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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.

13 August 2014

❖ HIGHLINER ❖

The Highliner of the Codfish Schooner FANNY DUTARD
Red Oscar
The clock on the wall of the newsroom of Seattle's morning newspaper was ticking away the last minutes of a warm night in July. The early-shift reporters had been given "thirty" and were checking out at the platform-raised desk of the city editor. I had a feeling of self-pity as I watched the scene from my desk near a window overlooking Fourth Ave at Union St for I had been given an assignment to meet the steamer HUMBOLDT, due from SE Alaska at midnight.
Steamer HUMBOLDT
      The city editor, a small balding fellow who had developed into a bundle of nerves, seldom gave a reporter an assignment without telling him how dull and uninteresting the paper was growing. He had experienced the jitters ever since the $50,000 gold robbery in which the HUMBOLDT was involved. 'Scoopy' MacDonald a reporter on a rival sheet, had scored a beat on the story and we felt we could not have been more disgraced if we had hauled down the American flag. At any rate, it appeared that the HUMBOLDT gold robber story was going to be shoved down our throats for many months to come and meeting the famous old ship was going to be a must.
     In a corner of the newsroom was a reporter pounding out a later story between puffs on a cigarette. He had been watching me and finally came over to my desk with an inquiring expression on his face.
     'Tough break, that late assignment, but that's the newspaper game. However, cheer up, I'll go along. Always wanted to give the HUMBOLDT the once over, ever since that gold robbery story.'
     In a few minutes, I was on my way to Pier 7 to meet the HUMBOLDT, accompanied by William Slavens McNutt, then a struggling reporter on the morning newspaper, who added to his modest salary by writing short fiction for moderately-priced magazines published in New York.
     Those were the days of five-cent cigars, nickel beers, and three-dollar hats, but Bill, for some reason, just couldn't make his salary cover his personal wants. Quite often, he was refused assignments until he visited a barbershop in the Antlers Hotel, across the street, after obtaining a loan from the city editor. Bill would be broke a few days and then suddenly blossom out with a comfortably sized bankroll. I learned that Bill was writing fiction late at night at police headquarters, between stories of murders, suicides, and fires. He mailed his magazine stories at the Third Ave and Union St post office during the early morning hours after he received 'thirty' at police headquarters.
     As we walked along the waterfront toward Pier 7, I said: 'Bill, I think I have a story for you as a reward for your trip. You could work it up either as fact or fiction. Across the street is the Cape Flattery Bar, the toughest saloon this side of San Francisco's Barbary Coast. After we check up on the HUMBOLDT, we'll take a look-see. Things usually get pretty hot at this time of night in all waterfront bars.'
     At Pier 7, we learned that the HUMBOLDT had been delayed by headwinds and we would have time to visit the Cape Flattery emporium of mirth and good cheer, which was beginning to rival Billy's Mug of the skidroad, which also was called Billy The Mug's.
     As we entered the wooden building through a broad door, there was wild commotion in the saloon. The barkeep, a giant of a man, wearing a handlebar mustache, pounded the massive bar with a powerful fist that made the flimsy building rattle and shake, as he attempted to restore order.
     A raw-boned fisherman standing in the middle of the sawdust-covered floor with a huge glass of beer, shouted: 'Here's to the highliner of the FANNY DUTARD.'
Schooner FANNY DUTARD
from West Coast Windjammers In Story and Pictures
by James Gibbs. Superior Pub. Seattle, 1968.
     The rest of the toast was drowned out by the shouts of fishermen, who left their tables along the wall and moved over to the bar. When the din partly subsided, [click on "read more" below]

 we learned that the sturdy codfishing schooner FANNY DUTARD, owned by Capt. J. A. Matheson, was in from the Bering Sea banks and that Red Oscar, the mate, a short little Norwegian, whose hair gave him part of his name, had won fame as the highliner of the vessel and was celebrating his victory. We were at first told that his share of the catch netted $1,000 and later, $1,500. At any rate, Red Oscar had plenty of money. He tossed a handful of bills and silver on the bar, as he demanded that everyone have a drink with him in his hour of triumph. He pounded the bar with both firsts as shouts went up from the men in the crowed saloon, then went to the tables to awaken fishermen who had indulged too freely, and to insist that they also have a drink.
     Bill's face beamed as he took in the scene––the barkeep with the handlebar mustache scooping in Red Oscar's cash and placing a long line of tall glasses filled with amber fluid on the bar. A few of the fishermen could be seen tossing off glasses filled with hard liquor and a chaser of beer.
     I wonder how many fish Red Oscar caught? Nobody seems to know and he hasn't time to talk.
     While we were interviewing other fishermen about the trip of the FANNY DUTARD, we heard the whistle of the HUMBOLDT and hurried back to Pier 7, Capt. E. G. Baughman, skipper, and Ira Cohen, purser, had only an ordinary story of the voyage from Skagway and way ports. To Bill's disappointment, there were no chests of Klondyke gold.
     Several months later, I received a magazine containing a story of the Seattle waterfront under the by-line of Red Oscar and Hayes Dawson, a waterfront reporter who was in love with the daughter of the skipper of a codfishing schooner. Bill had made changes in names, but his story was a partly true picture of his experiences the night he accompanied me to the waterfront to meet the gold ship HUMBOLDT, ex-romance and other features of fiction. Years later, during a visit to Hollywood, I met William Slavens McNutt, who had won fame as a scenario writer. He asked about his Seattle friends, and the Cape Flattery Bar. I was sorry to report that the famous old bar had vanished before the march of time.
     Captain Matheson, owner of the FANNY DUTARD, died at the age of 93 after being in the salt codfish business 75 years. He began as a 'hand' in a North Atlantic codfishing schooner at Provincetown, MA at the age of 17. In four years, he became a captain.
     After a long career as a sailing vessel, Capt. Matheson sold the FANNY DUTARD to businessmen of Ketchikan, who converted her into a floating brewery. However, the venture was not successful and she was last reported serving as a barge in SE Alaska."
Above text from: High Tide by R. H. Calkins. Seattle; Marine Digest Publishing, 1952.

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