"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.

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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.

12 March 2012

❖ Schooner WAWONA "A Lucky Ship" ❖

"Ships of the sea, particularly those graceful sailing ships now finally slipping into the limbo of the past, have always been endowed with distinctive individual characteristics. No ship ever built has been exactly like any other. Once down the ways each ship has acquired not only a name but a soul of its own in an amazingly short time. And a reputation.
      One would soon be known as a dry ship, another as a wet one. This one would be called a "stiff" ship, that one "easy". One would be labeled "steady", her sister a "roller". She might be known as a "happy" ship or a "workhouse". Some ships cruise like a millionaires' yacht, while others get into all sorts of trouble.
      Sailors have only one definition of a ships character. The wet, uncomfortable, cantankerous workhouse they would call an "unlucky" ship. The other kind would simply be known as "lucky".
      A "lucky" ship has been the WAWONA, a three-masted fore-and-aft rigged schooner owned and operated by the Robinson Fisheries Co. of Anacortes, WA. If ever  there has been a ship worthy of the appellation, the WAWONA is it. For she has been serving faithfully and well for nearly fifty years, in many parts of the world, and is still making money for her owners. From the days of Capt. Matt Peasley, one of her first masters, to the present, she has been every inch a lady, well behaved, and the pride of the men who have sailed her.
Robinson Fisheries, Anacortes, WA.
Original vintage postcard from
the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society.

      In the offices of the Robinson Fisheries they actually speak in reverent tones of the WAWONA. Jack Trafton, the company's president, and E. N. Trafton, his son, could scarcely find words to tell of the old schooner's long service in the N. Pacific codfish trade, of the masters, mates, and men to whom she has been home and career, of the part she played in both world wars. But the company watchman, who has known the WAWONA a good part of his life, expressed it in a few words:
"She has always been a lucky ship, and 
has always landed a good trip of fish."
Postcard reproduction purchased 
from the Anacortes Museum.
      The WAWONA was built in Fairhaven, CA., in 1897, by the famous [Hans Bendixsen] yard. Her registered dimensions are 468 G. tons, 413 N. tons, 156-ft. length, 36-ft. beam, and a depth of 12-ft., 3-in. One of her first masters was Capt. Matt Peasley of "Cappy Ricks" fame. In that era Peter B. Kyne's stories in the Saturday Evening Post were widely read, and Matt--the fellow who, in fiction, wiped up the deck with the "Big Swede" and who finally married the attractive daughter of Cappy Ricks--was identified with the life-sized skipper. Capt. Peasley, now 80-years of age, retired from the sea a few years ago, and now lives in Aberdeen, WA.
      The Robinson Co., purchased the schooner in 1914, and she has made a least one trip to the Bering Sea every year since, except when she was in government service. She is the largest fore-and-aft rigged sailing ship on the Pacific Coast, and she is one of the few sailing ships that have served through both world wars and is still in active service. In 1917, during WW I, she made a voyage from Vancouver, B.C., to Suva in the Fiji Islands with a full load of lumber, and served with the U.S. Army from 1941 through 1945. Between wars she has landed a tremendous tonnage of codfish for her owners.
      Captain Charles Foss was her master from 1914 through 1935, which was one year when misfortune overtook the hard-working ship. While clearing Unimak Pass on her way home from the 1935 codfishing season in the Bering Sea, Capt. Foss suddenly passed away. The ship was put about, and Capt. Foss was buried by his sorrowing crew in Lost Harbor, AK. The first mate, now Capt. Tom Haugen, took command, and has been her master ever since, except when she was in Army service. On her first trip north in 1936, she carried with her a monument to mark Capt. Foss' grave, and each year on her way north the WAWONA stops at remote Lost Harbor, Akun Island, so that her crew may pay their respects to Foss and care for his resting place.
The 1940 burial of Capt. Richard A. Trafton, 
at Lost Harbor, Akun Island, AK., next to the grave of
Capt. Charles Foss, who died on board WAWONA, 1935.
Courtesy of Bruce Trafton for S.P.H.S.
      The WAWONA has always been a proud ship, but she has never been prudish. At sea, she has always been as graceful as a bird, yet during the late war, stripped of her masts and gear, she served without shame as a lowly scow. Since then her former beauty and accoutrements have been restored in shipyards at Friday Harbor and Bellingham. Once again the grime of war service is gone. She is scrubbed and shined and polished. Three 114-foot "sticks" were brought down from the woods and stepped in. With Tom and his crew of 36 men she sailed this spring for another season in the Bering.
      The WAWONA has always been a "lucky" ship. Her reputation is still good. And when that can be said of such a ship, it is like saying of a fair lady, "here is a useful and honorable life."
Above words by Leon M. Swank
Pacific Motor Boat
October 1946
Archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society
Typed verbatim.
1963: An organization known as "Save Our Ships" was organized with the intent to purchase the WAWONA, one of two remaining sailing ships in Puget Sound. The other, FALLS OF CLYDE, was purchased by a fast, fund-raising campaign in Honolulu, where the vessel was taken in 1963 to serve as a floating museum. All of the other sailing ships either have been broken up for scrap or sold to other ports for maritime museums.
1968: Not quoted in this log but a fine tribute to WAWONA is featured in West Coast Windjammers by Jim Gibbs. Superior.
1970: WAWONA was declared a National Historic Site, the first vessel to receive that designation in the country.
1981: The president of the National Maritime Historical Society, Peter Sanford, sent out an SOS to save the WAWONA, owned at that time by Northwest Seaport who moored her in Lake Union, Seattle, WA. Sanford described the WAWONA as an international maritime treasure that deserved better treatment than decrepitude.
2009: After 46 years of volunteer effort, the WAWONA was towed to a Seattle scrapping yard.
2011: Archived on this Log are some of those scraps in Schooner WAWONA's Bones, written by Roy Pearmain.

For further reading;Pacific Schooner Wawona  

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