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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.

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."

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