"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.

26 May 2011

❖ Captain J. E. Shields and His One-Man War ☆ ☆ ☆ A Memorial Day Tribute from "High Tide"

Captain J. E. Shields 
a'board SOPHIE CHRISTENSON
Photograph kindly shared by his grandson Jim Shields, 2011.


"Among my most interesting friends on Seattle's waterfront was Capt. J. E. Shields, shipowner and master mariner extraordinary, who became an international figure a few years before Pearl Harbor by saving from foreign invasion the rich Bristol Bay fishing grounds. This area is famous as the world's greatest district. 
      With nets across the lanes followed by migrating salmon, Japanese fishermen were a threat to the huge Bristol Bay salmon packing industry, and were hampering the operations of the Puget Sound codfishing fleet.
      Protests were of no avail; Capt. Shields sent his famous wireless message asking that a dozen rifles each and plenty of ammunition be sent to the schooners SOPHIE CHRISTENSON and CHARLES R. WILSON, fishing in the Bering Sea. Capt. Shields commanded the SOPHIE, while Capt. Knute Pearson was master of the WILSON.
      The dispatch attracted attention all over the country and was cabled to Japan by news agencies. It was followed a few days later by this message from the SOPHIE:

    'Hurrah! Hurrah! All Japanese boats out of the Bering Sea. Rifles no longer needed'.

     Shields, single-handed, had been successful in what repeated protests and international negotiations had failed to accomplish. The Japanese left the Bering before the run of red salmon began and consequently there was a big pack that year. The sturdy skipper had won a one-man war without firing a shot.
      The famous dispatch of Capt. Shields requesting rifles and ammunition for the SOPHIE CHRISTENSON and the CHARLES R. WILSON, was followed by an announcement by a high Coast Guard officer that "if there is going to be any shooting in the Bering Sea, the Coast Guard will do it," but leaders in the fishing industry only smiled.
      I remember a typical story of a codfishing cruise told to me in 1938 by Capt. Shields after his famous "one-man war" with the Japanese. The SOPHIE CHRISTENSON, commanded by the colorful sailing ship skipper, had just towed into Poulsbo, a codfish center for more than 40 years, after a five-month cruise. In the hold of the picturesque vessel were 385,000--not pounds--but codfish, caught on the Bering Sea fishing grounds. In the log of the four-masted sailing schooner were entries that read like pages of a movie thriller.
      Capt. Shields told of chasing the invading Japanese out of the Bering Sea.
      'We had 150 fathoms of chain out and it was blowing great guns,' read one of the entries in the log of the SOPHIE.
      There were days when it was impossible to get a dory over the side and not a fish was caught. Then there would be smiling skies and smooth seas and the fishermen were in their dories by 4 o'clock in the morning, harvesting the gray cod from the sea. The fishermen did not expect calm weather all the time and often sent their blunt-nosed dories into heaving swells, leaving behind them the whine of outboard motors and the odor of burned gasoline.
      One night, a hardy, bearded, fisherman told me, we were lost on the banks in a great fog far from the ship, but Capt.Shields was equal to the situation. With a mechanical fog horn going full blast, he went aloft to the crosstrees and there, 85-feet above the heaving deck, rigged an automobile spotlight hooked up to a six-volt battery. The skipper spent three hours there alone, flashing the brilliant light into the cold, murky night until he saw a faint blur through the ghostly fog. The 'lost' fishermen boarded the ship at 3 o'clock in the morning. They were glad to get back to the SOPHIE and thanked the skipper for what he had done for them.
      High-line man for the voyage was Ray Press with 21,155 fish. With a five-pound sinker and two hooks, Press landed as many as a thousand fish a day.
      Cod are caught in deep water with halibut for bait. The fisherman gradually brings the school closer to the surface, where he works with two lines, one on each side of his anchored dory. With the precision of a machine, he pulls up one line, takes the fish off, baits the hooks, drops the line with its five-pound sinker, and hauls away on the other line. The fish sometimes come into the boat at the rate of 100 an hour, often being caught two at a time.
      A typical day's work begins with breakfast at 4 o'clock in the morning and by 4:30, the dories go over the side and fan out from the mother ship.
      Arriving in the Bering Sea, the ship anchors about 10 miles offshore and the fishermen, in their dories, go as far as five miles from the vessel. By 9 o'clock in the forenoon, the dories, laden with codfish, begin coming in. The fishermen eat dinner before returning to the fishing grounds. This is the heaviest meal of the day. By 5 o'clock in the afternoon, they return for supper and conclude the day's work.
      During the morning, the dressing crew begins work as soon as the first dories arrive. If fishing is good, the crew works from that time until the day's catch is in the hold. Sometimes, these men work well into the night putting the catch in cure, since each day's take must be processed in order to be ready for the following day's catch.
     Capt. Ed Shields, son of Capt. J. E. Shields, is plant manager at Poulsbo and skipper of the schooner C. A. THAYER. He says his plant, originally started in 1911, is the only one of the Pacific Coast that produces and markets codfish.
      Ed Shields made his first trip to the Bering in 1934. Between cruises, he attended the UW where he studied engineering. He graduated in 1939 and then took a year of advanced engineering at Harvard. He put his engineering knowledge to practical use at the Puget Sound Naval Station during WWII.
 Pacific Coast Codfish Co. crew 
unloading their schooner, Poulsbo, WA.
Photo by B. Torvanger,  Pt. Madison, 1914.
From the Saltwater People Historical Society © archives.
      When the schooner returns to Poulsbo with her catch, the cured fish have lost 75 per cent of their weight. One pound of dried fish equals four pounds of fresh fish. More weight is lost in later processing, by the removal of the skin and bones, so a one-pound package of codfish is equivalent to six pounds of fresh codfish.
      As skipper and owner of the SOPHIE CHRISTENSON, Capt. J. E. Shields was the most versatile of master mariners. He was navigator, ship's doctor, pharmacist, a judge of all disputes involving the crew, chief fish-tallier and dentist."
This story, Captain J. E. Shields and His One-Man War, was written by the Seattle waterfront reporter R. H. Calkins, who published his colorful collection of c. 50 essays under the title High Tide, The Stories of Seattle's Waterfront.(1952) 




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20 May 2011

❖ King Crab ❖ The Delicious Monsters!

Fisherman aboard the beam trawler the DEEP SEA.
Photo Life, Photographer unknown.
The year 1941 will always live in the memory of a man named Lowell Wakefield, son of an Alaskan family long engaged in the business of herring fishing. That was the year he first saw "haystacks" in the sea, off the storm buffeted island of Kodiak. There appeared at lowtide a phenomenon seldom witnessed except on rare occasions by fishermen off the lonely coasts around Alaska and the Bering Sea--hundreds of giant King crabs, piled one on top of another in a huge pyramid--why, even the most eggheaded students of creatures of the deep have never been able to explain.
      The Kodiak islanders gathered the beached giants and had a memorable crabfest. The meat of the claws and legs proved to be more delicate than lobster and astonishing flavorsome. Wakefield's imagination was fired by the incident. These scores of fabulous crabs were a type seldom seen in the area, vicious-clawed monsters, some of them measuring six feet from tip to tip. As it turned out, he was destined to pioneer from these ugly eight-legged creatures, a $6 million industry never before essayed by an American.
      Wakefield sent some specimens to the Fish and Wildlife Service in Seattle. "These are delicious," he said, "but what kind of crabs are they?" Veterans of the Wildlife Service identified them as Paralithodes camtschatics, specimens of the King Crab, a giant crustacean peculiar to the North Pacific. When WWll ended, Captain Wakefield decided to go a-crabing. The Japanese with their floating canneries had been crab fishing commercially for years. Wakefield had a better idea--not canning, but freezing the delicious meat of the crabs taken fresh from the sea.
        As the crabs were hauled aboard, they were dumped into "live" tanks of circulating sea water where, removed from the mighty pressure of the sea, they became sluggish and manageable. They were then washed, placed into wire baskets and plunged immediately into boiling water and cooked. The meat was removed, frozen in blocks and, as an extra insurance to perfection, covered with a freezing glaze of fresh, clear water. The DEEP SEA could freeze and store 170 tons of crab meat.
      The first three years were rough ones, during which Wakefield struggled to create a market. By 1950, the battle began to pay off. Fine restaurants were buying Wakefield's new frozen crab heavily, and it had made its first appearance in grocery stores. Two years later, Captain Wakefield was face-to-face with a brand new problem--demand threatened to exceed the supply.
      He made a quick decision that seemed foolhardy to old hands along the Seattle waterfront. He decided to risk a winter voyage to the Bering. The DEEP SEA was the only fishing vessel underwriters ever insured for winter voyages, but even she had always kept to port in January and February.
      The trip across the North Pacific was rough but uneventful. They stopped for fuel and water at False Pass, Alaska, on 31 January and two days later they took on three more crew members at the village of Akutan to make up a full twenty-two man complement. Early in the morning 4 February, they reached their destination and began fishing operations.
       It was clear, calm, and cold. They made two prospecting hauls without success, but the third trawl showed promise.
       Then it began to blow, and for 5 full days all hands fought the fury of the Arctic. It was a norther, 80-miles-an-hour fresh from the Polar ice cap, and the temperature was minus 14. Each sea crashing over the ship added to the tons of ice forming on decks, superstructure and rigging, and the men chopped and beat at it with axes, crowbars and clubs day and night to prevent capsizing.
       On the tenth, the wind swung to the southwest and moderated to a gentle breeze. Air temp climbed to 22 degrees. A net was dug out from under two feet of solid ice, and went over the side for a one-hour tow. As it was lifted alongside the ship, jammed to the wings with 8 or 10 thousand crabs, it was carried away from the sheer weight of the enormous creatures, and net and haul were lost.
      A new net was bent on, and trawling operations continued. They ended up packing to maximum capacity--15,000 pounds of King Crab legs and claws a day. Captain Wakefield had accomplished his purpose. His hard-earned market had an unfailing, year-round supply of King Crab, as promised.  
This story on small, yellowing, pages was 
published in Photo Life,
date and author unknown. 
The image above accompanied the article &
illustrates the action on board the DEEP SEA. 
For news of the ending for the DEEP SEA please see this link.

The Wakefield family lived for a short time at Griswold, Shaw Island, and West Sound, Orcas Island in the late 1800s.
Lee Wakefield owned Apex Cannery on Fidalgo Island.



17 May 2011

❖ SALMON BANKS With CAPTAIN PEACOCK ❖

The 53.5-ft. Tug FAMOUS, in the background, R. 
Photo by J.W. Sandison, Bellingham, c. 1924.
Courtesy of Whatcom Museum of History©, Bellingham, WA.
All Rights Reserved. This image is intended for personal or research use only.
"Pioneers of Puget Sound, especially loggers, beachcombers, navigators, and fishermen, who seined salmon out at the Salmon Banks, or other seining haunts of the San Juan archipelago, may well remember the old wood-burning tug the FAMOUS, and Captain Billy Peacock, her owner.
      How-some-ever, what I attempt to narrate here, dates back to c. 1912. More modern tugs took towing jobs away from Captain Peacock until he was not making expenses. As purse-seining was the all important topic of the men with whom he associated, Captain Peacock decided to install a seine table in the stern of the 'Old FAMOUS' and equip her with a purse-seine, organize a crew, and join the fleet of purse-seine launches and motor boats that swarmed about the channels and bays surrounding the San Juan Islands.
      Captain Billy had a son whom he had tutored as a 'steamboat' engineer. He collected others of his crew from those of a more or less adventurous trend of mind, and a small amount of experience in the vocation of purse-seining for salmon in the waters of Puget Sound.
      For some unaccountable reason, Captain Billy Peacock and his crew aboard the 'Old FAMOUS' made some good hauls. But the FAMOUS was too long and too clumsy to  steer around a school of fish and manipulate among a fleet of hundreds of purse-seine launches that could skulk right up alongside and throw out the 'lead' and surround a school of fish before Billy could get his crew and equipment into action.
      The FAMOUS being a steamship, that burned wood or coal, it had to be 'fed-up' on beach-wood. This required the time and labor of all hands to comb the beach for fuel 2, 3, or 4 hours of every 24. This process caused comments from the crew, and Captain Billy especially, which I will not repeat here because of their inflammability.
      The following spring Captain Billy Peacock traded the 'old FAMOUS' for an old gas launch named the CARLYLE which had been used as a purse-seiner here and there, up and down the inland coastal waters. There was a crack in one of the cylinder heads of the engine of the CARLYLE which Billy did not discover until he reached the Salmon Banks. It was discovered by an engineer from one of the other seine boats that came along side to give assistance.
      The engineer relieved the situation for the time being by driving the blade of a case knife into the crack. Billy and his son together, got the engine started after priming the plug-sparks and turning the bullwheel several times back and forth.
      The first week out, all of Captain Peacock's crew quit, but one Austrian and his son. So he hove into Friday Harbor in search of a crew on Sunday morning. Brother Frank and I acted favorably and so did Charley I. Gant, who was out for a 'lark' and some spending money. He went aboard to act in the capacity of cook. Seven in all were aboard the CARLYLE in the cruise to the salmon banks that hazy Sunday morning. We ran into a school of mostly Sockeye salmon first, off Cattle Point, and made a haul. We surrounded a good school, but before we got them pursed into the 'bunt', the seine parted in several places and we lost lots of fish. But, as fate favors her own freaks, we landed enough salmon that first haul, to net each man of the crew a twenty dollar share in a period of two hours.
      The seine had to be resewed in many places where the folds had been exposed to the air and sun and where slime and jelly fish had not been washed out the last time the net was used.
      In the meantime, we lost the balance of that school of fish because we were mending net and disposing of the salmon we had in the hold from our first haul.
      I could forsee our impending doom from thence forward, and begged Billy to put me ashore. (As I had a family of 5 children and a wife to support.) But he begged and pleaded with me to stay the week out, because I was the only experienced purse-seine man of his crew. On behalf of Charley Gant and brother Frank, I promised to try for another haul.
Netting needles and seine fishing photograph from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society.
      On Tuesday morning we cruised up along the west side of San Juan Island, past Mitchell Bay, and the mouth of Open Bay, west of Henry Island, when up popped a school of salmon just outside of the CARLYLE, 30 or 40-feet away. I was standing by the pilot house at the time, and I pointed them out to Captain Billy. They were finning leisurely along, with a good, fair-tide, which would carry them to Boundary Bay. From there they would next wend their way into the Fraser River to spawn another generation of sockeye salmon.
      Billy signaled to cut loose, and seine rolled off over the turntable, and the fish began to 'sound' out of sight. Billy turned out and made a 50-yard circle, and hurried back to the lead end of the seine. The way bubbles came up we all knew we had fish by the thousands. We all felt highly elated. Even our cook took a plunger and scared them away from the open ends of the seine.
      At last we had them collected into the heavy bunt. We had not got all the weak part of the seine up on the table when we noticed the tide was taking us into a fish-trap lead.
      'Throw out the anchor,' yelled the Austrian.
      Before I could stop Billy and his son, they ran forward and threw both anchors overboard. Brother Frank and I were left to hang onto the part of the seine that was last on the table. When the CARLYLE came to the end of the anchor line, she hove to with a jerk, and the weak old seine parted from the new, strong bunt, and that bag of 15,000 or 20,000 salmon swam on, except for 12 that got gilled in some broken meshes. I jumped into the skiff, freed them from the meshes, and tossed them into the skiff.
      We estimated that loss at at least $100 per share. Our cook, Charley Gant took the loss more seriously than the rest of us, as he thought he had made a summer's wages when he saw that bag full of fish almost ready to haul in.
      Again, I asked Billy to put me ashore. Again, he begged me to go with all hands to Stewart Island to help them sew up the torn net. I went; we spent 2 more days mending rotten places in that seine. Friday noon we came out into  Speiden Channel and made a set for another school.
      I am here to tell you, they all got away that time. Billy laid it to a rip in the tide, but all hands agreed we had had fishing enough aboard the CARLYLE that year."

Jim Baker, formerly of Orcas Island, WA.
The Orcas Islander, 6 July 1944

07 May 2011

❖ SOUTH FROM ALASKA ❖ The Great Canoe Race by Captain Doug Logan

Petersburg, Alaska undated postcard.
U.S. Navy Photograph; Published by HTT Co.
From the archives of S. P. H. S. ©.

Harbor view of Petersburg, AK. 
Photo by Chuck Diven.
Undated postcard published by C.P. Johnston Company, Seattle, WA.
From the archives of the S. P. H. S. ©.
"So, you want to hear about the canoe race? Let's start off with a little Petersburg history. In 1940, the population was 1,641. There was a one-man bank with a total of two-and-a-half million bucks in it. A sleepy, little halibut town. A few purse seiners, but not too many. A couple of canneries for salmon and one big cold storage for halibut. Of that 1,600 population, I'd say 90 to 95 percent were Norwegian, mostly second generation. One Filipino family. Maybe half a dozen Indian families. And one white man. Me.
    The reason I was in Petersburg was because I always got a good job on the halibut boats because I'd overhaul the engines in the wintertime and get 'em ready to go for spring. I used to fish with the Otness group--I was buddies with Johnny Otness. We sailed together in WW II. Toward spring, I'd work for Bob Thorstensen's father-in-law hauling trap logs and hanging web. I had a little bitty tugboat, a 36-footer, and a rigging scow that I'd yard out the trap logs with.
      One winter I worked for Puget Sound Bridge and Dredge Company. They were dredging the Wrangell Narrows with the old dipper dredge AJAX. Bob Morton was dipper man and George Youth was running the tug TOM for 12 hours a day. I'd run it the other 12 hours, hauling dump scows out to Mountain Point and dumping them in deep water and then bringing them back and tying them alongside the dredge.
      The other thing I'd do in the winter is drink. Because that's about all there was to do in Petersburg. Everybody drank Everclear. We'd make punch out of it, and every night there was a house party somewhere. And of course everyone was invited. They'd take a washtub and, oh, six or eight quarts of orange juice, canned orange juice, some grape juice to make the punch purple, throw a few lemons and a couple of quarts of Everclear and a little bit of water. So you were drinking that stuff, which was disguised by grapefruit juice and orange juice. The next thing you know, you couldn't grab your ass with both hands.
      Communication with the outside world was one plane a day from Ketchikan. For freight and passenger service, every two weeks we had Alaska Steam--the BARANOFF one time, the ALEUTIAN the next. 
S.S. ALEUTIAN
Dated 1948,
Williamson Studio photo  

From the archives of the S.P.H.S. ©
The ALEUTIAN was about 260-feet, not a very big ship, and she made about 15 knots, which is pretty fast.
      Anyway, the chief mate and one of the third mates were having a drink with me at the Harbor Bar, and we got into an argument. The chief was an old friend of mine. We'd sailed together in the Merchant Marines--sailing S.U.P. [Sailors' Union of the Pacific]. The argument was over the seaworthiness of my canoe.
      It was an Indian dugout canoe, a whaling canoe--a pretty good-size one. I'd bought it in La Push on the Washington coast in 1944 for $20 cash, and a shot-out .22 special and a couple dozen #4 Victors. I'd restored the canoe pretty good, putting in some new seats and built a little transom on the stern just big enough to take an outboard.
      What a lot of people don't know is the bottom of these ocean-going canoes is about four inches thick, tapering from the bottom, which is flat, on up to the sides to about one inch at the gunnel. Then they'd always put a wear strip across the top of the gunnel which was four inches high. So there was quite a bit of freeboard with just me in the canoe.
      Anyway, I threw it on the back of a boat and took it up to Petersburg as my hunting canoe. I had a brand new 20-horse Merc on it that had just come out in 1948. It was a gorgeous rig, and I wasn't about to take any guff about her seaworthiness.
      So I made a bet: that I could beat the ALEUTIAN to Seattle. For a case of MacNaughton's.
      We sailed at the same time, and I took off down the channel going like hell. The way I had the canoe rigged is I had a couple of 50-gallon drums with pre-mixed gas and side bungs in 'em, old lube-oil drums. This way I could run on a 50-gallon drum rather than a little six-gallon tank that came with the Mercury. I had a little Coleman gas stove, a couple flash-lights, and a box of grub and a handful of spare parts--spark plugs, etc.
      Of course, the ALEUTIAN had to stop for 4-hours in Wrangell and another 4-hours in Ketchikan on the southbound trip. She could make a red hot 15-knots, but the canoe, planing, could do about 25-knots. So if I could stay awake, I figured I could beat her hands down.
      I'd forgotten how that canoe could beat a person to death in a light chop. I had a long handle on that Mercury and I'd stand up and grunt 'til I had to sit down, first on one cheek, then the other. I'd get my sleeping bag and lean back with the tiller under my arm. Of course, I had my rain gear. It was a little damp out there.
      I stopped at Klemtu behind Cone Island there by Boat Bluff, where I slept at that little cannery for 4-hours, and had the watchman wake me up. Ran into a little chop crossing the Queen Charlottes, forcing me to slow down, but I made it to the locks in 40 hours and 8 minutes, which is an average speed of a little more than 18.5-knots.
      When I got there, I couldn't even get out of that canoe, I was so stiff. But I won my case of whiskey. In those days there was a locks slip that you got with a time and date stamped on it, so I had proof. That canoe is now on display at the Burke Museum in Seattle--up there in the middle of the University of Washington. I always thought I'd repeat the trip back up, but it's a little slower up hill. I'm clear."

02 May 2011

Steam Launch OCTOO ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ From the Quarterdeck

"World War l was just barely over-- it was 1919 and as usual I was busy at my favorite occupation which was bumming around the waterfront in Olympia. One of my waterfront idols was a young chap who had just returned from Naval duty as an Ensign. My respect for him, however, was greatly enhanced by the simple fact that he owned and skippered a steam tugboat. The boat was named OCTOO. He was Delta V. Smyth and a more considerate man never walked a deck.
         Being short-handed one day Del asked me if I would like to go along to pick up a tow. Right there he acquired a deckhand, age twelve.
         The engineer was Jonas Wheeler who wore his hat pointed at the top like 'Smokey the Bear'. One eye was more than slightly off course but it came in handy as he could watch the gauge glass and steam pressure at the same time. He smoked a little pipe which was apparently synchronized with the main engine. Del swore he could get the correct RPMs by counting Jonas' puffs.
         Del was the cook as well as the skipper so at noon I finally got my itchy fingers on that steering wheel. Right then I was in love for the first time -- steamboating on Puget Sound!
         I spent all my waking hours for years on any steamboat I could get on whether it was underway or not. Due to the days I had to waste in school it was sometime before I began to 'deck' for Hill Davis on the LUMBERMAN.
        Hill taught me how to splice lines, lay a course, to read a Mercator's chart, variation and deviation, that there were three norths and why some markers were red and others black, and why they were shaped differently. Also, he taught me how to handle a boat. The best days were when I got to blow that big, beautiful steam whistle! Man, that was living!"
By Ken Ayers, President
Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society
Quarterly Journal The Sea Chest



The 38-ft  OCTOO was launched at Reed's, Decatur Is.,
San Juan Archipelago, 
 for the Seattle Oyster and Fish Company in the fall of 1908.
Miss Irene Van Moorhem broke the customary bottle 
of wine over the bow.
At the start of OCTOO's career, she worked as a shrimper 
both "down sound" and in San Juan County, as reported 
in the early San Juan Islander newspaper
Photo courtesy of J. Robin Paterson ©.

Shrimper ORLOU (right), sister ship to OCTOO,
also built at the Reed Shipyard,
 Decatur Island in 1909.
Photo courtesy of J. Robin Paterson©.

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