"The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down." A. Whitney Brown.

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San Juan Archipelago, 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 650, 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.

07 December 2019

❖ ROCHE HARBOR: COMPANY TOWN ❖

   
Early photo of the Roche Harbor Lime Kilns
postmarked 1909
San Juan Island, WA.
Click to enlarge.
Photo by J. A. McCormick.
"History has not recorded the name of the canny Briton at English Camp who first discovered that the hills and cliffs which surrounded the idyllic spot were almost solid limestone. That rock is very valuable mineral. It can be reduced to a compound called “lime,” which is crucial to the steel industry, the paper industry, agriculture, and concrete technology. 
      All that is needed is some strong backs to transport it to a plant and an oven that can reach nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature the rock becomes ‘calcined,’ it changes to a water-soluble residue. High-grade lime has been in demand for centuries in every industrial nation. So those hills around Garrison Bay were even more valuable than if they had been solid coal.
      During the eleven years that the British Marines were quartered at English Camp on the northeast corner of San Juan Island, the chief occupation of the soldiers was not patrolling the area to resist invasions by the Yankees, or even to fight off occasional raids by the Haida tribesmen. Lt. Roche kept most of them busy quarrying the precious stone and stoking the fires under two primitive line kilns that they had installed nearby.
      Hogsheads of the chemical were shipped by the Hudson's Bay Company to British possessions around the world.
      When the English lost domain over the island in the decision handed down by the Emperor of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm, the Crown lost access to a precious resource. Limestone in commercially worthwhile amounts is found only on San Juan Island in San Juan County. 
      The production of lime and its marketing, even though it was only a trickle from some quarries and kilns on Orcas and the San Juan Islands, attracted considerable interest from mining interests in the lower Sound communities. One of the most keenly-interested Yankees was a young attorney by the name of John Stafford McMillin who had been raised in a lime quarrying county in Illinois. He came to the Pacific Northwest in 1884, to practice law in Tacoma. When he discovered that there was a source of lime in the lands to the north, he bought into the fledgling Tacoma Lime Co and began to deal with buying and selling the commodity.

ROCHE HARBOR,
Inscribed "Largest Lime quarries
west of the Mississippi River."
      When the British Marines packed up and left San Juan Island two kilns were shut down.
      Two Englishmen who had been prospecting for gold in California heard about the limestone quarry at the bay now named for the Commandant of the camp, Roche Harbor. In 1881 they bought the rights to the quarry and the two kilns and began to turn out lime.
      McMillin, who had been able to find only a small amount of limestone near Orting for his new company got wind of the operation on San Juan Island. He began bargaining with the Scurr Brothers, Robert, and Richard, in 1884. By 1886, he had managed to buy the business from the Englishmen. He continued to operate the two army-installed kilns and created a new company, The Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Co.
      Mining engineers calculated that the lode of limestone was three-quarters of a mile long and a quarter-mile wide. Not only was there enough rock for many decades of mining, but it was estimated at 98.32% pure carbonate of lime. What McMillin found was the most valuable supply of high-grade lime in the world.
The Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Co
The Company Town,
San Juan Island, WA.
click image to enlarge.
Undated photo.
      In a short time, McMillin added three more kilns to the two original ones, which was called Battery #1. Then he built another, much larger plant comprising 8 kilns––Battery #2. These thirteen retorts consumed a prodigious amount of firewood––128 cords per day. The land attached to the Lime Works offered 4,000 acres of timber for the furnaces.
      McMillin created his own little feudal domain. His company town offered the workers trim little houses, the store sold them supplies––both were paid for by scrip which was issued instead of money in pay envelopes. The workforce was made up of Orientals and single and married Caucasians. The single men were housed in a barracks. The Orientals were segregated into a cluster of houses over near the kilns referred to as 'Jap Town.' At its peak, there were 800 people who directly or indirectly were controlled by the Lime Baron.
      While the injustices of the 'Company Town' system were prevalent in Roche Harbor, the Island community did have some needed facilities. There was a Company doctor, Victor Capron. There was a school for the children of the workers. The was also a Methodist Church.
      Although the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Co community was a virtual fiefdom to itself, its influence was felt throughout the rest of the Island. When a regular newspaper came to the Island, it fell immediately under the influence of the magnate from Roche Harbor. McMillin became enormously wealthy and he was catered to by the Republican State administration and the business community.
      The barrel factory had a phenomenal history of success in manufacturing. For centuries, barrels had been made by fashioning staves which were cut and beveled and bent into arcs to be put together with steel bands. It was a time-consuming and expensive operation. In 1897, McMillin invented a machine for carving hollowed-out barrel halves. A log the proper size for a  barrel would be split in half and carved by a blade into a half-section of a barrel. When the two halves were finished, they were joined and sealed to make a 
'staveless barrel. The shop was set up on the grounds and called the "Staveless Barrel Co.' With only 50 employees, the machines could turn out 4,000 barrels per day. This was more than enough to meet the demands of the lime works which boasted that they produced '1,500 barrels per day.' The surplus barrels were sold to shippers of other bulk products.
      Whether old 'John S.' himself actually invented the wondrous barrel carving machine is not known. But the boss of the Lime Works had plenty of ingenuity when it came to financing. His fancy didos in the field of stock transfer and manipulation of funds almost earned him a jail sentence in 1906. The barrel company was involved.
      
The company town of the
Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Co.
The quarry, the kilns, the McMillin home, a store,
Hotel de Haro, a home for the Doctor, and the
docks for shipping of the lime barrels.
Undated photo, click to enlarge.
These four photos from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society©



Back in the days when the containers were made by artisans, Mr. McMillin created the plant as a separate entity. It was incorporated by the sale of two shares of stock: one purchased by him and the other a Tacoma investor named J.M. Keen, price––price $100 each.
      John S. now had two hats: lime baron and barrel magnate. Wearing the manufacturer's hat, he asked for a contract to provide all the barrels for the lime works. With the quick change of headgear and he accepted the kind offer on behalf of the lime company (which had other stockholders, incidentally.)
      In 1897, Mr. McMillin the inventor sold the new milling machine he had created to Mr. McMillin the Manufacturer––the price was $2,300. While he was in a dickering mode with the coopering McMillin, he sold the right to use the machine to fulfill the contract to supply the barrels to the lime miner. The price was $249,800 which was the exact amount of the stock issue on the Barrel Co. The stock was all owned, except for the one share to Keen, by Mr. McMillin. He bought the shares by signing a note for them.
      Now we have a quarter-million-dollar factory, almost wholly owned by one man, with $200 in its treasury. John S. considered that somewhat untidy––money just lying around unused. So he billed the company $200 for his services in preparing the articles of incorporation. The company, with no demurral, paid the bill.
      The minority stockholders in the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Co watched this juggling act with consternation. First of all, he became the majority holder by voting himself a raise in pay, even though the company was losing money. With the paychecks, he bought up most of the stock from frightened stockholders.
      John S. now firmly held all of the controls over the mining, packaging, and distribution of the lime––except one––the transportation of it.
      This called for the acquisition of another hat. It was not difficult for him to get since he was a wheel-horse in the Republican Party in Washington. The governor rewarded his contributions to the party coffers by giving him the job of State Railroad Commissioner.
      The principal duty of this office was to ensure that all shippers were subject to the same rates. Mr. McMillin undertook the job and administered it firmly––with one minor exception ––he permitted the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Co to be granted a rate 2 1/2 cents per barrel lower than that of a competitor.
      Eventually, the competitor, E.V. Cowell and several of the manhandled ex-stockholders forced the many-faceted panjandrum into a court of law. In front of a Federal Judge in Seattle, words like 'filcher, 'defrauder,' highbinder,' and 'venal bureaucrat' were bandied about.
      It will come as no surprise to students of the age of rampant laissez-faire in business, a period called by President McKinley 'the Great Barbecue,' that all of the personages represented by John S. McMillin emerged as Simon-pure. With one exception. He did resign his job as Railroad Commissioner."
Jo Bailey-Cummings and Al Cummings. The Settler's Own Stories: San Juan: The Powder-Keg Island. Friday Harbor, WA. The Beach Combers, Inc. 1987. 
Authors of Gunkholing in the San Juans.    

01 December 2019

❖ THE CAPTAIN OF YELLOW ISLAND ❖

Lewis Dodd (1892-1960) and
Elizabeth 'Tib' Van Order Dodd (1895-1989)
New residents crafting their home on Yellow Island,
San Juan Archipelago, WA.
Photo courtesy of the Dodd family.


"Yellow Island remains the kingdom of the paradoxical man who sculpted its 11 acres into a monument to himself. From 1947 to his death in 1960, Lewis Dodd and his wife Elizabeth lived alone on Yellow, fashioning a way of life as unique as their home.
      Lew Ddd's whole life was an apprenticeship for the Yellow years when he wrought his masterpiece. Born in 1892 and raised on Long Island, New York, he ran away to sea when he was 15 years old to sail before the mast on square-riggers. He tried cowboying, served in WW I Navy, married Elizabeth ('Tib') in 1920, and became the first mate of merchantman before he went ashore in 1921 to try the real estate game in New York. Hating the confinement, he came west looking for freedom.
      The Dodds found it on Orcas Island, practicing subsistence agriculture until 1947. During these years Lew perfected his frontier skills, and Tib, too, learned the skills necessary to raise a family without electricity or plumbing.
      In a Northwest still wild enough for creating one's own niche, Lew's idiosyncracies molded their lives. He was determined to eschew all frills. Lew was always the captain often his way meant the Navy way. His daughter Sally Hall remembers him as moody, difficult to live with. He sometimes expressed bitterly his sense of entrapment by familiar responsibilities.
      Lew's portrait reveals a compulsion to be unique, whatever the cost. His family shared the joys and sufferings of a man who never quite grew up, a man who mourned the loss of the frontier so deeply that he re-created it in a self-imposed life of struggle; a mate so self-determined that one wonders if he wasn't running from doubt, a man so stamped by the sea that he imposed its harsh regimen of work and discipline on his family.
Arriving on Yellow Island with logs towed from
their Orcas Island farm.
1947.
Courtesy of the Dodd family. 
      By 1947 Lew Dodd was ready for Yellow Island. He bought the chip of wilderness for $8,000, sold his farm, and moved aboard. The poet was finally in the presence of his theme. After drilling a well, he and Tib camped in a tent for two years while they built their cabin. Except for hinges, nails, and windows, they beachcombed all the materials. Working from dawn to dusk, doing everything from scratch, was back-breaking, but Lew persevered because he would not allow himself the luxury of giving up.
Lew and Tib Dodd camping at home.
Yellow Island, San Juan Archipelago, WA.
  Dated 1947.
Courtesy of the Dodd family.
      Tib also exhibited high courage––enduring living conditions, lugging materials, and helping Lew lift the heaviest beams. Both had the will to succeed that the venture demanded.
      Lew accomplished much and visualizing lucidly what he wanted, his work is lasting and good. The cabin has needed no maintenance in 30 years. It fits so perfectly into Yellow's landscape that Frank Lloyd Wright couldn't have designed it better. It grows effortlessly out of the rock surface and wind-skewed madronas. The flow of line of roof and wall, door and chimney, has poetry that speaks volumes for Lew Dodd's sensitivity. The trails are laid with skills: even the outhouse has a millionaires' view.
      First, Lew paced of the 27-by-33-foot floor and leveled it with beach gravel. A level, rule, and square did the rest. Stockaded logs, planked on the outside and insulated with sod and cedar bark, form the walls, whose seams are caulked inside with twisted cedar bark. Adzed cedar rafters support a ceiling and roof of hand-cut shakes. The rafters rest on a huge oaken ridgepole that may be a catwalk washed down from a Fraser River mine. The floor and Dutch doors were hatch covers. There are snug bunks, rope-handled storage lockers fashioned of dynamite crates, a sewing box made from a wooden rigging block, stools fashioned from whale vertebrae, windows salvaged from a chicken coop, and a ship's identification timber built into a bench. The yawning fireplace is native stone cemented around a chimney of welded oil drums. the hearthstone is living rock. An iron wagon tire forms the fireplace arch, and the poker is a whaler's flensing tool for stripping blubber from whales.
Dodd cabin interior
with the native stone hearth.

Yellow Island, San Juan Archipelago, WA.
Photo courtesy of the Dodd family.
      All is of a piece with the man, the island, and the beach. Lew skippered Yellow like a ship: perhaps he chose it as the closest approximation of life on shipboard, the perfect solution for a seamen searching for a frontier. Every barnacled, worm-eaten surface is worn with love and age, and the whole forms an intricate montage of flotsam, jetsam, and craftmanship, pleasing the eye and reflecting Dodd's uncompromising individuality.
      Lew probably regretted finishing the cabin in 1949, for he continued salvaging. He was a generation before his time; every possession was recycled. Yet in other ways, he was of his time. He kept building with maniac energy. Robinson Crusoe tells us why: A marooned man of action must be doing! A root cellar, workshop, boathouse, guest cabin, several beach buildings rose simply from an obsession to use material. These structures share one feature––low doors. Lew was 5-ft 3-inches tall, and he wreaked a short man's vengeance on all who came later.
Dodd home on Yellow Island,
San Juan Archipelago, WA.
Dated 1948.
Click image to enlarge.
Courtesy of the Dodd family.
      The Dodd's full, natural life was not escapism. Their time was absorbed by living. In 13 years the Dodds rarely left the island. They both read hugely, and the cabin remains full of books. Viewed against his building achievement, Lew's lack of interest in any fiction except sea stories suggest that his imagination was confined to fantasies he could build. There is a fairy-tale quality to the cabins, hideaways, stone-cairned flagpoles, and the Jacob's ladder disappearing into a tall fir. Tib wrote poetry, studied birds, and botanized. Both kept journals. Lew's describes mainly the weather but reveals his healthy self-esteem and ready denunciation of other ways of living––the writings of a man reassuring himself.
      ' I don' want to sell my life for a jingling pocket, a stiff uncomfortable collar, flabby muscles, and a bilious complexation. I've chosen to live, however precariously, in the atmosphere of pure air and pebbly beaches. I think it is lovelier to come to the end of the trail through physical struggle surrounded by the things an outdoor man loves.'
      Lew's ashes are interred on Yellow in the meadow he named Hummingbird Hill. If you would see his monument it is neither here nor in his journals, but in Yellow's buildings and beauty, where he laid his heart. Tib lives in Seattle. She no longer visits Yellow, but daughter Sally said her husband Joe spend their summers there.
      The family has given The Nature Conservancy a year's option to purchase Yellow because they would rather ensure it will be preserved with the gentleness Lew Dodd's memory deserves than chance the heartache of private sale. The Dodds reveled in the thought of passing their island on to posterity and now that dream may be realized in a more lasting way than even Lew hoped. Another generation that has come around the wong way to values Lew Dodd presciently understood may now inherit his dream."
Source: Robert A. Stafford, Pacific Search. Nov. 1979. From the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society.
Thank you to two supportive San Juan County friends, one who donated this 40-year-old article and another who provided an introduction to Sally, Jo, and family. 
For more up to date information on the preservation of the island please click here

18 November 2019

❖ PROTHERO'S GLORY OF THE SEAS ❖ (Updated)

Anyone living in the Pacific Northwest, faintly interested in boats under construction, the craftsman doing the work, the celebration of a completed vessel preparing for launching, the classics polished to the nines for the wooden boat shows –– almost everyone within the smell of salt spray has heard of the boatbuilder, Frank Prothero (1905-1996.) He told a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter that he has built upwards of 250 boats in his career.
Here are a few photos and an essay about his last, the GLORY OF THE SEAS.


Frank Prothero
Master boatbuilder

At work in the summer of 1986,
Lake Union, Seattle, WA.

Photo by Liddell from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society©

      Words shared by the Wooden Boat magazine senior editor, Tom Jackson,  about Mr. Prothero and his beautiful wooden schooner Glory of the Seas; 
Number 150, September/October 1999. Thank you, Tom.

"Years ago, after a Museum Small Craft Association meeting at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, a group of maritime historians bundled into some of the center's small boats and set off across Lake Union to visit, among other places, the legendary Frank Prothero's floating shop. He was in fine form that day, thoroughly at home, and comfortable under the microscope. His appreciative guests had a lot to admire stickered stacks of enviable wood, tools that had all the signs of honest purpose and use, examples of tight and interesting joiner work in progress––and GLORY OF THE SEAS, the 65' schooner Prothero had been building for himself for many years.
GLORY OF THE SEAS
after the christening, but still on her cradle,
Lake Union, Seattle.
July 1986
Click image to enlarge.
Photograph by C. Fujii
From the archives of the Saltwater People Log©


Hand-carved teak covering board
by Frank Prothero
for his GLORY, Lake Union, 1986.
Photo by G. Gilbert
from the archives of the Saltwater People Log©
Sign courtesy of K. Pool,
for Saltwater People post of
Glory of the Seas built by F. Prothero.

      The hull had long been finished and was afloat alongside the barge. Her builder had most recently been engaged in below-deck joiner work. Every detail showed remarkable workmanship. Carvings, for example, had been worked into the rounded corners of cabin bulkheads at the end of the saloon. For those who had been aware of Prothero's sailing yachts––ALCYONE, now based in Port Townsend, is a great and familiar example––GLORY OF THE SEAS was the one everyone was waiting for. It was to be Prothero's final statement, the crowning achievement of a lifetime of experience. In his interview with Peter Spectre in 1982, when he was already a decade into the project, Prothero spoke prophetic words, 'I don't think I'll live long enough to finish her. I don't see how I could.'
Frank Prothero
Pulling on the mooring lines of 
GLORY OF THE SEAS.
Summer 1986, Seattle, WA.
Photo by Liddell from the archives of
the Saltwater People Log©
    
Going back a few years at Frank's shop,
66-ft diesel launch
One of the biggest built in Seattle in the 1950s.
She floated free of her week-end launching
at the Prothero Boat Co, 29 Oct. 1956.
She was designed by Willam Garden-
Phil Brinck Assoc. for the Lakeside Gravel Co.
She will be finished by Vic Franck's Boat Co.
Photographer unknown. From the archives
of the Saltwater People Historical Society©
In December 1995, only a few years after that visit by the museum folks, a fire broke out in Prothero's shop. Fortunately, just before the fire Prothero had been moving to his son Bill's place in Lynnwood, so most of the tools were saved. Employees of Lake Union Dry Dock bravely cut GLORY OF THE SEAS' mooring lines and maneuvered her out of danger. The shop burned and sank. It was raised, however, and today it is being used by another boatbuilder.
      Less than a year after the fire, 16 November 1996, Prothero died at 91. But it wasn't a case of heartbreak. Bill says the fire was 'just one more thing to overcome' for someone used to repairing boats. 'Father wasn't trying to finish this boat.' he says. He had finished boats the same size in less than a year with his crew. 'He had been working on her for 30-years before he died. He just enjoyed, working on boats. He used to say the only reason to take them out was to have an excuse to work on them when you get back. He was still working on the boat the night before he passed away,' despite losing a leg to complications of diabetes. However, GLORY OF THE SEAS will be completed. Bill Prothero will retire in a few years, and he has been slowly finishing the schooner, preparing for the day when he will use her as a cruising summer home for his family.
      GLORY OF THE SEAS is moored today [1999] near Lake Union Dry Dock, not far from where Prothero's shop used to be, tethered in among the sheet-metal-sided buildings of the dry dock and its neighbors. She rides tranquilly amid the noise and haste of what's left of the bustling Lake Union working waterfront that the elder Prothero and many of his relatives knew well in its heyday. Most recently, Bill has added ballast, installed a 100-hp John Deere engine, repainted, and revarnished her brightwork. He recently hauled her to install through-hull fittings for the engine and repaint her bottom. 'The boat is being worked on, but not very fast,' Bill says. As of March, he was hoping to have the boat over to the Center for Wooden Boats for the July 4 Lake Union Wooden Boat Show.
      GLORY OF THE SEAS may yet be the glory of Puget Sound."
Prothero admires his schooner
GLORY OF THE SEAS
after 28 years.
Dated September 1993.
Photo by G. Gilbert from the
archives of the Saltwater People Log©
Photographs of GLORY OF THE SEAS in November 2019, in Port Townsend, Washington. 
Glory of the Seas
Photo courtesy of K. Pool, 11/2019.
Click image to enlarge.
Location: Port of Port Townsend, WA.
For Saltwater People Log.

Glory of the Seas
Courtesy of K. Pool, 11/2019.
Click image to enlarge.
Port Townsend, WA.
for Saltwater People Log.

Glory of the Seas
with some red cedar planks removed
that expose her rotten frames on the starboard side.
Click image to enlarge.
Photo courtesy of K. Pool, 11/2019
for Saltwater People Log.
When this was posted she was still ashore in the
Port of Port Townsend, WA.

11 November 2019

❖ BATTLESHIP USS MISSOURI "The Mighty MO" ❖

Battleship USS MISSOURI
888' of her in drydock at Puget Sound 
Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, WA., 1971.
She was in to have her bottom 
cleaned and painted, at a cost of 
$350,000. In 1970 the ship 
had 185,000 visitors.
AP Photo from the archives of the 
Saltwater People Log©

The USS MISSOURI
Length, 887' 3" x 108'2" x 28'11"
Speed 33 knots.
Displacement; 45,000.
Complement; 1,921.
Photo courtesy of the Battleship MISSOURI Memorial.
For more of her active duty, the website is HERE.
The USS MISSOURI was built at the Nw York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, where her keel was poured 6 Jan 1941.

1944: 29 January, she was christened at launch by Margaret Truman.
          11 June, the ship was commissioned as the USS MISSOURI.

1945: 2 September. Japan formally surrendered to the Allied Powers aboard the    MISSOURI in Tokyo Bay, ending WW II.

1953: 26 March. After completing his final mission, Cap. Edsall dies of a heart attack while entering port at Sasebo, Japan.

1955: 26 February. The MISSOURI was decommissioned and placed in mothballs at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, WA.

1971: The USS MISSOURI was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

1986: The MISSOURI was re-commissioned and underway in September for a historic around the world cruise.

1992: The ship was decommissioned for the second and final time.

1995: The MISSOURI was removed from the Navy's Ship Registry.

1998: The MISSOURI arrives off Waikiki as a donation to the USS MISSOURI Memorial Association (a Non-Profit.) 

1999: 29 January. The battleship opens to the public on Battleship Row, Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

01 November 2019

❖ COOKE, KECK, and THEIR GAL CIRCE ❖ (updated)

YACHT CIRCE 
with the setting sun, in the year of her birth
5 June 1932.

Low res scan of an original photo from the
Saltwater People Historical Society©
"CIRCE in Homer’s Odyssey was an enchantress that turned men into swine. In this modern-day tale, Stanton Keck is the sorcerer saving Circe from dry rot and turning the aging vessel into a sea goddess. Circe, a grand old racing yacht built in [1932], is being revived by Keck; a miraculous rescue for a once-proud beauty that has been living a life of ignominy for the past 15 years, more than once sinking at a Lake Union moorage.
      The 62-ft wooden sailboat, built by Ben Seaborn, is one of several splendid yachts that raced for more than 30 years on the west coast. A former crew member, Stanton Keck of Bellevue, is restoring the classic vessel, “mostly for nostalgic reasons, I guess.”
      “I sailed on Circe in the mid 1960s for a couple of years, then one day in 1972 I went to lunch at Franco’s (on Lake Union) and was going to show her to a friend. I’ve never seen such a mess in my life. She looked like a ghost ship.”
      Keck ended up buying 50 percent interest in the boat and moved Circe to Lake Washington in front of his Enetai home. He has stayed with his objective through two years of litigation involving disputes with Ben Seaborn’s twin brother, Jack who lives in Portland, OR., who owns the other 50 percent. Keck, a communications systems contractor, estimates the total cost of restoration at about $75,000.
      Ben Seaborn was only 16 when he designed the Circe. It was the start of a brilliant, sometimes controversial and short-lived career for a Seattle naval architect. According to one story, Seaborn received a slide rule for his ninth birthday, and a few years later had recorded on paper his first design concept of a big sailboat. The design reportedly was sent off to a prominent eastern yacht designer, who offered a great deal of encouragement to the youngster. One contemporary recalls that Ben Seaborn ‘was as close to a genius as anybody I’ve known.’ 

      Circe was built by Seaborn’s stepfather, Ray Cooke, and the boat raced by Cooke until his death in 1964. Seaborn was a regular member of the crew for almost 30 years. He passed away in 1960, age 45. 
      Circe weighs 42 tons, 14 in the keel. The beam measures 14-ft, 7-inches, and she draws 10-ft, 8-inches. Built originally as a cutter, the vessel was lengthened after several years to 65-ft and rigged as a yawl because it will be easier to steer and more comfortable on long charter runs.
      'One of the cotton head sails is as long as the boat, and the wood mast is 60-ft tall. It used to be 75-ft, but Cooke cut off 15-ft because it affected his handicap, having too much sail on top.'
      As one of the premier yachts on the Pacific Coast, Circe was the scratch boat for the Seattle Yacht Club for many years and sailed in half a dozen Transpacs and numerous Swiftsure races.
 

    
Racing Yacht Circe
Owned by Ray Cooke, SYC.
Photo 1934
Opening Day Regatta, on Lake Washington.

Click to enlarge.
Low res scan of an original photo from the
archives of the Saltwater People Log©

      On Circe’s first Transpac (Los Angeles to Honolulu) in 1933, the crew included Ben Seaborn as tactician, Jack Graham Jr., mate, John Dore Jr., (son of Seattle mayor), Jim Hastings, Jack Seaborn, and Bob Lampson. On the same race in 1936, the crew ran out of water a few days out of Honolulu. For awhile the men laughed about using beer to drink and to brush their teeth instead of water, but soon it became a matter of concern, a close call long remembered.
      'As a result,” explains Churchill Griffith, who joined the crew for the 1939 race, “we couldn’t get any water for anything except drinking. I think we only used about 20 gallons on the entire trip.'
      Griffith recalls Ben Seaborn’s pride in his navigational skills, in estimating and recording several days ahead the precise time, day, and minute the boat would arrive at a certain point. “On three different occasions I remember his coming within a minute or so of his estimate,” Griffiths says.
      Seaborn’s genius was utilized during WW II when he became deeply involved in the logistics of the Kaiser ship-a-day effort and the development of the B-17 production line at Boeing. He later designed the Thunderbird, a 26-ft sloop, at the request of the Douglas Fir Plywood Association. The plywood manufacturers wanted a kit design for a home-built boat; they got that, plus a boat which 20 years later still remained fiercely competitive. Some 2,000 Thunderbirds have been built, and they were sailed worldwide.
      Cooke, Circe’s builder, lived on the boat about 26 years. Since his death in [1963] 'not a drop of work had been done,' says Keck. 'The boat has been sitting in fresh water all those years.'
      In Circe’s teak salon, the bulkheads are papered with plaques—a reminder of a fine racing record when the yacht was riding high. The ups and downs of the classic seem strangely similar to those in the turbulent life of its designer, Ben Seaborn, but for Circe there’s now a second chance."
Words by Liz Schensted for Argus 1 May 1981.


Yacht CLARIBEL
Inscribed: Owner, Ray Cooke
9 May 1930.
This was the first year of
the Swiftsure Lightship Cup Race.
(see note below.)

Original photo from the archives of
the Saltwater People Historical Society©
1930:
"The Swiftsure Lightship Cup Race was born with the intent to 'sponsor ocean or offshore racing amongst clubs of PIYA for yachts of wholesome type, 27-ft 0-inches to 40-ft 0-inches waterline length, to comply with NAYRU Rules.'
      Four boats were entered in the first Swiftsure. A group of Canadians came down with an idea for a race around Vancouver Island. 
      'I suggested we sail out around the Swiftsure Lightship. We could get just as seasick and it wouldn't take as long,' said Ray Cooke.
      For that inaugural Swiftsure Lightship Cup Race of 1930, the trophy provided by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club was named the 'Swiftsure Lightship Cup.' It was ordered from London, England, and featured an engraving of Johnson's Westward Ho. The deed of gift specified, 'The race this year will be from Victoria, B.C. to Swiftsure Lightship and return.'
      Almost as if by gentleman's agreement, the race co-founders, Commodore Barney Johnson and Ray Cooke, shared the trophy equally during the 1930s. As it turned out, two of the contests were essentially match races between Westward Ho (sometimes with alternate skipper Capt. St. Claire Jellett) and Cooke (in Claribel and Circe.)"

Swiftsure Trophy Winner: 
1930, Claribel, 42-ft Staysail Schooner, Ray Cooke, SYC.
1934, Circe, 63-ft Cutter, Ray Cooke, SYC.                                                    
Humphrey Golby and Shirley Hewett.
Swiftsure, The First Fifty Years 1930-1980
Yacht Circe
Dated 13 October 1935.
At home anchorage, Seattle, WA.,
with photographer in the foreground.

Original photo from the James A. Turner collection
archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society©
1932, 17 April: 
Broadway Yell Booms out for Builder Benny
"The sloop Circe of Seattle splashed into the waters of Lake Union Thursday afternoon to the accompaniment of a Broadway High School yell. That, my hearties, is decidedly something new again––launching a vessel, with scholastic trimmings.
      The class of '33, Broadway High, were fellow 'Tigers' of Ben Seaborn, terribly proud of him! And hadn't they a right to give the 'steam engine yell.'
      For two years––ever since he became a freshman at Broadway ––Ben Seaborn's spare time in school and out had been devoted to designing a sailing vessel on a major scale, and his hopes and ambitions had been followed step by step by his schoolmates as Ben approached his ideal––the Circe––which became the scratch boat of the Seattle Yacht Club.
      Four designs eventually took model form. Each time Ben came nearer to his big idea. Then, last July he took three weeks of intensive work on designing the Circe––and finished it.
      'Let's go!' said Ben. 'Skyrocket yell!' retorted his school pals. And they gave Ben the 'Siss-boom-bah.'
      As the sloop sank gracefully into the water and finally came to a float, the graybeards of the launching gallery broke into a cheer and rushed to congratulate the young designer, for the Circe had 'hit the line.'
      The vessel settled accurately on her waterline. Allowance was made for the four tons of inside ballast, the filling of the gasoline tanks for the auxiliary and the placing of the mast.
      The contract was let to the Lake Union Dry Dock and Machine Works. It was from the ways of this building that the Circe slipped into the waters, a boat ready to assume the handicap of scratch boat in this year's sailing races of the SYC.
      The Circe of Seattle is not a 'copy'; it is a new, original design.
      Measurements: Overall length, 58-feet; waterline length 46-feet; beam width 14-feet; with a draft of 9.5-ft and 2,000 sq feet of working sail.
      Ten tons of iron ballast are in her keel, and the stick is an eighty-five-foot high, hollow mast of spruce. Her canvas consists of mainsail, topsail, staysail, and working jib, marconi-rigged––in effect a cutter type; but sloop is a better fitting description.
      The very low construction, with her 14 tons of ballast, and the use of big timbers and heavy planking make the Circe very heavy, and the other lines referred to make her speedy, so that architect Seaborn has combined speed, comfort, and seaworthiness in his first big sail boat.
      Circe's debut will be in the opening regatta of the SYC on Lake Washington on 7 May 1932."
John H. Dreher. Seattle Times. April 1932.

1956; Circe was converted to a yawl for ocean racing.

1963, July 23; Ray Welcome Cooke, 78, a widely known Seattle yachtsman, died on board his boat, Circe, after suffering a heart attack. Cooke, was a veteran yachtsman who competed in sailing races along the Pacific Coast more than 40 years. His first race was in 1918.  He sailed five races in the California to Honolulu event, later called the TransPac and several Swiftsure Cup races. "I am really never ready for Swiftsure, we just shove off." 

2014, September: Charlotte Austin writes for 48º North. Varnish gleaming at her dock on Lake Union, Seattle. In 1994 Circe started working with Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) students at the U of WA., under the Circe Foundation. Circe herself no longer acts as a training vessel, but the Sea Cadet and Sea Scout programs have enjoyed racing to practice their seamanship.

Recommended reading:
Norman C. Blanchard & Stephen Wilen. Knee-Deep in Shavings. Victoria, B.C., Horsdal & Schubart Publishers Ltd. 1999. pp 95-98.

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