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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 500, 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.

25 October 2009


Schooner JOHN A 
Undated original from the archives 
of the Saltwater People Historical Society.©
"The three-masted codfish schooner JOHN A was launched in the Eureka, California yard of Peter Mathews, in 1893. She was 131.7-feet L with a 32-foot beam and a 9.8-foot depth of hold. The gross was 282.4-tons; a very fine sailing vessel for her small size.
      The JOHN A was the first schooner of the Pacific Coast Codfish Company fleet to come to Poulsbo. In 1911 my father, Captain J. E. Shields, and others formed a new fish processing company named Pacific Coast Codfish Company (PCCC.) A processing and storage plant was constructed on the shores of Liberty Bay. They purchased the three-masted schooner JOHN A in southern California with Captain John Grottle as the ship's master. The vessel was brought north with a good supply of salt for the preservation of the first year's cargo. The JOHN A sailed to the banks near Sand Point, Alaska, and also near Sanak Island. All fishing was done from one-man dories which were launched each day from the schooner and returned to her in the evening with the day's catch.
      A good catch resulted, and the fish plant in Poulsbo began winter operations. The salted fish were removed from the vessel, scrubbed, and stored in wooden tanks holding 20-tons each. A work crew was hired to further process the fish. Some saltfish was dried in the sun while other fish had skin and bones removed to be packed in one-pound packages for shipment to the various stores. Thus, a new industry came into operation and a winter payroll resulted.
In 1913 the three-masted schooner CHARLES R. WILSON was purchased. She was constructed in Fairhaven (Eureka,) California in 1891 for the lumber trade, but was then laid up. She was 150-feet L with 35-feet beam x 11-foot depth of hold. She was rated at 345-tons gross; she could land nearly 500-tons of cured cod.
      The company purchased other sailing vessels, all without engines, including the three-master C A THAYER, in 1925. The THAYER was built by Danish-American Hans Bendixen in Eureka at the same yard as the CHARLES R. WILSON, also for the lumber trade. She was listed at 452-tons gross. She could land nearly 600-tons of salt cod which may explain why she was the last commercial sailing vessel on the US west coast and the last to operate out of Poulsbo. She landed her last cargo in 1950 with Captain Ed Shields in command.
       Another sailing vessel of the PCCC fleet, probably the most famous, was the SOPHIE CHRISTENSON, a four-masted schooner built in Port Blakely in 1901. She was built for the lumber trade and for hauling general cargo. She was 180.6-feet long with a 38.9-foot beam and a 13.4-foot depth of hold. She first came to Poulsbo with Captain John Grottle, and last in 1941 with Captain J.E. Shields, her famous skipper. She carried a crew of 22 dory-fishermen, a dressing crew, and cooks to make a total of 44 men.                
      When the war broke out in 1941, the US Government took possession of the JOHN A, the C.A. THAYER, and the SOPHIE CHRISTENSON. Only the C.A. THAYER returned to the fishing trade after the war. The CHARLES R. WILSON operated during the war years delivering cargos of salt cod every year except 1944. During this time she was under the command of Captain Knute Pearson of Poulsbo.
      During the late 1930s to 1941, the codfish plant provided employment for up to 40 persons, some men, and some women. For the men, it was work on the fishing grounds at sea during the summer season of five months, and work in the fish plant in the winter.
      After the war, conditions returned to near normal as far as the worldwide need for food was concerned. Commercial mechanical refrigeration came into more prominent use and the need for salt preservation passed as frozen fish became available in all of the grocery stores. Thus came the end to this fishery in 1950."
By Captain Ed Shields (1916-2002)
Poulsbo, WA.

Captain James Edward Shields established his reputation from the age of 17, when he went to sea to help his father crew the SOPHIE CHRISTENSON into the Bering Sea and the history books. During the five-month fishing trip, the 45-man vessel set the all-time American record for codfish, hauling home an astounding 455,000 cod. He earned a Masters Degree in Engineering from Harvard but never once turned his back to the sea. Some believe his "crowning touch" was his six-year effort to write the incredible Salt of the Sea: The Pacific Coast Cod Fishery and the Last Days of Sail. The artist Shields remarked that he knew he was the only one left to write the story. Soon after the completion of the manuscript, in the words he chose for his salty father, he "crossed the bar," at the age of 86-years.


  1. My father, Wilfred John "Bill" Wilcox, was raised in Poulsbo. During the 1940's he worked aboard the cod fish schooners. He has many interesting stories about his time aboard and what it was like to work for Captain Knute Pearson.

    He's now 87 years old, but his memories of his days aboard the cod fish schooners is very good!

    If you are interested in interviewing him, please email me and I'll give you his contact information.

    Wendy Wilcox Neptun

  2. Hello WWN,

    Thank you for the email to my gmail acct.. Your email address is listed as "no-reply" on your mail so I can't get back to you. Please try again.
    Thanks, saltwaterpeople.


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