|From the library of the S.P.H.S.|
Blanchard, Norman C., with Stephen Wilen. Victoria, BC; Horsdal & Schubart Publishers. Ltd.
"In 1778, the sailors' sailor Capt. Cook blithely sailed past the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the 15-mile-wide entrance to Puget Sound. He didn't have a clue there was anything down there. In the 1920s and 1930s, the golden age of yachting, publications featured who was who in New York, Newport, and Boston. They also didn't have a clue there was anything out there in Puget Sound.
This book is the opening of a long-lost treasure trove of information about some of yachting's finest designers, builders, and sailors, whom virtually no one knew about. Although the book's title refers to the West Coast, it is focused on Puget Sound not only because the chronicler, Norm Blanchard, built boats in Seattle, but also because that's where most of the action was. Puget Sound and its adjoining passages are blessed with islands, fjords, bays, and coves unnumbered. Its forests provided unending supplies of high quality, long-length native woods.
This environment spawned numerous boat yards and attracted great craftsmen. In fact, they were so busy that in 1936 the Board of Education of Seattle, the funky little town in the center of all this activity, hired one of the builders, Jim Chambers, to establish a boatbuilding school, Edison Tech Boatbuilding, in order to keep up with the growing demand for the wooden boats. That school, now Seattle Community College School of Marine Carpentry, is still in operation because yacht clients with high standards of excellence find the best quality craftsmanship there in Puget Sound.
The special wonder revealed by this book is that the West Coast boats were designed mainly by homegrown folks, including Ted Geary, Ben Seaborn, Ed Monk, and Bill Garden. Geary and Seaborn designed most of the boats Norm mentions, and thus he talks most about their personalities, as well as the outstanding vessels they drafted. Norm does a good job of bringing these two geniuses to life. West Coast designers had little coverage during the high times of wooden yachts. But look at the photos, read of the vessels' performances, and believe that some of the Puget Sound naval architects should arguably be in the designers' Hall of Fame.
The first quarter of this book begins with a history of the Blanchard Boat Co and Norm Blanchard's family. So many exquisite yachts were launched there, mainly for the middle-class backbone of the West Coast. From 1905 to 1941 the yard's production was a long line of top design and fine craftsmanship. The work of the Blanchard Co was recognized and praised by the designers and the clients; thus orders kept coming for more boats. However, typical of so many renowned yards, Norm states, 'Except for the SILVER KING, and maybe one or two other contracts, the company had been so unprofitable in the prewar years that we could barely justify our existence. If Dad had any business sense at all he would have given up years earlier, but building boats was all he ever wanted to do.' One may well assume that great boatbuilders are born that way, and the profit-and-loss departments of their brains are only vestigial.
The book is a series of memories narrated by Norm Blanchard and recorded and edited by Stephen Wilen. Norm couldn't be a more ideal chronicler of the happenings in Puget Sound. He has an encyclopedic memory, a great photo collection, and he treats the cast of characters involved with the yachting scene in a straight-arrow manner, compassionate and nonjudgmental. However, he hands out a few sharp rebukes to a couple of customers for their lack of courtesy, and to William Atkin, the naval architect, for sloppy tables of offsets.
Norm is a kind and patient soul but he suffers no fools. However, Norm doesn't knock people for trying. I enjoyed this story about the man who in 1932 commissioned the beautiful 58-ft sloop CIRCE, designed by Ben Seaborn when Seaborn was in high school.
Ben Seaborn designer
Ray Cooke, owner.
Seattle, WA. 1934
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
CIRCE had the fine lines of a fast vessel, but the owner insisted on buying cheap sails that would become baggy in a short time. The sloop never did particularly well at races. Norm kindly concludes this story with: 'Anyway, the CIRCE was a wonderful design, especially for a kid who was still in high school when he designed her, and we have Ray Cooke to thank for her existence. Ray Cooke was never the yachtsman that he aspired to be, but he was a man who played a big role in my early years of sailing.'
Norm also shares other perceptive observations about the flashy guys and the spear carriers he feels played significant roles in the West Coast yachting scene. He is a good journalist and senses interplay of attitudes. 'My acquaintance with Roy was made when he was having his first ever sail with Geary on SIR TOM. I think he thought that Ted [Geary] was going to buy a Cadillac from him, and I'm just as certain that Ted had thought that Roy [Corbett] was going to have himself a yacht.'
The work of Ted Geary especially shines through in this book. His sailing vessels were virtually unbeatable. SIR TOM, an R-class sloop, lost only one race and that was to PIRATE, another Geary-designed "R" boat. His motor yachts, including MALIBU, PRINCIPIA, CANIM, AND BLUE PETER, are still going strong and still calendar art specimens of beautiful vessels.
Knee Deep in Shavings is a valuable part of our maritime heritage. It tells us in fresh words and many never-before-published photos how a small population, still carving its existence out of the wilderness, ensnared yachting as part of its life and created some of the most fabulous vessels imaginable."
This review was written by the late, great Dick Wagner for The Sea Chest, June 2001. The journal of Puget Sound Maritime, Seattle, WA.
Here is a link to a post on one chapter about sailor Roy Corbett, from Knee Deep in Shavings by Blanchard on S.P.H.S. and
another link here on a chapter about sailing in the San Juans, also by Blanchard.