"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 750, 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.

19 August 2020

❖ Champion of Gallant Tradition ❖ with Ralph Andrews

Skippered by the famous Capt. Matt Peasley
and later by Capt. Charles H. Mellberg.
From the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society©
Her five masts standing as staunch monuments to sea trade of a past era, the sturdy schooner VIGILANT was last of the sailing ships regularly engaged in commerce between Hawaii and the Pacific coast.
      "Owned by the City Mill Company of Honolulu, the vessel is employed every summer to transport millions of feet of lumber from the Pacific Northwest to Hawaii. When she rounds Diamond Head with her sails filled and her big sticks straining, she's a proud sight that makes Hawaii forget for the moment that this is an age of clipper planes and trim motor freighters.

Capt. Charles H. Mellberg
Photo dated 1932.
Click image to enlarge.
      Freshly painted after a year of idleness in Bellingham, Washington, she arrived in Honolulu recently 25 days out of Puget Sound. Her master, Capt. Charles Mellberg, reported an uneventful crossing distinguished by unusually favorable winds, which carried her along steadily for most of the distance and promised for a time to assist her in beating her best previous record of 17 days. But as she neared the islands the breezes withdrew their aid and teased her into port with occasional puffs. For one crossing last year from Bellingham to Honolulu she took 55 days.

Capt. Matt Peasley
Dated 1929.
Original photo from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society©
      Honolulu waterfront men remember the days when Capt. Matt Peasley, original of Peter B. Kyne's 'Cappy Ricks' stories, used to bring the schooner into port. Old-timers remember, too, the friendly rivalry between the Vigilant and the Commodore, now shorn of her masts and used as an Alaskan oil barge.
      Still fresh in the memories of many local waterfront observers is the race from Honolulu to Seattle in which these two gallant vessels engaged in November 1931. The COMMODORE departed from Hawaii for the Sound November 20 of that year. She made fair progress; was comfortably on her way when the VIGILANT sailed for the same destination six days later.
      Favorable winds carried the COMMODORE straight up to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where they dropped her like a punctured balloon and left her to icy winter squalls and tricky currents. She was taken in tow by tugs dispatched to her assistance. But before she could be brought into peaceful sound waters a storm caught her, broke the two lines, and drove her out to sea. The VIGILANT which had trailed her by more than 1400 miles up to that time, skirted the storm and scudded triumphantly into the Sound to be declared the official winner."
Ralph Andrews. This was Seafaring. Seattle. Superior Publishing. 1955

09 August 2020


Deadman Bay, San Juan Island,
San Juan Archipelago, Washington.
Photo by Ellis. Undated.
Click photo to enlarge.

Original photo postcard from the collection of
the Saltwater People Log©
"This small bay, under Mt. Dallas, was earlier called Deadman's Bay, Dead Man's Bay, and Dead-Man's Bay. In accordance with general practice, the possessive form was gradually dropped by cartographers, probably for simplicity, and to save space by shortening names on the charts. Edmond S. Meany states: 'It is claimed that the first white man known to have died on the island was buried there. He was a working man killed by a cook.' Meany does not identify his source. Walter Arend, retired postmaster at Friday Harbor, considers that this local name probably was used to identify the place where a man's body had drifted ashore. However, Etta Egeland states that an unnamed white man criticized a Chinese cook at the Lime Kiln, who killed him with a knife. The Chinese was aided to escape from San Juan Island by a farmer named Bailer, who hid him in a wagon until he found a vessel that was leaving from Friday Harbor. This occurred about 1890, and indicates the state of law enforcement on that island at the time."

Bryce Wood. San Juan Island Coastal Place Names and Cartographic Nomenclature. Published in Ann Arbor, Michigan for Washington State Historical Society by University Microfilms International. 1980.

04 August 2020

❖ Scratching the Beach with the MARTIN D

Working in Alaska.

Photo courtesy of Keith Sternberg.
"My philosophy is to forge ahead whatever the state of the tide. Perhaps this is derived from my log towing days. 
      Sometimes we scratched along the beach, as close as we dared, to avoid the current and might get into a back eddy. I was in log-towing tugs in Alaska and Puget Sound. Samson Tug & Barge in Sitka towed pulp logs to the mill at Sitka and saw logs to a mill in Wrangell. The sawlog tows were Sitka spruce and Alaska yellow cedar. These were made up as very large tows, 72 sections, with all five of the company tugs pulling. 
      Nearing Petersburg the tow was broken up into small units and towed through Wrangell Narrows. The tug in which I was mate, was the MARTIN D, originally a US Army ST built during WWII. She had a direct-reversible Busch-Sulzer diesel engine which turned 380 rpm at full-ahead. 

Mate Keith Sternberg
Photo courtesy of Keith Sternberg.

On the MARTIN D, I stood the midnight to 6 A.M. watch alone, usually
towing logs at about one knot. With the pilothouse stool under a
spoke of the wheel she would hold course fairly well while I went
below to oil the engine's rocker arms every two hours and have a look
around the engine room."

Submitted by Keith Sternberg, Lopez Island, WA.

Please see a reader's comment below.

07 July 2020

❖ Sluckus from the Upper Islands ❖ with June Burn.


San Juan Archipelago
including Spieden Island where the author
June Burn homesteaded with Fararr Burn.

This card courtesy of publisher Smith-Western Co, Tacoma, WA.©
from the archives of the Saltwater People Log.
Apologies for taking so long to coax June Burn back to share another of her soothing stories through the northern islands she knew so well. 
      "The little group of upper San Juans around the Canadian line is a favorite resort of the Natives. They can find as much employment as they want cutting cordwood in the winter, fishing in the summer, and resting a good deal between jobs. The Native women lead lives of purest romance and maybe you think they don’t know it! My neighbor, who employs them off and on his farms, will admonish a wife of one of his workmen, urging her to stay at home more and prepare suitable food for her husband who is working hard at the wood cutting. He doesn’t make any progress to speak of! She will grunt, maybe smile sheepishly, maybe even make some sort of reply. But she won’t stay at home and cook. Not she!
      Early in the morning of a day sunny or gray–– what difference does the weather make?–– Native women can be seen out trolling up and down the channels. A woman-full dugout canoe rowed, maybe, by one little 6-year old boy and his 7-year old sister, will glide around the point, head in to the beach for no apparent reason, and deposit its entire human load. Perhaps to go berrying with little buckets and cedar bark baskets. Maybe they will gather sluckus if the tide is out (sluckus is a narrow, long, leaf-like sea plant that grows on the rocks and which may be gathered at low tide on most of the rocky beaches. I believe it is sea lettuce, though am not sure.) They may build a small fire and boil something or other in curious kettles. They may only sit around and talk or hunt agates among the various colored gravel of the beautiful beaches. I wish I did know what their comings and goings mean.
      Right now, I see Old Katherine, fat Isaac’s wife, sitting up on a yellow grass bank hunkered over her knitting tending a miniature campfire. Her colorful washing of blue work shirts and pink petticoats flaps on a line behind her. The youngest born of one of the women out fishing in a nearby channel lies in a little box near Katherine. She is “minding! it. And meanwhile of what is she thinking? Neat and tidy is Katherine and something of a leader among them, I think, though there again I am on unsure ground.
      I’ve grown so accustomed to seeing the Natives around the islands I know best that it wouldn’t be coming home if they were not here now. Stewart Island’s nearness to the Canadian border keeps them here. They sell their sluckus in Victoria, whence it is shipped to China for soup. They get 10 and 15 cents a pound for it dried and sometimes return to America with 30 or $40 worth of gaily painted washpans, calico, outing flannel, fancy china, and who knows what all else stowed away in their cedar dugouts. Relatives live on the Canadian side, also, which keeps them visiting back and forth across the line. Further down the islands one hardly ever sees a Native save as their dugouts or motor launches pass back and forth in the channels.
      Once, when the boys and I were summering on Johns Island, General and his family, with old Isaac and Katherine, decided to go up to the Sucia Islands to gather sluckus. General came up to my cabin to ask me to take care of his chickens while he was gone. I promised, but later discovered he had taken them with him, fearful, perhaps, that I might forget to look after them a mile down the island from me.
      They pulled out early one morning on a fair tide around my end of Johns Island out into the channel towards the Sucias. In General’s thirty-foot dugout five people sat on the bottom of the boat or on thin narrow slats across the edge. Besides the family, there were two boxes of chickens, one of a hen setting on her eggs and the other of the hen whose five chicks had just hatched. There were tents and bedding, cooking things, and boxes of food, a crippled lamb donated by Spieden to be killed for food, every personal belonging of both women of the family, and sacks in which to gather the sluckus. It was the fullest boat ever I saw. And to top it all, in the bottom there lay the flat rocks on which they would build their little campfire in mid-channel and cook their food in the boat while it was moving along.
      Two weeks later the family returned, General who had done the bulk of the rowing, looking thinner than ever and very hungry. They had got a hundred pounds of sluckus for which they would receive a fourth of what they would have made if they had stopped at home and cut cordwood. But that was not the point. Gathering sluckus to sell for lots of money was only an excuse. Romance was the main crop, although they did not know it. They perhaps don’t bother to say in words what it is that drives them through terrific tides after little dabs of sluckus or clams or fish and it may be that they don’t question themselves at all. But I’ll bet old Isaac could phrase it if he chose!
      Hello, high bluffs of Spieden! This long mountain ridge up thrust high and steep above the water is the first island we knew. Its people neighbored and fed and transported us in homesteading days. The very tip of the three-mile-long island was itself, homesteaded many years ago by a naturalized soldier from the English Camp, Robert Smith. To have climbed so high to find his perch proves that he loved hard things. It is his daughter who lives there now, never having known another home. She has running water and electric lights now and radio and piano and automobile and boats and wealth. But the marvelous scape of sea and island and sky and snowcapped mountains from the top of Speiden is what holds her there. See you tomorrow. June."
June Burn. Puget Soundings. The Bellingham Herald. 26 October 1929.

29 June 2020

❖ Let's go on a ferry cruise up Eastsound ❖ 29 June 2020

Lots of time on our hands,
Let's go on a cruise down Eastsound,
This day of 29 June 2020
Four photos courtesy of
L.A. Douglas, Blakely Island, WA.

Let's go a little further, there must
be a way out of here.
29 June 2020.

Hard to port, it is a nice day,
  let's go see Dolphin,
Orcas Island, WA.
29 June 2020.

Ahhh, what a nice cruise,
leaving Eastsound, Orcas Island, WA.
Thanks, Lance. 
29 June 2020.

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