"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.

28 February 2014

Coffee First.

S. S. LURLINE "Lost" on Puget Sound
By Captain James Crooks
Bush Point, Westside of Whidbey Island, WA.
Click to enlarge.

I joined the S. S. LURLINE at San Francisco, CA, early in February 1923. The LURLINE was a combination cargo and passenger vessel plying between Pacific Coast ports and the Hawaiian Islands and was operated by the Matson Navigation Co of San Fran. I shipped as quartermaster and we left for Puget Sound.
S. S. LURLINE, Matson Line, mid 1930s, arriving Hawaii.
 Yes, this is the gal that played on the shore of Whidbey Island, WA.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.
      We picked up cargo and passengers at various Sound ports and were on our way to Hawaii when we ran into a dense fog in the vicinity of Whidbey Island; while maneuvering at different speeds and even being completely stopped at intervals, the current evidently carried us off our course and suddenly while traveling at full seed ahead––we ran ashore.
      The engine room was located in the after end of this vessel and most of the weight, of course, being in that end, we ran well up on the beach when we grounded. The passengers felt the impact and soon they were all out on deck. The fog was so dense that we could not even see the land where we had beached.
      There did not appear to be any particular damage done and soundings disclosed that the vessel was dry and no water was entering the hull. 
      About an hour after we grounded, the fog cleared away and passengers and crew alike, gathered on the fore part of the vessel to look around and, if possible, to ascertain where we were. As we looked at the beach we observed a very old, gray-haired man approach the bow of our vessel. He carried a small stool with him; in a slow-motion manner, carefully set it down on the shingle beach right alongside our bow which was high and dry. Questions were fired at this old man from those assembled on the bow asking him where we were but he ignored them and asked to see the captain. The captain was immediately notified and appeared on the bow high above the old man calmly sitting on his stool on the beach. It was obvious that while we were all interested, the captain was the one who was most interested in solving that question. He leaned over the bow with his scrambled-egg hat and four gold rings on his coat sleeves prominently displayed to the old man. Apparently not wishing to have both passengers and crew know that he did not know where we were, he asked the old man how far we were from Bush Point. 
      This old man, who apparently had at one time been a seaman, was not eager to answer questions. He said, "Well, you are the captain, I see. I have lived here for many years (in an isolated cabin which was close by) and I have had many things drift on to the beach but never before have I had an ocean liner come pretty near right into my house!" Then he asked if we had any coffee on board and when told we had plenty he said, "when you give me some coffee I will tell you just where you are".      
      The master stood by waiting and obviously worried while a white coated flunkey was dispatched for a pitcher of coffee which the boatswain lowered down with a heaving line and a bucket. It was not until he had a swig of coffee that the old man resumed his conversation and then he said, addressing the captain, "so you want to know how far you are from Bush Point. Well, you could not be any closer for you are right on it".
      As soon as the captain definitely knew where we were, the Coast Guard was notified and a Coast Guard cutter and several towboats soon arrived and at high water attempted to pull us off the beach without success.
      These vessels did not leave the vicinity after they failed to haul us off but anchored close by with the intention of making another attempt on the next high tide. That same night shortly before high water and without any warning we slipped down the beach into deep water; so suddenly did this occur that we almost drifted on top of the vessels anchored close by. The heavy current carried us free of the coast. A survey showed that there had been no damage done to the ship and we proceeded on the voyage to the Hawaiian Islands.
E. C. Kropp postcard
From the archives of the S.P.H.S.©

Text courtesy of Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society,
Seattle, WA.
By Capt. James Crooks, 
Quarterly journal ,The Sea Chest. March 1974.
Bush Point ❖ ❖ Named in 1855 by the US Coast Survey because of "one or two clumps of trees and bushes."  
Washington State Place Names. James W. Phillips. U of WA, 1971.

25 February 2014

❖ KANAKAS ❖

"The very first schooling was in private homes, and the first school houses were built by donation. From an old list of contributors to the building of the first school house on San Juan in the year 1865, we will record here six names, S. V. Boyce, Charles McCoy, Joseph Nickerson, George Walker, Louis Farado, and Tahana. There were 41 names on this list and the donations were days of work––so many days––or with yokes of oxen or teams,or cedar shakes, or work and money, or money, ten dollars in gold, a number of times. The last two names may seem unusual. They were Kanakas.
      An unlooked-for nationality, it would seem, and interesting, to trace. Most of the sailing vessels from Europe to the Puget Sound would put in at the Sandwich Islands for fresh water and provisions. Also many a sailor's fancy was taken by the happy, easy life of these islands and desertions were many. The natives were, by nature good sailors, and learned seamanship easily; it was common practice to fill out the crew by shipping Kanakas. These in turn often left the ship while in Victoria and their places were filled usually by white men seeking passage back to Europe.
      
Kanaka Bay, San Juan Island, WA. 1911
From the Galen Biery Collection

     Fish being plentiful and the climate mild, some of these Kanakas brought their wives to Victoria, BC,  and there was a little settlement of Kanakas, known as Kanaka Row. The Hudson Bay Co found that the Kanakas made very satisfactory herdsmen. They brought a number of Kanakas to San Juan Island; they settled on that westerly part of the island that is now marked on the chart "Kanaka Bay." They and their families lived there and took some part in many of the activities.
      After the settlement of the Boundary Dispute they were all removed to Victoria. Near to the entrance of the Oceanographic Labs of the University of WA, a Kanaka by the name of Joe Friday built his cabin and made his home. For several years his was the only smoke visible from the bay that came to be known as Friday's Harbor. The first large map used in the courthouse still carried the possessive and was marked Friday's Harbor."

Above text written by dedicated island historian Frank Mullis(1886-1967), Friday Harbor, WA., a history series entitled "Partial History of the San Juan Islands"
Published by The Friday Harbor Journal, 1950s.
More reading: Koppel, Tom. KANAKA, The Untold Story of Hawaiian Pioneers in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver/Toronto. Whitecap Books. 1995.

19 February 2014

THE QUEST FOR FLAWLESS FISH

 Sherman Thompson(1908-1996)
Deer Harbor, WA., 1991.
Courtesy of Jan Koltun and the
Journal of the San Juans©.
Sadly, newsprint copy is the only available photo.
To some islanders, the fight to catch a fish is less important than the challenge of smoking it perfectly.
      The glory produced by the intense competition for the best smoking method is far from ephemeral. The remembered taste of Cleon Meredith's smoked salmon makes Orcas mouths water 50 years after the fact.
      "His was the best I ever tasted," says Thad McGlinn of Eastsound. Reverently.
      Most salmon smokers are men, though occasionally a woman will crack the gender barrier by producing a superior brine or by volunteering to split the labor.
      "I make the brine and Sherman gets the wood," says Lucille Thompson of Deer Harbor.
      The basics, over which veteran salmon smokers endlessly debate, are brine, wood, and the type of smoker.
      "Everybody has their little quirk about brine," Thompson observes.
      To cover three small salmon or one big one, cut into chunks, she mixes a cup each of brown sugar and rock salt with a gallon of water.
      "I only soak the fish 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Then I let it drain, and wipe some of the salt off before smoking it," she says.
      For the best smoke, most islanders use alder. Sherman uses green alder, from which he peels the bark.
      A foot downhill from his smokehouse, Thompson built into the ground a wood stove from which the smoke is piped into the little house, which is filled with trays.
      Glenn Rickard of Lopez says the best temperature is 170 degrees. He smokes his fish 3-7 hours, until he likes its color. "You don't want it to get too dark, or to dry out."
      Although McGlinn has used apple wood and cherry wood ("anything without pitch"), he, too, favors Cleon Meredith's habit of using dead alder.
      "Meredith searched the woods for as punky old wood as he could find," McGlinn said.
      "It takes about a day, 10-12 hours for the smoking. You keep tasting it until it's right," says Lucille Thompson.
      New technology provides a smoke in 15 minutes. But some folks say waking up at night and checking on the fish adds to the fun as well as, certainly, the taste.
      Many buffs swear by a cedar smokehouse such as the one Sherman Thompson built. It and similar structures are so often mistaken for outhouses some owners post a sign reading simply, "no, it isn't."
      Above text by Jan Koltun, courtesy of the Journal of the San Juans©.
Published June 1991.
Another post of a San Juan County smokehouse can be viewed here.

12 February 2014

❖ WEDDING ROCK ❖ Petroglyphs on the Washington Coast, 1955

Wedding Rock petroglyphs, Washington Coast,
with Bruce Stallard, archaeological surveyor, 1955
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
If there is an ancient Indian house pit, petroglyph, or deposit of kitchen refuse in Olympic National Park deserving future investigation, steps may be taken to preserve it.
      The 50-mile ocean strip of the park this year was the subject of an archaeological survey as a preliminary measure.
      Two University of WA students had the longest, most difficult walk of their lives in recent months while seeking traces of prehistoric occupation on Jefferson and Clallam Counties' uninhabited shores.
      Bruce Stallard and Clayton Denman, both undergraduates from Seattle, made the survey for the National Park Service, under supervision of Dr. Douglas Osborne and the UW Department of Anthropology. They looked at and reported on 11 sites, some of which were on offshore islands or inland on coastal streams. The bulk were on the beach front.
      The expedition entailed much wear and tear of shoe leather, wading streams, drenchings in downpours of rain, meetings with bears, and floating across a river on an improvised raft, paddled with a shovel.
      "The raft method was the only way we could get across the Ozette River," Stallard explained. "We tied several logs together and rode the raft one at a time. I held the rope while Clayton crossed. Then I pulled the logs back and followed him to the other side."
      Where possible the explorers followed the faint traces of trails cleared by the Coast Guard for patrolling during WW II. These were overgrown and blocked with windfalls. Travel over them was extremely slow and the blazes were difficult to find.
      "When we could keep on a trail like that we thought it a bit of good fortune," Stallard related. "We took shelter in the old patrol cabins when we could find them."
      The pair depended upon US Army topographical maps on their unguided forays. They do not recommend the stretch of coast between LaPush and the mouth of the Hoh River for pleasure hikes. South of Hoh Head they were thankful to be able to climb up from the beach on a rope left by earlier comers.
      "The most surprising thing to us," Stallard said, "was the lack of level ground for habitations on that part of the coast. A number of places where Indians formerly lived have washed into the sea. Indian informants would tell us of houses they remembered standing at certain spots when they were children. When we visited a place we often found it covered with slides or eroded away.

"The old site of Ozette village in time, I believe, will be gone. It is much narrower than it was when reported by early writers. In the 1850s the Indians bulkheaded the place to check erosion."
       Stallard told of seeing cultural materials such as shells, charcoal, ashes, and fire-broken rock sliding out of a wave-eroded cliff.
Above text by author, historian, Lucile McDonald for The Seattle Times, 22 October, 1955.
Regretfully, McDonald didn't recognize Dr. Richard Daugherty who worked closely with the Makah during this time. This was the largest, most complex archealogical site in the Pacific Northwest. For a tribute to the scholar, who the Makah called "Doc", please click here.


1970––This year began a 11-year excavation at the Ozette site by the Makah Tribe and Washington State University. A radio carbon test yielded data of a slide 500 years BP (before present). Six longhouses and contents with pre-contact, wood, artifacts were found in a tomb of mud. According to the University of Washington, the excavation yielded 55,000 artifacts that the tribe cleaned, identified, and stored on the reservation. 
1979––The Makah Cultural and Research Center, Neah Bay, WA,  was created under leadership of the tribal chairman Edward E. Claplanhoo. The Makah Museum site can be seen here.

10 February 2014

❖ CHICKAMAUGA ❖


SEA CHICKEN

Lake Washington Ship Canal, 1968. 

Built as CHICKAMAUGA in Seattle, 1915.

Soon after renamed SEA CHICKEN.
In this century her name reverted to her birth name.

Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©


CHICKAMAUGA
ON 213069
Built 1915 
59.5' Reg. L x 17.6' b x 8.6' d
Sturdily constructed with 10" frames and 2.75" fir planking. 
Built in Seattle, to the order of the Pacific Towboat Co. 
Designed by the well-known yacht designer, sailor L. E. "Ted" Geary.
She was the first full Diesel-powered tugboat in the US. She set a trend which, within the following forty years, would result in virtual elimination of the steam engine in the nation's towing fleets. 

2009:
Anthony R. Smith purchases the towboat for $1,000.

1 or 2 October 2013:
CHICKAMAUGA sinks at Eagle Harbor Marina, Bainbridge Island, WA. Leaking about 400 gallons of petroleum and 10 gallons of lube oil into the waters of Eagle Harbor.
She was raised by a 100-ton barge crane and kept afloat with the aid of water pumps. The owner Anthony Smith hasn't responded to the harbormaster and the harbor fees.

January 2014:
The owner of CHICKAMAUGA was charged with three criminal counts for abandoning the boat. 
According to the Kitsap Sun, Anthony R. Smith faces one count of first-degree theft for failing to pay moorage and utility fees now totaling $8,560, one count of causing a vessel to become abandoned or derelict and one count of discharge of polluting matters into state waters. The charges were filed in Kitsap County Superior Court. 

Department of Natural Resources (DNR) takes control of the tug and has it towed by another tug out of Eagle Harbor Marina, 31 January 2014, to Boat Haven Marina in Port Townsend. As reported in the Kitsap Sun, CHICKAMAUGA made the 38-mile voyage and was hauled out. If the DNR receives no appeal, a bid to dismantle or dispose of the boat could transpire soon. They are reviewing the boat's historical significance and taking inquiries from museums and historical preservation organizations who may be interested in CHICKAMAUGA.

March 2014:
CHICKAMAUGA has been lost to scrap, according to Ethan Fowler in a special to The Kistsap Sun newspaper. There are outstanding debts owed to the State's Derelict Vessel Removal Program, fees owed to the US Coast Guard and the Dept. of Natural Resources for retrieval, utility fees for c. one year's moorage at Eagle Harbor Marina and legal fees ending with the upcoming trial in Kitsap County Superior Court. 

04 February 2014

❖ WILD GOOSE ❖ Locking Through 1973

46-ft WILD GOOSE 
An old-fashioned cutter with distinguished lines;
single-handed by her owner, Rupert Broom.
Every day rain or shine from Bainbridge Island,
through the locks to Seattle and return.
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
The story has it that one day, in his first attempt to drive, Rupert Broom rammed the family Model-A Ford into a tree. At the time, it was strongly suggested that he should never drive. It was advice the young man would heed, for Rupert Broom never did learn learn how to drive.
      From such an ignominious beginning came one of the great sailing legends of our time.
      Every day for nearly 50 years, Broom commuted from his Port Madison home on Bainbridge Island to Seattle aboard his boat, the most recent being his 46-ft cutter WILD GOOSE. At six am each morning, in rain or snow, whether sunny or foggy, Broom dinghied out to his boat to begin his daily sail to work. Every day for nearly 50 years, the sailmaker and rigger made the single-handed journey through the Ballard Locks to reach his shop, George Broom's Sons, located just on the fresh water side of the Locks on the Lake Washington Ship Canal. Each evening he locked through again to make his way back to Port Madison.
      Broom's nonchalance to commuting by boat and the Locks started early in life. As a two-year old babe, he traveled through the Locks with his parents, on the first official boat on the first official opening, 4 July 1917. Shortly after, Broom's father, Thompson George Broom, moved the family to Bainbridge Island and started the family tradition of traveling each day by boat to his sail loft on the Seattle waterfront.
       "Rupert grew up with the idea that the only way to get from Bainbridge Island to the mainland is on our own boat, said Bob Campion, a friend and long-time employee of the younger Broom.
       In 1992 when the Army Corps of Engineers celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, it honored Broom by presenting him with an award as its best, and probably most frequent, customer. He had become such a fixture at the Locks that one Lock attendant said, "he was like the furniture here."
      In some ways it's unfortunate that the legend of Rupert Broom's daily sojourns through the Locks became the focus of the man, a personality quirk in an astonishing life devoted to nautical endeavors. It simplified and overshadowed the life of a true mariner, an experienced sailor, an expert sailmaker and rigger who spent his lifetime on and around the waterfront.
      "He loved to sail––it was born in him," said Campion.
      Broom gave freely of his knowledge to young people who wanted to sail, and shared with anyone interested, his passion for maritime history. Over the years, he became an expert on the Northwest golden era of tall ships, a period of time he was fortunate enough to experience first hand.
      "The sail loft was a center of activity, and Rupert was the focal point of Seattle maritime culture," said Doug Fryer, who once worked in the sail loft for a few years in the 1950s. "A lot of the skippers and captains would stop in during coffee hour and tell stories. Rupert was a source of a lot of local maritime history, that he, of course, never wrote down."
      Now it is too late to glean nearly a century of nautical lore and the decades of sailing wisdom from a Seattle legend. 
      It's the passing of men like Broom that truly signals the end to the era of sail in the Pacific Northwest. Few men remain who knew first-hand the time when the masts of sailing ships dominated the city skyline, when square-rigged schooners and barks and brigantines lined the harbors of Puget Sound.
      But it was on such ships and in a time when they crowded the waterfront of Elliott Bay that Broom learned his trade of sailmaking and rigging Seattle's growing eminence as a trading center created a bustling port with nearly every kind of ship imaginable. While steam ships had been in Puget Sound for years and the Mosquito Fleet was already well established, large sailing ships still dominated long-distance commerce, plying the oceans of the world with their cargo of Northwest lumber and goods under miles of billowing white canvas.
      Like many sons of his generation, Broom followed the career path of his father, George, a sailmaker and rigger who in 1910 took the experience gained from a couple of decades of working in some of Seattle's earliest sail lofts to establish his own business on the waterfront at Pier 8. George Broom's business took off during World War I when the navy contracted with him to rig 25 five-masted Diesel auxiliary schooners. The Broom ship rigging business flourished.
      

Schooner C. S. HOLMES
Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
      Just out of high school in 1933, young Rupert heeded the urging of his father and sailed to Point Barrow, AK, north of the Arctic Circle, as a crew member on the four-masted schooner, C. S. HOLMES. Later, he signed on as crew on the PENNSYLVANIAN, a freighter making the run down the West Cost, through the Panama anal and up the East Coast to Boston.
      Following the death of his father in 1935, Rupert and his brother Grenville took over the sailmaking and rigging business at Pier 59. Not long after Grenville's death in 1944, Rupert moved the shop inside the Ballard Locks, and began his daily ritual of locking through to work. As the age of sail gave way to Diesel engines, Broom's business shifted from sail canvas to cables, shrouds, chaffing gear, trawl wire, and machinery covers.
      While Broom purposely avoided working on yachts, preferring to rig and sew for the commercial fleet, his influence and respect among the yachting community was just as profound. He was the sailing mentor for a generation of young men.
      Many of them spent time working in the sail loft, sharing the weekdays learning about chaffing gear, rigging and canvas. 
AFRICAN STAR
Captured by James A. Turner, Seattle.
Only photograph of this vessel in the archives of
the S. P. H. S.©
On the weekends, they learned how to sail, making quick trips to the San Juan Islands, down the Hood Canal or out to Cape Flattery aboard the Atkins-designed WILD GOOSE or her predecessor, AFRICAN STAR.
      One of many local sailors who learned to handle a boat under the tutelage of Broom was Doug Fryer. While still a teenager, he first sailed with Broom, later worked in the loft and remained friends with the man throughout his life.
      "The guy loved to sail, Fryer said. He taught me a lot. I spent my formative years sailing with him. He taught me how to take a cruise to the San Juan Islands in a weekend. Many people still don't know how to do it. If you pick your tides, you get there Saturday about noon, and you leave Sunday. Maybe you can get a couple of great sails across the Straits en route.
      "Rupert loved to go out and sail in tough weather," Fryer added. "Which was pretty exciting for me. If the glass was going down and a big front was coming in on a Friday night, I would go sailing with Rupert. And the winter was more fun that the summer because the wind blew harder. It was a tremendous opportunity for me because there weren't many guys around sailing on a regular basis both winter and summer who wanted to take a young kid sailing."
      Fryer remembers his early years of sailing with Broom with fondness, but even more clear is his affection for the man. "Rupert was full of life and just fun to be around. He enjoyed life, all aspects of it. He loved his work, he was a good cook, he was an adventurer. There was always something going on, fishing, clamming, oyster digging. He always had a sense of humor."
      The sail loft, George Broom's Sons, remains open and in the family, managed now by Broom's nephew, George Broom and his wife Sharon. A century creates a lot of momentum, though the couple admits that it won't be easy to maintain the family business and its reputation. 
      "He never advertised, never did any marketing," Sharon Broom said. "He didn't have to, Rupert knew everyone on the waterfront and they knew him."
      "People always came to Rupert for work," added George. "He wouldn't lie to you, and he wouldn't let something leave the shop if it wasn't right."
    
Sail loft at Pier 8 on the Seattle waterfront;
established by George Broom. Operated at this time
by his sons Grenville and Rupert Broom, 

Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S. dated 1943.

The steady clack, clack, clack of one of five large, commercial sewing machines is the only sound coming from the loft. As he has done for decades, sailmaker Andy Mills is sitting at the machine, working the foot pedal to make a straight, even seam in a long, blue tarp.
The walls of the loft and the small back office are lined with old black-and-white photos of every kid of ship imaginable––square-rigged schooners and brigantines, sloops and ketches, freighters, fishing boats and tugs. Most of these boats have a personal connection with Broom. He either worked on them, outfitted them or owned them. The photos represent much of the nautical history of the Pacific Northwest and span the era when Seattle and the region flourished and grew, in large part, because of its great shipping fleet.
      Bits and pieces of that maritime history survive in the next generation of sailmakers and riggers, sailors and old salts, in people like Doug Fryer and George Broom. But one more thread that held them all together and wove them into the tapestry of our own past has been broken. There are precious few men left like Rupert Broom who have seen the tapestry and who helped weave its design.
Text by Jeffrey D. Briggs for 48º North, August 1994 
Rupert Broom, ago 78,  passed away 5 April 1994, working almost up to the day he died.     

      
       




01 February 2014

REEFNETS: A NORTHWEST ORIGINAL

Dave and Don Yansen,
Leaving home for early morning start 

 reefnet fishing at Squaw Bay, Shaw Island.
Photo by mother Gwendolyn Yansen, mid 1950s.
Reefnet owner Doug Baier (L) and
helper, Dan Sweeney, 1980s
Heading to the fish boats outside
Squaw Bay, Shaw Island, WA.

" Reefnetting, believed to be the oldest form of net fishing in the world, is unique to the Pacific Northwest. In the San Juans, this ancient art was the primary salmon harvesting method for local tribes, and the techniques employed date back hundreds, and perhaps thousands of years. Even today, most modern reefnets sit on traditional sites that have been fished for hundreds of years.
      In their heyday, native reefnets stretched from the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, up through the San Juans, and on to the mouth of the Fraser River. The west side of San Juan Island, the southern shore of Shaw and the west side of Orcas, Iceberg Point, Flat Point, and the mouth of Fisherman Bay on Lopez were all home to native reefnet gear.
      At least four local tribes worked reefnets in their territories: the Songish on San Juan, the Saanich on Haro Strait, Stuart Island, and Point Roberts, the Samish on southern Lopez, and the Lummi on Orcas, Shaw, and northwest Lopez. Summer villages were established near the sites to support the fishers, and a great deal of ritual and ceremony accompanied the start of each season's fishing.
      The technique used by native peoples varied little from that used by modern reefnetters. The gears were set to face the prevailing current, along which the salmon swim, and a pair of special canoes, with wide bows and flat sterns, were anchored parallel to each other, sterns facing the current. A net made of willow bark twine, measuring approximately 40-ft long by 30-ft wide, and dyed black to blend with the water, was suspended between the boats, and stones were used to weight the open end of the net facing the current.
      Reefnets were often set in kelp beds, where a channel could be cleaned through the kelp to funnel the salmon toward the net. The kelp was also cleared to make room for "head anchor" lines made of twisted cedar withe, which ran out from the sterns of the canoes in a vee. It there was no kelp to channel the fish, "lead lines," were added from the canoes to a "head buoy", or "reef", side lines were run from the lead lines down to the head anchor lines, which resulted in an artificial channel to direct the salmon into the net. If the water was deep, an artificial floor was created by adding horizontal lines between the head anchor lines to bring the salmon up to the proper depth to enter the net. To complete the illusion, enterprising fishers sometimes wove clumps of beach grass into the floor lines. A 'jump line', or peeled cedar pole near the net entry, spooked the fish as they funneled in, causing them to dive for the apparent safety created by the dark hole of the net.
      Native reefnets were set on hereditary sites, and manned by crews of 6 to 12 men, with a watchman in the stern of each canoe. The watchman in the offshore canoe was the captain, easily identified by his wide-brim cedar root hat, and deer tallow or red ochre on his face to cut the glare. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, captains apparently wore a special headdress as a symbol of authority.
      The captain watched the fish enter the net, then gave the command to pull the net weights and the side lines suspending the net. When the net was full, a pin was pulled to give slack in the anchor lines, and the canoes were allowed to swing together. The net was pulled into the inshore boat, and the salmon were rolled into the offshore boat. After the fish were removed for transport to the beach, where they were dried on racks by wind and sun, or over slow fires, the canoes were separated, the net reset, and the process begun again.
      Fishing the reefnets required particular conditions, including daylight, calm water, and reasonable clear weather, since darkness, surface chop or heavy overcast made it impossible to see the salmon enter the net. Since all reefnets fish only on a given tide, they were manned only when the currents ran the proper direction. Different gears were also fished during different salmon runs. One set might work well for Chinook, but not for sockeye. Another might be particularly effective only on cohos, pinks, or chums.
      With the coming of the non-natives settlers, native populations, native fishing, declined. But the thing that almost wiped out reefnetting for good was the introduction of fish traps in the early 1890s. Those devices, huge enclosures built on pilings up to 120-ft deep, often extended their solid 'leads', up to half a mile out from the shore. Since they relied on the same currents as reefnets, they built upstream of the reefnet sites, and blocked, or 'corked' the traditional gears. The US Attorney sued on behalf of the natives in 1897, claiming the interception of the salmon by the traps was a treaty violation, but the courts ruled in favor of the traps, and the reefnets disappeared.
      Traps dominated the industry until they were outlawed in 1934, due to pressure from the growing purse seine fleet, and decreasing salmon runs, after which the reefnets began to make a comeback.
      Even though most of the reefnets in the islands were worked by non-native fishers after the demise of the fish traps, most gears were set on traditional sites, and the techniques remained largely unchanged. Manual winches were introduced which speeded up the process of pulling the nets and reduced the need for crewmen, and observations towers were added to the boats to improve visibility. But the boats were still essentially big canoes; the set up and techniques remained intact, despite using modern materials.
      While these improvements made the process more efficient, it was still grueling work. The season ran four or five months as different salmon runs came through the islands, and openings often lasted five or six days a week. Keeping the gear clear of kelp, working the big winches, and rolling the fish into the boats was exhausting, but it was a good living for many islanders.
      By the 1950s, there were some 90 reefnet operations in the San Juans and Lummi Island, says Lopezian Jack Girard, who heads the Washington Reefnet Owners Association, and who began working on the gears in the late 1950s. But due to declining runs of fish, a preference by most fishers for mobile techniques such as purse seining or gillnetting, and the infamous Boldt Decision, only 50 reefnets remain today (1997), with just 14 in the San Juans.
      Citing the 'environmentally friendly' aspect of his industry, Girard notes that reefnets don't trap birds, such as the endangered Marbled Murrelet, and also allow safe release of 'by-catch', or endangered fish species. As a fixed gear, they're easily monitored, and don't pollute, since they use no engines. 'I think those things, in today's fishing mode, give us a better chance of surviving what we're going through than any other (net fish) industry, period,' he says.
     
Ed Hopkins reefnet gear, Squaw Bay, 1981.
Ed Hansen and Jim Sesby pitching salmon

to the buyer boat, perhaps the PRIMO.
Courtesy of E/K Hopkins.

      The canoes have been augmented by rafts, that are more stable and can hold more fish in live tanks, and manual winches have been replaced by electric models that pull net more quickly and easily. Anchors are heavier, that allows the gears to work deeper sites and in swifter currents, and the nets are slightly larger and made of nylon. But even though the watchers have forsaken deer tallow in favor of Polaroid sunglasses, the essence of the art remains true to its ancient heritage. 'You still depend on your wits, Giard says. 'You still depend on your eyes.'"
Text by John Goekler for The Islands Weekly 3-10 August 1994.
Reefnet fishing has been modernized with electronic gear in the last few years; we hope to provide an update soon.
Shaw Island reefnet boats stored for winter, 1980s.
Squaw Bay, Shaw Island, WA.
Photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
Shaw Island reefnet boats (as in photo above)
same site at Squaw Bay haulout, 2011.
Photo donated by Debra Madan, Orcas Island, WA.


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