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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.

06 August 2017

❖SAN JUAN BOATS OF YESTERYEAR ❖

ALVERENE
Capt. Bill Kasch,
Anacortes, WA.

Photo courtesy of maritime historian J. Robin Paterson.

Perhaps the most idyllic physical features in Washington are concentrated in the San Juan Islands. Here is a natural topography encompassing more than 150 islands, considered by many persons to be unsurpassed for natural beauty and interest.
      Early-day commercial transportation among the islands, with its colorful sidelights, is recalled by Mary Kasch Nollan. Mary's father, Capt. William Kasch, or Captain Bill, as he was called, pioneered commercial-shipping, passenger and mail service in the San Juan Islands, around the turn of the century.
      "Because my father was a man of the sea, I always was conscious of wind, rain, and fog, as a child growing up in Anacortes," said Mrs. Nollan, who retains many vivid memories of the era of transportation by small vessels.
      The Kasch family came west from Iowa Falls, in 1889, and one year later settled in Anacortes. Mary's grandfather, Ernest Kasch, opened the Kasch Merchantile Co, one of the first stores in the community. Elected city treasurer of Anacortes in 1902, he served until his death in 1907.
      William Kasch, was 16 years old when his parents made the move west. The young man delved into various pursuits before finding his field of greatest interest. In 1900 he bought a 40-ft gasoline-engine launch, which named the Molly Kasch after his mother. This boat, one of the first gasoline craft operating on the Sound, was used to carry freight and passengers among the islands in a jobbing venture.
      From this humble beginning, Kasch expanded rapidly. With a partner, F.H. King, he formed the Kasch Navigation Co. In 1911, with his brother, Capt. Frank Kasch (later living in Edmonds), and A.L. Marsh of Cottonwood Island, he organized the Inter-Island Navigation Co, of which he was president and manager.
      "As a historical note, my father had the distinction of operating the first passenger boat with regularly scheduled service among the San Juan Islands, running from Bellingham and Anacortes," said Mary. "A new boat, the Anglo-Saxon, was purchased to begin the run in 1905. Although I was too young to remember the event without an assist from the family album and my parent's description, christening this boat was one of the highlights of my childhood.
      "According to newspaper clippings from the Bellingham paper of that day, the Anglo-Saxon was a gasoline launch capable of traveling ten miles an hour and carrying 50 passengers, and not a prettier model then floated on the waters of Puget Sound.
      "A short time after the run was in operation, meeting train and boat schedules to Seattle, my father received the first franchise to carry the daily mail to the San Juan Islands."
      
KINGSTON
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©

       Names of later boats owned by Kasch and his companies were the Yale, the Yankee Doodle, the Yankee II, the Concordia, the Georgia, the City of Anacortes, the Bainbridge, the steamer Kingston, and the Alvrene.
      Scheduled stops of the steamboat Yankee II, according to a timetable of 1915, now in the Nollan scrapbook, were at Urban, Doe Bay, Olga, Eastsound, Shaw Island, Orcas, West Sound, Deer Harbor, Friday Harbor, Lopez, Port Stanley, Anacortes and Bellingham. 
      The early years of Capt Bill's nautical career are described by his daughter as happy-go-lucky days. Some of the farmer's made an annual ride to the city and paid their fare with a bucket of vegetables, or a bucket of clams.
      "If a passenger was short of cash, he always could work his passage by helping to carry freight on and off the boat. I remember one bill that was paid with half a beef! since homes in those days were without refrigeration, most of the meat went to our neighbors."
      To ask a favor of the captain was not at all unusual. There were errand requests, such a picking up dentures and taking them to Bellingham to have a broken tooth replaced. There were shopping lists to fill for Islanders unable to leave their homes––maybe five yards of gingham, assorted groceries, a new frying pan or kettle, Sometimes the skipper would take a note to a Bellingham doctor saying that a baby's formula was causing distress, and shouldn't it be changed."
      There were sick calls when the captain would go miles out of his way to some little island, where there wasn't even a landing. A red flag fastened to a rock or tied to a tree meant as an emergency.
      In those cases, the captain would row ashore in the Doodle, as the dinghy was called, and find out the trouble. Many times he picked up a sick man, gave him as smooth a ride as was possible in the wave-tossed dinghy, transferred him to the big boat and took him to a doctor or hospital.
      "Capt Bill's clients were first and foremost his friends, and he was devoted to those beyond the call of duty. Long hours were accepted as all in a day's work. For years he was up before daybreak and left Anacortes with his boat at 6 AM. In stormy weather, 8 or 9 o'clock at night was not an unusual hour for his return."
      As the years went by, there was, of course, competition for the pioneer captain. At one time he found himself engaged in what he called a "merry jitney war," when he carried passengers for 10 cents a trip to save his business.
      While keeping abreast of the times, Kasch progressively replaced his little boats with bigger and faster craft. Meanwhile, trails and wagon roads on the larger islands became highways suitable for auto travel. With the advent of the modern auto ferry, a new pattern of island travel was ushered in. But this was near the end of Capt Bill's day.
      Except for a period in WW I, Kasch served the San Juan Islands for the first quarter of the century. In 1917 he enlisted in the merchant marine and shipped out on the Westley, bound for Norfolk, VA. There he was assigned to the Omsk, a Russian ship with a motley international crew, which was commissioned by the Shipping board as part of General John J. Pershing's 'Bridge of Ships.' * During the war, he was shipwrecked, which contributed to later ill health and his death in 1927.
      Adelaide Davis Kasch, who became the captain's bride in 1898, carried on her husband's business for several years after his death, with the help of her sons, Bill, Jr, and Joe. Eventually, the company was sold to the Puget Sound Navigation Co.
      Of the four children, son Joseph became a captain of the WA State ferries, and Norine Kasch Fulmar became the wife to Capt. Alan Fulmer, fleet captain and superintendent of the Marine Reserve Fleet at Astoria, OR.
Text by Charlotte Widrig. Published by the Seattle Times.

*After crossing the U-Boat-infested Atlantic, Kasch returned to Seattle to catch the ill-fated Blackford which had just been completed.
      The Blackford went down in a hurricane off the coast to Mexico, leaving its battered crew stranded with little but fish and turtles to eat for nearly two weeks when they were finally picked up. Anacortes American. March 1981. Courtesy of the Anacortes Historical Museum 


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