"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 700, 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.

29 March 2020

❖ With June on the CHICKAWANA ❖

Mailboat Chickawana
cruising through her stops in the San Juan Archipelago
with June Burn aboard.
Click image to enlarge.

photo from the Saltwater People Log collection.
"An ecstatic day aboard the Chickawanna. The sun straight down on Bellingham from behind the clouds.
      At last, I am off to the biological station at Friday Harbor, where I shall be for six weeks reporting adventures in science, talks with scientists from all over the world.

U of WA Oceanic Laboratories
Friday Harbor, San Juan Archipelago.
Original photo dated August 1931.
From the archives of the Saltwater People Log
      How good it always is to walk down a little gangplank into one of the little Sound boats and come swinging off down-harbor, blue water glimmering in our wake. Bill, Hally, and Heinie, friendly, casual crew of the Chick, take it so much for granted that I am shamefaced to be so excited about just going to Friday Harbor.
      A little way out we cross a line of foam, on one side of which the water is blue and on the other brown. Heinie says it is where the muddy waters of the Nooksack come down and spread themselves thinly over the heavier saltwater. The eye can follow its course to the end, which is a definite line below Eliza Island. The boys say they have never seen the line quite so distinct before. In the brown water, it feels exactly like being on a river and one can almost feel the current washing the boat downstream!
      When you are too tired to carry on; when you are lonely, depressed, or sad; when you want to feel the lift of ecstasy in your heart, get up at daylight, board the 7 o'clock boat and come out into the islands. It will recreate you. Even if you do not leave the boat, just the sting of salt air on your cheek will renew you. Bring along a heavy coat, for it is always cold on the water. Bring a hearty lunch, too, for you will not get to Friday Harbor until nearly 2 o'clock and there is not the time for dinner if you are to return on the same boat on which you came. You will get back home at 6 or 7 in the evening, tired, and rested if that makes sense. There are Sunday excursions now, but it is more fun to snatch a holiday out of an everyday week to come San Juandering.
      The dark forms of the islands are blue against the horizon. they creep closer, loom up sheer and green at the bow of the boat and presently slide behind in leisurely fashion. Sedum, bright yellow on the gray rock cliffs, Madrona (Arbutus) trees shining, sleek against the slopes. Firs in erect military ranks marching up the slopes. Long curves of graveled bench sloping down into the water. Little nooks between the points of land to catch and hold the sunshine. A village now and then cuddled against the hills. Seven seagulls gone to sea on a plank––life flows by while one sits on an orange crate feeling as if the whole show were just for one's self. Oh, come to the islands for just one day! It costs 75 cents one way to Friday Harbor, or for 50 cents you can come part way, stopover at one of the radiant villages on Orcas, Sinclair, Shaw, or Lopez. (The Chick does not stop at Lopez but the ferry does, if you are leaving from Anacortes. Perhaps some of the other boats also stop.) On any one of a hundred beaches, you can build your fire. But always be sure to build below the highwater line so that the incoming tide will put out every vestige of your fire. Only very thoughtless persons build fires up against the banks, where it is exceedingly dangerous. There is an abundance of driftwood. Coffee can boil in five minutes. You can huddle around such gracious warmth to eat your sandwiches while you watch the flowing shadows on waters and slopes so beautiful that it takes years and years to realize their perfection. And, when the boat comes back on its return voyage, you can walk back to the village, get aboard, and go home along the way you came, trying your best to soak your memory in those vistas. To have a rich, full memory is the final best good, isn't it?
      At 11 o'clock on Friday, June 27, there is a tide lower than it has been in many a year. The tide book gives it as a minus 3.3 which means that thirteen or fourteen feet of bluff and beach will be exposed below the highwater line. Tiny scarlet starfishes in clusters on the rocks will look like flowers, the bright green seaweed and algae, the foliage. Under every rock and stick, in the sand, everywhere there will be a wealth of life and movement. You will see animals and plants you never saw before and dine on steamed or roasted clams. Or, if you have sharp eyes, you can find deliciously sweet rock oysters on the rocks and feast on them.
      Strangers from all over the world come to see these islands, these waters, to feel the thrill of travel on small boats whose decks are close to the blue water. Why shouldn't we have these adventures, too?
      ...We have left Deer Harbor behind and are crossing San Juan Channel now. Just around the next point, Friday Harbor will be in sight. And the biological station. See you tomorrow. June."
June Burn. Puget Soundings. 17 June 1930. 

16 March 2020

❖ CALM DAYS ON THE WATER ❖ San Juan Islands

Faithful Ferries
Evening light on Harney Channel
Courtesy of Lance Douglas of Blakely Island,
San Juan Archipelago, WA.
this day of 16 March 2020

Research Vessel
Between Orcas and Blakely Islands,
San Juan Archipelago, WA.
Courtesy of Lance Douglas, Blakely Island, WA.
This day of 16 March 2020.

26 January 2020


According to Gordy Fox and Bob Schoen
Islands' Sounder November 1986

Cutter MIA
enjoying a winter cruise
With Bob & Mary Schoen
of West Sound, Orcas Is.
No date inscribed but they secured a
Christmas tree to the top of the mast
and away they sailed.
Photo courtesy of Steve McKenna
for the archives of Saltwater People Log©


"Two years ago [1984] Gordy Fox had to chip away the ice from his 32-ft Grand Banks to go on a cruise. Bob Schoen goes sailing all the time, all year, and prefers cruising in the San Juans in the WINTER.
      Both Fox and Schoen are part of an increasing number of boaters who during the past 10 years have begun using their vessels year-round.
      To winterize their boats, people ake a variety of actions. Some treat their boats for moisture to avoid mildew, taking care of the 'brightwork,' of varnished and metal surfaces, draining outside hose bibs so water does not freeze, and covering them with tarps until summer. 
Others simply pull their boat up to a dock and leave the winterizing to someone else.
      'Most of them just leave a note and say, 'Winterize my boat,' said Ian Wareham, of West Sound Marina. 
      Schoen changes his oil every winter, to prevent sludge and the buildup of moisture, and puts antifreeze in the engine. When you're on top of the water a lot, the biggest thing to look out for during winter is the danger posed by water inside the boat, avid boaters say.
      Schoen, a boater for 55+ years and a San Juan Islands boater for 40, said that for decades he had to drain the engine before water-cooled engines became widespread. Back then, he had cart wood––on board his boat to warm up the cabin, now he has an oil stove.
      'You can get this thing warmed up pretty cozy,' said Schoen, pointing to the stove as he walked through the lower deck. He and his wife, Mary, have taken their single-masted auxiliary cutter to Alaska. 'We usually go north in the summer, there are so many people here,' Schoen said. He estimated traffic cuts down in the winter to about 30 percent of what it is in the summer.
      Most people who cruise in the winter have some source of heat. People use oil or propane or some combination; Schoen's 40-HP diesel engine uses the same oil as his stove.
       In addition to pleasure boaters, fishermen make the San Juans a frequent destination in the winter. That's when the fishing is best, Schoen noted.
      Both he and Fox, and scores of other boaters in the San Juans, have carried forward the tradition of a New Year's Day sail, an enduring wintertime event––ice, cold, and all. 
      On New Year's Day two years ago the door on Fox's boat was sealed shut.
      'I chipped the ice away from the door, fired it up, and went for a cruise,' Fox said. The Orcas Island Yacht Club has two destinations on its New Year's Day sail––Reid Harbor on Stuart Island and Roche Harbor. That winter, Fox extended his expedition, spending a week cruising around the San Juans, visiting Cypress, Guemes, and places he couldn't in the summer because the waterways were too busy. 
      'There was a week of crystal-clear weather,' Fox recalled. The only winterization measure he's taken so far has been to drain his outside hose bibs.
      'Winterization can encompass many things, from the vessel itself to the mechanical components on board.' Moored at West Sound, he can keep heat going on board to avoid freezing by connecting to a dock outlet. 
      During winter, he said, everybody watches out for everybody else. Sometimes a boat owner is not around when mooring lines are loose.
      'In general with the boating public, there's kind of a buddy boating system,' Fox said. 'Everybody pretty much watches out for each other. If there's a problem with mooring lines, you use one of your own lines to secure the boat until the owner gets to take care of it.'
      There's always the danger of getting stranded, a plight that Fox has avoided. But once on a trip to Stuart, Schoen was stranded by a northeaster 'that blew and blew. We just had to wait it out,' he recalled.
      But 10 years ago, with the increasing interest in winter boating and the increasing efficiency of onboard heating, one tradition died.
      Schoen, who grew up in Seattle, ran around with kids who 'were boat nuts like I was.' That same spirit of fun influenced a New Year's Eve party he and his friends would have at Port Ludlow. A former Orcas Island landowner, G.M. Lynes, loaned a trophy to the Essex County Country Club Cruising Society, which sponsored the New Year's Eve celebration.
      The trophy was a three-handed cup that Lyons won at a freestyle skating contest.
      Everyone would sail to the party through waters that were hardly icy, but surely cold. It was a booby prize, of sorts, but awarded in fun to some quirky or ridiculous event that occurred. Other times, it was given in jest for a serious act that members wanted to poke fun at.
      One person was awarded the trophy for losing his mast. One winter, a former bachelor received the trophy for getting married.
      Enthusiasm for the Port Ludlow New Year's Eve sail was great. But eventually, the trophy was retired. Too many people spoiled the fun, Schoen, recalled."
Paul Gottlieb for the Islands' Sounder, November 1986.
From the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society.
Sea trials for cutter MIA
after launching, England, 1960.
With owners Frederick and Marilyn Ellis.
Detail from a Beken of Cowes© original photograph.
Tap image to enlarge.

For another Saltwater People post on Schoen and his all-season sailing, here is another in the Time-Line articles from the home page:

The Schoens and Chantey in February

23 January 2020


Native canoe maker
Theodore Hudson uses adze to finish traditional
dugout canoe made by hand from one cedar log. 
Photo by Ruth Kirk
From the archives of Saltwater People Log©
"Washington Dugout Canoe
Cross-section and Sheer Plan.
Tap image to enlarge.
1890 Bulletin from the
US Fish Commission," included below.
Native canoe at sea.
Traditional Swinomish Native racing canoe, 10-man.1895, LaConner, WA.

From the writings of James G. Swan, Washington State author, historian.
From the 1890 Bulletin of the US Fish Commission.

"A canoe-maker's stock of tools is quite small, consisting only of an axe, a stone hammer, some wooden wedges, a chisel, a knife, and a gimlet. Those so fortunate as to possess a saw will use it occasionally, but the common method of cutting off a piece of wood or board is with the axe or chisel. And yet with these simple and primitive tools, they contrive to do all the carpenter work required. Canoes of the medium and small sizes are made by the Makahs from cedar procured a short distance up the strait or on the Tsuess River. After the tree is cut down and the bark stripped, the log is cut at the length required for the canoe, and the upper portion removed by splitting it off with wedges until the greatest width is attained. 
      The two ends are then roughly hewed to a tapering form and a portion of the inside dugout. The log is next turned over and properly shaped for a bottom, then turned back and more chopped from the inside, until enough has been removed from both inside and out to permit it to be easily handled when it is slid into the water and taken to the lodge of the maker, where he finishes it as this leisure. In some cases, they finish a canoe in the woods, but generally, it is brought home as soon as they can haul it to the stream.
      Before the introduction of iron tools, the making of a canoe was a work of many difficulties. Their hatchets were made of stone, and their chisels of mussel shells ground to a sharp edge by rubbing them on a piece of sandstone. It required much time and extreme labor to cut down a large cedar and it was only the chiefs who had a number of slaves at their disposal who attempted such large operations. Their method was to gather around a tree as many as could work, and these chipped away with their stone hatchets until the tree was literally gnawed down, after the fashion of beavers. Then to shape it and to hollow it out was also a tedious job, and many a month would intervene between the times of commencing to fell the tree and finishing the canoe. The implements they use at present are axes to do the rough hewing and chisels fitted to handles; these last are used like a cooper's adze and remove the wood in small chips.
      The process of finishing is very slow. A white carpenter could smooth off the hull of a canoe with a plane, and do more in two hours than the Native Indian with his chisel can do in a week. The outside, when it is completed, serves as a guide for finishing the inside, the workman gauging the requisite thickness by placing one hand on the outside and the other on the inside and passing them over the work. He is guided in modeling by the eye, seldom if ever using a measure of any kind; and some are so expert in this that they make lines as true as the most skillful mechanic can. If the tree is not sufficiently thick to give the required width, they spring the top of the sides apart, in the middle of the canoes, by steaming the wood. The inside is fitted with water which is heated by means of red-hot stones, and a slow fire is made on the outside by rows of bark laid on the ground a short distance off, but near enough to warm the cedar without burning it. This renders the wood very flexible in a short time so that the sides can be opened from 6 to 12 inches.
      The canoe is now straightened and kept in form by sticks or stretchers similar to a boat's thwarts. The ends of these stretchers are fastened with withes made from tapering cedar limbs, twisted and used instead of cords, and the water is then emptied out; this process is not often employed, however, the log is usually sufficiently wide in the first instance. As the projections for the head and stern pieces cannot be cut from the log, they are carved from separate pieces and fastened on by means of withes and wooden pegs. A very neat and peculiar scarf is used in joining these pieces to the body of the canoe, and the parts are fitted together in a simple and effectual manner. First, the scarf is made on the canoe; this is rubbed over with grease and charcoal; next, the piece to be fitted is hewn as nearly like the scarf as the eye can build, and applied to the part which has the grease on it. It is then removed, and the inequalities being at once discovered, and chopped off with the chisel, the process is repeated until the whole of the scarf or the piece to be fitted is uniformly marked with the blackened grease. The joints are by this method perfectly matched, and so neat as to be water-tight without any caulking.
Native fisherman and his family

The head and stern pieces being fastened on, the whole of the inside is then chipped over again, and the smaller and more indistinct the chisel marks are, the better the workmanship is considered. Until very recently it was the custom to ornament all canoes, except the small ones, with rows of the pearly valve of a species of sea snail. These shells are procured in large quantities at Nittinat and Clayoquot and formerly were in great demand as an article of traffic. They are inserted in the inside of the edge of the canoe by driving them into holes bored to receive them. But at present, they are not used much by the Makahs, for the reason, that they are continually trading off their canoes, and find that they bring quite a good a price without these ornaments as with them. I have noticed among some of the Clallams, who are apt to keep a canoe much longer than the Makahs, that the shell ornaments are still used. When the canoe is finished it is painted inside with a mixture of oil and red ocher. Sometimes charcoal and oil are rubbed on the outside, but more commonly it is simply charred by means of long fagots of cedar splints, set on fire at one end like a torch, and held against the side of the canoe. The surface is then rubbed smooth with a wisp of grass or a branch of cedar twigs. When the bottom of a canoe gets foul from long use, it is dried out and charred by the same process.
      The paddles are made of yew and are usually procured by barter with the Clayoquot Nation. The blade is broad like an oar blade, and the end rounded in an oval or lanceolate form. The handle is a separate piece fitted transversely with the length of the paddle, and sufficiently long to afford a good hold for the hand. These paddles when new are blackened by slightly charring them in the fire, and then rubbed smooth and slightly polished.

Canoes up above the tide and covered from the
hot sun during a clam bake at Neah Bay, 1920.
Original photo from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society©

      In cruising on the Strait they usually keep well inshore, unless they intend to cross to the opposite side; and if the canoe is large and heavily laden they always anchor at night, and for this purpose use a large stone tied to a stout line. Sometimes they moor for the night by tying the canoe to the kelp. When the craft is not heavily burdened it is invariably hauled on the beach whenever the object is to encamp. If the wind is fair, or they have white men on board, they will travel all night but on their trading excursions, they usually encamp, which causes much delay in a long journey. I have been seven days, in the winter season, making the passage between Neah Bay and Port Townsend, about 100 miles, and in the summer have made the same trip in but little over 24 hours. The average passage is about three days for the distance named, which includes camping two nights.

      Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, who visited the Northwest in 1841, seems to have been much impressed with the canoes he saw there, and particularly so with the ingenious manner in which the natives repaired their boats. He makes the following statements:

      The canoes of this region [Oregon] differ from anything we had seen on the voyage. They were made from a single trunk and have a shape that may be considered elegant, and which is preserved from change from stretching or warping by means of thwarts. The sides are exceedingly thin, seldom exceeding three-fourths of an inch, and they are preserved with great care, being never suffered to lie exposed to the sun for fear of rents and cracks. When these do occur, the canoe is mended in a very ingenious manner: holes are made to the sides, through which withes are passed and pegged in such a way that the strain will draw it tighter; the withe is then crossed and the end secured in the same manner. When the tying is finished, the whole is pitched with the gum of the pine. This is neatly done, and answers the purpose well."

16 January 2020


... when the coffee pot is on;

Tusler Summer Camp
Coon Island, San Juan Archipelago, WA.
This photo is a year or two after Margaret Exton's
written piece from 1944. Rich Exton comes flying in
with his 1947 Piper Super Cruiser.
Photo courtesy of their son,

Norm Exton, Orcas Island, WA.

“...In the summer of 1944, we went ashore and found Jack and Harriet Tusler, late of Carmel, living on their beach without the benefit of housing, bundling into sleeping bags at night.
      Things have changed. Now on the unbelievably sheltered beach is the Tusler-built wickiup, guaranteed to fit any form comfortably, and firmly planted in front of the open-air fireplace. Nor is this the only furniture. There are easy chairs of peeled saplings hung with vari-colored canvas, handsome, sturdy driftwood tables, and smaller driftwood chairs, all examples of Jack’s ingenuity.
      Crowning the scene is the headquarters of the Coon Island Yacht Club. There are still a few cedar shakes to be put on, but there isn’t a more picturesque building in these San Juan Islands. It’s a small, low building with spacious windows across the front, tree-framed. A neat gravel walk leads up to the door which bears that emblem of hospitality and fine living, island-style, coon couchant with coffee pot superimposed, and the lettering, 'Coon Island Yacht Club.'

      In the cedar-scented interior are moss-filled bunks, more driftwood furniture. Here one can see and admire the skill with which pieces of driftwood were fitted together to make this entirely charming room.
      Modern conveniences? Well, there's running water. Of course, it runs through a hose out of a barrel filled in Deer Harbor and brought to Coon by boat, but there is a faucet and the water runs. And there's Eleanor Beach.
      Coming up to Coon in a boat, one is likely to be greeted by signals flashed from a mirror in Harriet's hands. This of course means, 'The coffee pot is on. Come ashore.'
      After coffee, a tour of the island is indicated, if inertia can be overcome. (It sets in easily and deeply on Coon.) At this season it is impossible to walk about without stepping on wildflowers. Chocolate lilies, dogtooth violets, valerian, Indian paintbrush, flowering currant and everywhere, mingled with other blossoms anonymous at the moment, but Harriet is learning them. 
      A delight, particularly to photographers, is the Witch's Broom, a beautifully gnarled and twisted old cedar, hovering at the water's edge, silhouetted against the sky. The hovering is less perilous than it appears, for Jack is carefully preserving it with stout anchoring wires.
      The Tuslers bought Coon Island some years ago as a vacation retreat, but vacations seemed to get longer each year, and leave-takings more difficult, and now they have completely forsaken California. 
      Winter quarters for the Tuslers, their cat Erstwhile, and their boats, the Winsome, Fifinella, and Fessonia, and Joe Pascognik, blue whiskered patron saint of Coon Island Yacht Club, are in Deer Harbor. Here they are beginning to build a home, already christened Sunken Heights. But from May to September Coon Island, three acres of perfection fully utilized by its owners is home, and each fine winter day sees them there on the beach, coffee pot aboil."
Written by Orcas Islander Margaret Exton for The Orcas Islander, published 4 April 1946.

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