the morning newspaper, who added to his modest salary by writing short fiction for moderately-priced magazines published in New York.
     Those were the days of five-cent cigars, nickel beers, and three-dollar hats, but Bill, for some reason, just couldn't make his salary cover his personal wants. Quite often, he was refused assignments until he visited a barbershop in the Antlers Hotel, across the street, after obtaining a loan from the city editor. Bill would be broke a few days and then suddenly blossom out with a comfortably sized bankroll. I learned that Bill was writing fiction late at night at police headquarters, between stories of murders, suicides, and fires. He mailed his magazine stories at the Third Ave and Union St post office during the early morning hours after he received 'thirty' at police headquarters.
     As we walked along the waterfront toward Pier 7, I said: 'Bill, I think I have a story for you as a reward for your trip. You could work it up either as fact or fiction. Across the street is the Cape Flattery Bar, the toughest saloon this side of San Francisco's Barbary Coast. After we check up on the HUMBOLDT, we'll take a look-see. Things usually get pretty hot at this time of night in all waterfront bars.'
     At Pier 7, we learned that the HUMBOLDT had been delayed by headwinds and we would have time to visit the Cape Flattery emporium of mirth and good cheer, which was beginning to rival Billy's Mug of the skidroad, which also was called Billy The Mug's.
     As we entered the wooden building through a broad door, there was wild commotion in the saloon. The barkeep, a giant of a man, wearing a handlebar mustache, pounded the massive bar with a powerful fist that made the flimsy building rattle and shake, as he attempted to restore order.
     A raw-boned fisherman standing in the middle of the sawdust-covered floor with a huge glass of beer, shouted: 'Here's to the highliner of the FANNY DUTARD.'
from West Coast Windjammers In Story and Pictures
by James Gibbs. Superior Pub. Seattle, 1968.
     The rest of the toast was drowned out by the shouts of fishermen, who left their tables along the wall and moved over to the bar. When the din partly subsided, [click on "read more" below]

08 August, 2014

Fishers Passing Through

These August 2014 photographs were captured and shared by Lance Douglas of Blakely Island, San Juan County, WA.