"Of all national assets, archives are the most precious:
they are the gift of one generation to another,
and the extent of our care of them marks the
extent of our civilization." Arthur Doughty.

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 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.

16 February 2011

❖ The Good Ship ❖ VASHON ♥ ♥

The VASHON leaving Lopez Landing.
Photograph 1967 by Delores Foss.©
Foss cards sold at Lopez Village Market, 
Lopez Island, WA. 
"The VASHON, a wooden-hulled 200' ferry whose name brought a gleam to the eye of many ferry lovers, was actually the jumbo ferry of her time. Ralph White of the Washington State Ferry System said that when the VASHON was built in 1930, it was bigger than any others, and that the public grumbled and complained the builders had "gone too far" and that the ferry could never be filled. 
      The VASHON was built at the Lake Washington Shipyards, Houghton (Kirkland). She was actually built for the Fauntleroy-Vashon ferry run, but in its early years, it also made a run to Marion Street in Seattle until the downtown traffic became too crowded.
      The VASHON was built to haul 75 cars, but later only held about 40 because the cars grew wider and lower. 
       Ralph White described the VASHON as providing several years of good dependable service. Affection naturally developed, White said, between the island people and the vessel. "They said thumbs down on the WALLA WALLA, but kept saying bring the VASHON back up."
       White told a story about Captain Frank Fowler, Shaw Island, who piloted the VASHON on and off over the years. He says that when radar was installed in the latter years of Fowler's reign, he followed the rules on using the radar in fog. "But, White says, "he still used the old method too. The one where you blow the whistle and lean out of the wheelhouse to count the seconds until the echo returns."
       The VASHON was a part of what was called the "white collar line." She was so called because of the black funnel stack that had a white collar with a red or black K (for Kitsap County Transportation Co.) in it."
      The June 1978 return of the Washington State built ferry was cause for celebration, and that is what happened when islanders welcomed their spruced up "Old Reliable" back to the islands. There was big band music with Friday Harbor's own orchestra --- "One More Time" --- dancing, and food, all this for a round trip ticket of $1.70. The crew accommodated by allowing non-scheduled stops for party-goers. Co-sponsors were the San Juan Ferry Advisory Committee and the Washington ferry rider-owners publication Enetai. Ed Sutton headed up the event with many other volunteers for the welcome-home family party. The ship was in full dress, Magnus "Bud" Berglund did an exquisite art print of the VASHON full of celebrants and the day was grand.
VASHON, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.
Final resting place.
1986 photo courtesy of Bruce King©.

From L.W. North, Deer Harbor:
"It seemed as if the VASHON had always been there. Other boats came and then were gone come fall; the tourist crowds had gone home to brag about their summer trip in the islands and tell of long lines at the terminals and question why "we" didn't have more ferry boats. 
        The old girl plodded back and forth, doing what was expected of her, fair and foul weather except for those few northeasters, in which no boat should be caught.
        I remember one storm she was bluffing her way through. I was about eleven and the waves had her rolling quite a bit. Things and people were skidding about, some hanging on to stanchions while expressing opinions on the seaworthiness of flatboats when --- the cabin door slid open adding spray to the mess. There was a lady who must have found a sale on oranges in Anacortes because she had a gunny bag full, almost more than she could carry. The boat fell off a wave and dove into the next one rather roughly, sending the poor lady sprawling on the wet deck. The bag of oranges unloaded in all directions and to every corner of the big cabin. For the next half-hour, crew and passengers corralled the rolling missiles any way possible until at Lopez we watched the lady head up the ramp clutching her full bag of fruit as she leaned into the blowing rain."

From: Jan Kolton-Titus, Orcas Island:
"In the main cabin, the VASHON sported the most wonderful brass poles, around which children could whirl until we were dizzy! The round seats in the diner area also could be turned around and around! In those innocent, pre-"ELWAH on the Rocks" days, an occasional, privileged passenger could go up to the bridge and ride across with the Captain! My great aunt, Jean Donohue, had taught Captain John Oldow in first grade in Seattle, so we were among the privileged sometimes."

From: JK Long, formerly of Orcas Island:
"We all have different memories of the VASHON; one winter during WW2 returning from Anacortes it was very rough and we took a wave over the front car deck which swamped the engine room. Lost power for a while and the crew was panicky. My mom and I were sitting in our 1941 Plymouth having a sandwich with first class seats. The VASHON is just another testimony to our bumbling bureaucracy."

From; Photographer Joe Williamson, 1978, when the "Bash on the VASHON" crew were seeking photos for the press coverage:
"I've always been struck by the distinctive sound of the VASHON'S old "one-cylinder" engine, a sort of putt-putt-putt."

Ron Burke, historian.
"It soon became apparent how the engine room could be maintained with such a polished, well-scrubbed look. Her long-time Chief, Roy W. Kennard, was a stickler for neatness and a schedule was posted for the weekly cleaning schedule. On Thursdays, the brass was polished and the steel handrails were brightened with kerosene and emery cloth.
       On Fridays, the fir floorboards were scrubbed with a long-handled steel bristle brush using a mixture of hot water, lye, and trisodium phosphate. On Saturdays, the paintwork, including the painted wood floors of the raised platforms and the steel ladder treads were washed with hot water and trisodium. 
       We oilers lived aboard in the forecastle forward of the engine room. Showers were taken by running a hose into a perforated bucket hanging in the No. 1 shaft alley. The overhead of the forecastle leaked like a sieve on rainy days through seams in the car deck. 
        Over the fifty years, her machinery required little more than routine maintenance. During the summer of 1949, we replaced one journal bearing on the main engine. 
        The VASHON was part of the sale to Washington State Ferries in 1951 and continued to operate off and on until c. 1980. I was able to introduce my family to her on a camping trip to Orcas in 1966. 
        The engineers I worked with during those two years were quite willing to share their knowledge, skills, and values. Several of them tried to convince me that while the engine room was all right for a summer job, I should seek a career that did not involve a lifetime of watch-standing below decks. I eventually understood their wisdom and started to direct my efforts in another direction. These were formative years in my life and 'Old Reliable' played an important part."
4:53 A.M. arrival at Friday Harbor, WA., 23 May 1948.
with VASHON watching over all.
Original photo by Bob & Ira Spring, Seattle, WA.
Courtesy of Saltwater People Historical Society©

06 February 2011


Shaw Island landing on Harney Channel.
L-R: Darrel Fowler, Max Grubbs, Vern Moe.
It was 1950 and SUNRISE was her name––a sweet Fraser River gillnetter that came up for sale in Friday Harbor––singing a siren call to would-be fishermen. A trio of young "Shawnee" guys, hearing there was a forecast for a good tuna season, took the "bait"; Vern Moe, Mac Grubbs, and Darrel Fowler, were soon packing their seabags for a trip to the fishing grounds.
      Darrel went to the mainland for a crash-course on fishing methods for tuna and came home with a barrel of gasoline strapped into the well, back aft on the 32-ft vessel. 
      The men cast off, enduring a rough trip to Neah Bay. As they approached, they noticed the fishing fleet heading in. Out by Tatoosh Island the land-based Coast Guard crew whistled them down with three whistle-blasts. 

The SUNRISE crew checked their charts and saw they were clear of the rocks so kept motoring onward, not realizing the whistle they heard was a bad weather warning. Two passing fish boats hailed the Shaw Island trio to suggest since they didn't have a radio perhaps they better give it up; they did, and after that one adventure to the edge of the big ocean, as Vern remembers, "that was the end of our tuna fishing."

01 February 2011


No scraping, no sanding, no varnishing.... these boats came back to life with lots of handwork on some fresh, clean, cotton.
        Going back several decades, artistic quilts have been designed and stitched by teams of Orcas Island women dedicated to supporting causes important in the community. The luscious quilt featured in these photos has a maritime history theme which earned it a place within the pages of this log.
        The 14-member crew for this artistic endeavor was led by Eclipse Charters co-owner, Denise Wilk, who conceived the clever design, and then drew the boats to chart the course. The completed quilt is such a treasure that the names of the participants must be listed; they were Jan Kolton-Titus, Eva North, Judy Slater, Dorothy Lundquist, Mary Hatten, L. Baney, Jacque Kempher, Irene O'Neill, Tony Knapp, and Denise Wilk.
        Some of the vessels depicted stitch-by-stitch are from our early days, with two boats that are still active. They have all been an important link to the interesting culture in the islands. At least four of the boats were constructed on different islands in San Juan County; they served multiple needs, for transport to the mainland, fishing, sightseeing, and a combination of general work and family recreation.
        Maggie Kaplan volunteered to carefully join the squares; Betty Marcum joined the banners and did the binding, no small task, and done beautifully. Gail Mikuchonis used her skills for the machine embroidery of the vessel names and petit signal flags, while Keri Stone did the first-class quilting. Jane Willis Barfoot-Hodde was a great source of help with her memory of the early days.
        The completed treasure was raffled in December 2010 in support of the Orcas Island Museum in Eastsound.
        Thank you quilters, for depicting some of the rich history of the colorful San Juan Archipelago. An amazing textile to come from your skilled hands and generous hearts.
 The photos below are courtesy of Margo Shaw, Orcas Island.
Please click on the individual square to zoom in on the beautiful stitching.


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