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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.

04 April 2013

❖ Lopez Island Dock and Ferry Recollections ❖

Ralph HItchcock's route from Anacortes to Lopez Island, WA.
Click to enlarge.

Small detail from Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands
Revised 4th edition, 1989, not for navigational use, 

R. O. Malin copyright. Courtesy of Sobay Maps, Olympia, WA. ©
Please don't copy; these artistically drawn maps are available
from retailers and from their website, here.

The c. 53"x30" copy shows numerous WA. State Parks, shipwrecks, 
ranging from Olympia, WA, up north to Saltspring Island, B. C.
it also depicts the area near Cypress Island 
where Capt. Vancouver lost his anchor in 1792.

"These memories start in 1955 when we acquired waterfront acreage on Swift's Bay, Lopez Island, two miles from the Upright Head ferry dock. In 1923 the original ferry dock was at Port Stanley when the steam ferry CITY OF ANGELES was serving the San Juan Islands and Sidney.
CITY OF ANGELES
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©

      In the 1950s the daily mail came to the Lopez ferry dock and the other San Juan islands by the mail boat BRISTOL until she was sunk in a collision (apparently while on automatic pilot). Her successors included the DENNY M, MACARD, and finally the WATER BABY. After that the mail was flown to and from Lopez.
      Starting about 1957, the Lopez dock attendant was Robert Frederickson, whose wife Mary operated the restaurant they built adjacent to the dock. One of the favorites was Mary's lemon pie, ordered by most customers until it was gone. Which leads to an anecdote about the ferry VASHON.
      On summer weekends in the late '50s and early '60s, the VASHON was the Sunday 'cleanup' boat.
The darling VASHON
Pre 1960.
both original photos from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©

     She was to be in the islands in the afternoon to take overload cars off Orcas and Lopez to Anacortes on the mainland. Her crew was very fond of homemade lemon pie. So the VASHON would arrive at the Lopez ferry dock early just about every Sunday afternoon, tie up, and send a few crew members to the restaurant for lemon pie. After they'd eaten, they would undock and cruise toward Orcas to pick up at least part of the overload.
      After we had erected a simple cabin and acquired electrical power in 1959, we spent many weekends at 'Driftide' on Swift's Bay, avoiding Friday and Sunday ferry overloads by leaving our car at Anacortes. Our principal supplies (mostly food) were neatly packaged in a big, canvas, tote bag. Upon arrival at Lopez, we walked up the dock to the restaurant where we kept a two-wheeled cart into which the tote bag closely fit. The road beyond Odlin Park and past Swift's Bay had recently been blacktopped, so it was a very pleasant two-mile walk to the cabin. On Sunday afternoons, we reversed the process, walking back to the ferry dock past scores of waiting cars in the lineup. We dropped off our cart and walked aboard the ferry. 
      We recall one sunny Sunday afternoon returning to Anacortes on the VASHON. Because of the noisey crowd on the passenger deck, we decided to stay on the car deck, seating ourselves at the foot of the stairway with our backs against the stair trunk sides. It was one of those days when the swells from the west on the Strait of Juan de Fuca were rounding Colville Point and coming north on Rosario Strait parallel to the ferry's course. After coming out from Thatcher Pass and past James Island we were astonished to feel the stair trunk sides flexing as the ferry gently rolled in the swells. It became quickly obvious that the whole ferry house was swaying on the deck as she rolled. We concluded we didn't want to travel on the VASHON during a southeast storm when it gets really lumpy in Rosario Strait. We wonder if the passenger deck beams were ever reinforced with heavier gussets to the sides of the house.
      The VASHON had only manual steering--no power boost--and the quartermaster had to work hard, especially when docking.
      One weekday, with Capt. Snart in command of the VASHON, we were in our car with friends next to the VASHON's bow at the starboard bulwark. It was a morning trip--very foggy. Either the radar wasn't functioning or had not yet been installed. Soon after departure from Anacortes, two of us left the car to bring coffee and doughnuts to the ladies, saying to them jokingly, 'We'll be right back in case there's any trouble.' We quickly returned with the food and were eating when a great indefinable shadow loomed up on the starboard bow. Then the VASHON's engine shut down and we glided toward that nearing threat. I said, 'let's get out of the car!'
      The VASHON's engine went into reverse. We realized that thankfully, the unknown shape was not a ship but rocky land, now dead ahead.
      Within a ferry's length of a steep rocky cliff, the VASHON stopped and very slowly commenced moving away. We had almost landed on the southern end of James Island, more than a mile off course. To our knowledge, that was the closest a ferry had come to landing there. We slowly moved north, past James Island and into Thatcher Pass where the fog in the Strait cleared. Soon we were docking at Lopez. There is a manually controlled siren at the Lopez dock to assist ferry captains in locating the dock in dense fog. Fortunately, it wasn't needed by Capt. Snart for that particular trip.
      Another time we were on the KLICKITAT eastbound to Anacortes on a cloudy day. A strong southeast wind was blowing. The captain elected to hold course toward Guemes Channel. The KLICK was occasionally slamming into the heavier seas and rolling considerably--enough so that the unoccupied observation cabin chairs slid back and forth from side to side on the linoleum deck.
     
Lopez Ferry Landing
both images from the S. P. H. S.©
       
In the summer of 1964, the ferry system started work on a new ferry dock at Lopez. One September day, a floating crane lifted the old dock bridge out, and lifted the new dock bridge in. The next morning the KLICKITAT was dispatched on a special trip (no car or passengers) to Lopez to act as a tugboat and pull out the old ferry dock wing walls.
      On a few occasions, we had breakfast on the ferry while travelling from Anacortes to Lopez. We particularly remember getting good pancakes and coffee in the KLICKITAT's galley, which, in her old arrangement, was at the opposite end of the passenger cabin from the observation room. 
      
Washington State ferry EVERGREEN STATE
Photo by Bernie McNeil
Published by Smith Western Co., Inc., Tacoma.
from the archives of the S. P. H. S. ©

      Our most enjoyable ferry trips to and from Lopez were on the EVERGREEN STATE when Capt. Cecil Weyrich's crew were on duty. We had good camaraderie with Ted Gagner, the mate, Vic Bottoms, an able seaman and sometime quartermaster, and Sam Kerris, ordinary seaman. Captain Weyrich was easy to talk to, and welcomed us in the pilothouse after undocking and before docking, on several occasions."
Text by Ralph Hitchcock
Published by the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society
Quarterly journal, The Sea Chest, September 1994.
      The present day, dedicated editors of the publication, volunteers Ron and Connie Burke, have led their team to a highly regarded, first class publication, now with touches of color added. The Sea Chest, going into its 45th year, is a benefit of membership. Here's a link.
Ralph Hitchcock, 1965.
Former Lopezian & author of this essay.
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S. ©

   Mr. Hitchcock and his wife Eva were both life members of the PSMHS, with keen maritime interests. 
      After Ralph retired as a Boeing engineer for 27 years, he expanded on his avocation, to become a professional model builder for 25 more years, producing 22 models, most all of museum quality. There are three donated to the Lopez Island Historical Museum. In retirement the Hitchcocks lived on Lopez Island for a dozen years.
      There is another log entry written by model maker Mr. Hitchcock, which can be viewed here

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