Meet Capt "Matt" Peasley, resourceful and two-fisted skipper of the "Blue Star" fleet––in real life he was Capt. Ralph E. Peasley, of Aberdeen, WA.
|Captain R.E. Peasley, 14 Feb. 1929.|
Known throughout the world as the hero of Peter B. Kyne's
sea stories, was in his 37th year of high seas sailing.
Click photo to enlarge.
From the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
The tall mariner quit the sea––temporarily, at least––but if the sailing ships were abroad again the chances are he would be right back at his old command. Not even Mrs. Peasley could keep him ashore. In fact, Mrs. Peasley probably would go along!
It has been quite awhile since Capt Peasley and Peter B. Kyne first met, but the passing years have served only to enhance Kyne's 'Cappy Ricks' characters and build around Capt Peasley an admiring aura of fame and popularity that made him a chosen man wherever he went.
In his home region of Grays Harbor, he was a favorite without reservation. Shortly after he retired from the sea he ran for port commissioner and was elected by an enormous majority. Then he served the state as district inspector for the liquor control board––and that was a job that required as much application and hard work as running a ship. Only recently the Aberdeen Pioneers Association elected him president.
Among Kyne's many duties at that time was to peruse reports sent in by the fleet masters. He was immediately attracted by Capt Peasley's. They were of such concise and original nature that in them Kyne found inspiration and subject matter for what ten years later flowed from his pen as the story of Matt Peasley, Cappy Ricks and the latter's beautiful daughter.
"Aw, they call me Matt wherever I go, all right." said Peasley, "but Kyne's stories are mostly all fiction. No skipper could be as good as that fellow Matt. No shipowner could have so much fun as Cappy Ricks, but that isn't saying we don't like to read about them. I know Mrs. Peasley and I do."
As depicted in Kyne's novel, Peasley's marriage to the shipping magnate's daughter was a romantic event, and as it applies to the real Capt Peasley's marriage it is not wholly imaginary. Mrs. Peasley's father was Capt James Dalton, prominent in Grays Harbor lumbering and shipping circles, and she grew up among sawmills and ships.
They were married in 1903, shortly after a great fire leveled the business district of Aberdeen. Capt Peasley had brought the schooner WAWONA into Willapa Harbor for a cargo of lumber, and while she was burdening there the skipper went by train to claim his bride. Their wedding trip consisted of a brief train journey to Seattle––two days or so––and then they headed for home. At Gate City they separated, Capt Peasley taking another train to Raymond, whence he sailed the following day. At that time he was sailing the WAWONA in the coastwise trade, but at that, it was six weeks before he saw his bride again.
It was some years later that Mrs. Peasley tired of sitting at home waiting, and decided she would go to sea, too. So with him she went, and for nearly two decades the Peasleys sailed together––to Honolulu, to Callao, to Newcastle and a host of other ports of the Pacific.
"Yes, said Mrs. Peasley, "I was a poor sailor at first. But I got so I could 'take it' with the rest of them. I can remember one time when we were standing out to sea at Cape Flattery. It was so rough that every sailor aboard was more or less sick, but not I. That was after I had gotten my sea legs."
Capt Peasley sailed many windjammers in his 40 years on the Pacific. Among them were the four-master MARY E. FOSTER, the schooner FRED J. WOOD, the schooner LOUIS, first five-master on the Pacific Coast and named after Louis Simpson, San Francisco ship and mill owner; the WAWONA, MELANCTON and VIGILANT, and many others.
Heading out with a load of lumber.
Undated photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
In his four decades as a sailing man on the Pacific, nearly 35 years of which were as master, Capt Peasley never had a wreck. He came close once on a reef off the coast of Australia, and another time in a boisterous blow inside the Straits of Juan de Fuca, but both times good seamanship cheated the sea of its prey.
Born in Maine, Capt Peasley comes of a long line of seafaring men. Like his ancestors, he went to sea at a tender age and at 22, he was entrusted with his first command. Most of his seafaring life he spent on the Pacific, and to South Africa he went only in Kyne's imagination, there to further the 'Blue Star' line's interests by subduing that redoubtable person called "All-Hands-and-Feet."
The roughest sea Capt Peasley ever experienced was in late January 1922, when he was a few hundred miles off the coast of Washington with the schooner VIGILANT. A hurricane blew up, the same storm that felled billions of feet of Western WA timber.
The log of that voyage told a vivid story of a tumultuous sea after the barometer skidded to 29.01 and a gale of 100-mile intensity raged for four hours. Mrs. Peasley was along, and she says it was a harrowing experience, although the stout VIGILANT survived without great damage.
Recently the sturdy VIGILANT was reported long overdue in a bad storm. En route to Honolulu from Seattle, she was out 53 days before word was heard of her on the Pacific Coast. Capt Peasley's faith in the staunch craft was vindicated, when she limped into port, pretty well battered, but still sailing. A couple of seamen were hurt in the raging seas that smashed over the VIGILANT.
On Grays Harbor there are legendary tales of windjammer skippers who sailed their ships right up to the docks at Hoquiam and Aberdeen. That was a matter of some 12 miles of what was then a tortuous channel. It is not all legend. Twenty years ago Capt Peasley sailed the schooner FRED J. WOOD over the bar and almost up to Hoquiam.
"I could have warped her up to the dock at Blagen's mill, I think," said Peasley, "but a dredge was squatted right in the middle of the channel at Grays Harbor City and we had to let the tugboat hook on. That tug had tried to keep up with us all the way from Westport, and believe me, we gave them a race!"
Capt Peasley was a vigorous man, young looking and with ever a twinkle in his keen eyes. He stood about six feet three inches and had the straight figure of youth. His famous mustache and shock of black hair were but slightly touched with gray. Before he started on his new job with the state liquor control board he was a faithful attendant at meetings of the Aberdeen lodge of Elks, where a special seat was always his.
Before the war he and Kyne met occasionally, but for many years the famous writer and noted mariner never crossed trails. If and when they do, there should result an interesting reunion and a fine picture for the newspapers."
Above text from the Eugene Register Guard. 29 March 1930.
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|Auxiliary schooner SANWAN, 1930.|
107.6' x 26' x 15'
Designed and built by Robert Moran.
Launched at his estate on Orcas Island, WA., 1917.
Date stamped original from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
1931, July 14:
|Capt "Matt" Peasley |
Aboard LINDA (ex-ROAMER)
Seattle, WA., dated 14 July 1931.
Click to enlarge.
Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©