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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 January 2018

❖ RICHARDSON to SMITH ISLAND ❖ with June Burn, 1930

Richardson store and oil dock, 1958.
Lopez Island, San Juan Archipelago.
Original photo from the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society©
"Off to Smith Island with Capt. John Thompson of the little boat JEAN G. Down the slender strips of gravel between rail fences, the island lying trim and narrow north and south, the sea and its islands falling away to the east and west.
      Down into the cup of the island past Hummel Lake, glittering in the sun, the sun on grass, on plowed fields.
      The tide is out so that when we reach the dock at Richardson we must climb down spikes driven into a piling and so onto the deck of the Jean G.
      The captain takes aboard supplies for the radio and lighthouse tenders on Smith Island. In a few minutes, we are chugging southward towards the isolated dot lying off Whidbey Island, Island County.
      On our starboard bow Woody Island (called Buck Island on my map) with its 'Chateau' built to hug and straddle and fit the snags of a big gray rock. As we leave the scant protection of Woody and Long Islands to go rolling and plunging into the great swells of Fuca the captain lashes down his tender, his freight and whatever is loose on deck. There is a wind from the southwest to augment the swells so that we do considerable rolling and wallowing, now on top of the long hummock of a wave, now in the cradle between two such peripatetic ridges. The Captain stands on his short, stocky, seaworthy legs apparently unconscious of the roll. But I can't stand up at all.
      Halfway to the island, the eclipse of the sun darkens the world, but we have no smoked gasses through which to see the shadow of the moon swing leisurely athwart that golden prow.
      As we approach Smith the captain points out Minor Island that at very low tide is a mere spit but between which and Smith the JEAN G. can go at extreme high tide. Thus casually does land become island or peninsula and I used to think an island was fixed geographic identity!
      Capt Thompson makes four trips a month to this small fifty-acre island stop which a great light guides wayfaring ships. He brings the mail, supplies of food, instruments sent out by the government to the lone exiles who tend the light and the radio and the compass.

SMITH ISLAND
Light was first shown at this station 18 October 1858
This is a few years after June Burn's visit on the JEAN G.
USCG Photo from the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society©
As we come around the spit to the dock on the south side of Smith, we see the whole population of eight or ten persons waiting on the beach. For the mail. The captain takes the mail in the first boatload of us and eager hands grab it. One man empties the box, scatters the letters on the ground and in the lee of the boathouse everyone stirs the pile to find his own. In a half a minute or less every man and woman is holding an open letter in his hand, reading. Other letters wait between the fingers for their turn.
      Mail every eight days! It isn't so long to wait if one is frantic with hurry and work. But if one is living in such comparative solitude with so few contacts and such exacting tasks, eight days is an eternity.
      We climbed the always immaculate circular stairs to the light in its dome. From there all of Puget Sound in a magnificent scape of land and sea. Mt. Rainier and the Olympics to the south. The Cascades, Baker, and blue foothills eastward. The Canadian Coast range across the rim of the north and the hills and mountains of Vancouver on the west. I thought if I strained my eyes around that slow bend of Juan de Fuca that I might see the ocean itself but I couldn't. What a spot in which to work! What grandeur in every direction! For all its solitude, its loneliness I think I'd like keeping the light on Smith Island.
      We went into the compass room where an operator is on duty day and night. A ship in a fog can send out a request to be located and the compass man will place him with nice exactness. No big boat equipped with radio need ever pile up on rocks. If the pilot is in doubt he can get his exact position. Of course, the trouble is that the pilot isn't in doubt and so he doesn't bother asking for a position and thus occasionally finds himself piled up of a gray foggy morning on a bleak craggy rock.
      Everything on Smith Island is trim and neat. The whole island looks like a big private lawn with a little cluster of willows in the middle. The winds shriek there and the very grass is put to it to hold its roots. But what a place to live! Let's go into lighthouse service! Thank you, Captain John, for a memorable experience. See you tomorrow, June."
Above text from Puget Soundings. Burn, June. 1930

(Sorry, no photo of the Jean G. on file.)
There is a post on Saltwater People Log about the salvage and removal of the Smith Island Light by Leiter Hockett working for historian Jim Gibbs HERE
      If you'd like to read more about the history of this lightstation, Historian Lucile McDonald wrote an article published in Puget Sound Maritime's Sea Chest journal of September 1981. It has been posted on this Log HERE

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