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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.

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

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