"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.

25 October 2009


Schooner JOHN A 
Undated original from the archives 
of the Saltwater People Historical Society.©
"The three-masted codfish schooner JOHN A was launched in the Eureka, California yard of Peter Mathews, in 1893. She was 131.7-feet L with a 32-foot beam and a 9.8-foot depth of hold. The gross was 282.4-tons; a very fine sailing vessel for her small size.
      The JOHN A was the first schooner of the Pacific Coast Codfish Company fleet to come to Poulsbo. In 1911 my father, Captain J. E. Shields, and others formed a new fish processing company named Pacific Coast Codfish Company (PCCC.) A processing and storage plant was constructed on the shores of Liberty Bay. They purchased the three-masted schooner JOHN A in southern California with Captain John Grottle as the ship's master. The vessel was brought north with a good supply of salt for the preservation of the first year's cargo. The JOHN A sailed to the banks near Sand Point, Alaska, and also near Sanak Island. All fishing was done from one-man dories which were launched each day from the schooner and returned to her in the evening with the day's catch.
      A good catch resulted, and the fish plant in Poulsbo began winter operations. The salted fish were removed from the vessel, scrubbed, and stored in wooden tanks holding 20-tons each. A work crew was hired to further process the fish. Some saltfish was dried in the sun while other fish had skin and bones removed to be packed in one-pound packages for shipment to the various stores. Thus, a new industry came into operation and a winter payroll resulted.
In 1913 the three-masted schooner CHARLES R. WILSON was purchased. She was constructed in Fairhaven (Eureka,) California in 1891 for the lumber trade, but was then laid up. She was 150-feet L with 35-feet beam x 11-foot depth of hold. She was rated at 345-tons gross; she could land nearly 500-tons of cured cod.
      The company purchased other sailing vessels, all without engines, including the three-master C A THAYER, in 1925. The THAYER was built by Danish-American Hans Bendixen in Eureka at the same yard as the CHARLES R. WILSON, also for the lumber trade. She was listed at 452-tons gross. She could land nearly 600-tons of salt cod which may explain why she was the last commercial sailing vessel on the US west coast and the last to operate out of Poulsbo. She landed her last cargo in 1950 with Captain Ed Shields in command.
       Another sailing vessel of the PCCC fleet, probably the most famous, was the SOPHIE CHRISTENSON, a four-masted schooner built in Port Blakely in 1901. She was built for the lumber trade and for hauling general cargo. She was 180.6-feet long with a 38.9-foot beam and a 13.4-foot depth of hold. She first came to Poulsbo with Captain John Grottle, and last in 1941 with Captain J.E. Shields, her famous skipper. She carried a crew of 22 dory-fishermen, a dressing crew, and cooks to make a total of 44 men.                
      When the war broke out in 1941, the US Government took possession of the JOHN A, the C.A. THAYER, and the SOPHIE CHRISTENSON. Only the C.A. THAYER returned to the fishing trade after the war. The CHARLES R. WILSON operated during the war years delivering cargos of salt cod every year except 1944. During this time she was under the command of Captain Knute Pearson of Poulsbo.
      During the late 1930s to 1941, the codfish plant provided employment for up to 40 persons, some men, and some women. For the men, it was work on the fishing grounds at sea during the summer season of five months, and work in the fish plant in the winter.
      After the war, conditions returned to near normal as far as the worldwide need for food was concerned. Commercial mechanical refrigeration came into more prominent use and the need for salt preservation passed as frozen fish became available in all of the grocery stores. Thus came the end to this fishery in 1950."
By Captain Ed Shields (1916-2002)
Poulsbo, WA.

Captain James Edward Shields established his reputation from the age of 17, when he went to sea to help his father crew the SOPHIE CHRISTENSON into the Bering Sea and the history books. During the five-month fishing trip, the 45-man vessel set the all-time American record for codfish, hauling home an astounding 455,000 cod. He earned a Masters Degree in Engineering from Harvard but never once turned his back to the sea. Some believe his "crowning touch" was his six-year effort to write the incredible Salt of the Sea: The Pacific Coast Cod Fishery and the Last Days of Sail. The artist Shields remarked that he knew he was the only one left to write the story. Soon after the completion of the manuscript, in the words he chose for his salty father, he "crossed the bar," at the age of 86-years.

19 October 2009


Mr. Erret Graham in his Old Town Canoe (Guide Model),
2 July 1953, Indian Cove, Shaw Island.
Canoe Island, WA., in the background.
His son, Ernest, and one daughter stand close by.

From the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society©

Mr. Erret M. Graham (1877-1974), a graduate of Butler University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had a full career as a civil engineer with the railroads in the east. He and his wife, Helena, moved to Squaw Bay on Shaw Island in 1941, where he ordered his Buff & Buff equipment and began his second career as a land surveyor and official engineer for San Juan County, together totaling 25-years. 
       His favorite means of transportation was his green canvas Old Town Guide Model canoe; the two became a familiar sight amongst the islands. 
      The highly respected gentleman, his pockets stuffed with homemade cookies, was always referred to as Mr. Graham. He prided himself on being on time for his appointments when meeting with landowners around the County. It was a long paddle to some of the outer islands; he often stayed overnight for a lengthy survey contract but rarely delayed his trip for rough weather. In 1965 he was seen paddling his canoe around his home island at the age of 90-years. On his 91st birthday, he circumnavigated Lopez Island--solo.

      It is with great goodwill from one of our supportive members, Louise Thomas, that the Saltwater People Historical Society has become the recipient of Mr. Graham’s wood/canvas craft used extensively throughout the islands from 1941 to the 1960s.

      If you have any memories about this remarkable mariner, still fondly remembered in SJ county, please consider documenting them by email to the admin or click on “comments.” We are also interested in adding photos and drawings to Mr. Graham's file. Thank you.

18 October 2009

❖ Schooner FANTOME ❖

Background photo donated by Nick Exton.
Foreground photo from the James A. Turner Collection, S. P. H. S.© 
"The black and white hull with its golden figurehead, its masts tall against the sky, became a familiar landmark in Seattle during the WW II years. The 1,200-ton, four-masted FANTOME was anchored in Portage Bay near the Seattle Yacht Club for so long she seemed part of the family.
      Her keel was laid in Italy during WW I, originally for a destroyer, but work stopped when the war ended. The Duke of Westminster bought the keel and on it built a floating palace, which was delivered in 1927. The Duke later sold FANTOME to an American who kept her for a year and then turned her over to a ship broker who sold her to A. E. Guinness, of the famous stout brewing family. Guinness sailed her all over the world.
      In the late 1930s Guinness had the FANTOME in Alaska, and while he was there England declared war on Germany. Rather than risk his magnificent yacht to submarines or warships, he anchored her in Portage Bay. (In 1939 Seattle was a neutral port.)
      The normal complement aboard the FANTOME was 35, but while she was in Seattle, only three lived aboard her. From time to time tours were given to help worthy causes. The caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Long, made friends with SYC members who lived aboard their boats moored at the club. 
L-R: Joe Jones, Bill Jones, from longtime Decatur Island family.
Broker Phil Lewis.

Original 1950 photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
In 1951, FANTOME was sold by the Guinness estate for $50,000 to William and Joe Jones of Seattle, who moored her at various locations in Lake Union and removed her furnishings and stores. In 1953, she sailed for Montreal, supposedly to be scrapped." 
      Above text by James R. Warren, The Centennial History of the Seattle Yacht Club 1892-1992

1969: Michael D. Burke, Windjammer Barefoot Cruises purchased FANTOME, gave her a reported $6 million make-over and registered her in Equatorial Guinea.
1998: FANTOME, Capt. Guyan March, was lost in 100-mph winds of Hurricane Mitch off the coast of Honduras and Guatemala with all hands (31).
The tragedy was reported by Ross Anderson for The Seattle Times, 4 Nov. 1998 and by Knight Ridder Newspapers in The Seattle Times of 8 Nov. 1998.

There is another post on this Log about the tragic loss of the FANTOME. Please click HERE.


17 October 2009


RAINBOW, 1987.
Steam powered whaleboat with new Scotch boiler with
author John Campbell in West Sound, WA.
Photo donated by steamer John Campbell.

Steaming to Tofino or 
On the Road with the RAINBOW

In order to attend the Nanaimo Steam Meet, the RAINBOW elected this past summer [2001,] to cruise the nearby western sounds, Barkley and Clayoquot.

Barkley Sound is most easily reached from Port Alberni with a splendid Provincial launch site for the local salmon fishing. The week before the Nanaimo meet was spent among the Broken Islands in Barkley Sound. These are a National Park of tiny islands facing the (so called) Pacific Ocean. My fears of being overwhelmed by sport fishermen and kayakers were unfounded. It is an easy steam down the Alberni Canal with the morning outflow wind to the Sound but, once there, the Broken Islands are all little islands and snug coves, nearly deserted. A few camps and lodges are along the mainland shore but not many.

The Broken Islands are probably closer to paradise today than in 1787 when Robert Barkley and his 17 year old wife Frances looked in for furs and found inhabitants everywhere. Evidence of those first inhabitants are the middens and canoe landings we see. Later the islands were logged of all but the greatest of trees which remain today. These are not the lofty specimens of the Macmillan Cathedral Grove but squat, wind blasted stumps with multiple trunks reaching only 50 feet in height but 8 to 12 feet in diameter. Survivors. In the lee of the seaward islands the water is clear, the kelp alive with rockfish and the bottom shows big moon snails and sea cucumbers, those giant echinoderm cousins of the little nudibranches, urchins and even starfish. Ashore on Wouwer Island a hundred sea lions arf and ark and terrify the kayakers. The feeling, apparently, is mutual.

At this point the RAINBOW is still burning dense, dry Orcas Island fir but water must continually be found. It is no problem as these little islands have many springs, even hoses to the beach!! On a sunny summer day it is a pacific paradise. Of course when the fog sweeps in, it is more like summer in San Francisco. Cold.

The first week was over too soon and the 25-mile steam back up the Alberni Canal, failing the afternoon sea breeze that sweeps the little outboard skiffs home, seemed longer than we remembered. RAINBOW does not pull much of a stern wave but the little Semple-5 just keeps turning, year after year, and we get there.

Once in Port Alberni we haul out, unship the rudder and dinghy, strike the mast and head back over Alberni summit to Nanaimo where we ship the rudder, launch the boat and dinghy and reset the mast and head to the dock full of steamers and push in alongside where Bill Jackson is distributing beautiful Arbutus firewood which we take on greedily. Two days later we once again back the pickup hubs awash into the saltchuck and haul out, unship the rudder, throw the dinghy on top of a fresh load of firewood, and head back over Alberni summit and on to Tofino.

I enjoy steaming on the British Columbia coast but not towing 8000-pounds of boat and trailer to a launching place. The Perils of the sea, according to my old Lloyd’s policy, include:
“Sinking, Stranding, Fire, Enemies, Pirates, Rovers, Jettisons, Takings by Kings, Princes and People of what Nation or Quality soever, and Barratry of the Master and Mariners that the underwriters do contentedly bear,” but they conspicuously do not include the road to Tofino, the town at the mouth of Clayoquot Sound on the western shore of Vancouver Island."

The old Chevy is doing pretty well on the grades in low range, the temperature just rising slightly and holding steady. The road is narrow but the traffic is light so we do not need to pull off at every chance. It is serene really, but I remember Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family, and all they possessed in a careening trailer hauling over the Tehachapis in August, vapor lock, flat tires, wailing babies, angry pregnant women, but maybe I am confusing memories. No gas the next 80-miles but both tanks are full and August on Vancouver Island is a far cry from the Mohave desert. We pause at a wide turnout beside the Kennedy River to let the traffic pass, relax and check the trailer for the unforeseen.

It was a good thing we did as the left rear trailer wheel is adrift and just about to leave. Studs are almost gone and the holes big enough to slip over the nuts. On a road that is mostly 24 feet from sheer rock to the edge this is a handy place to make repairs. How long was the wheel loose? I know this is a danger yet at Nanaimo with all the hauling and loading I failed to torque those lug nuts. The dual axle trailer puts a terrific sideways torque on the wheels and any nuts not seized beyond hope are at risk. The crew asks why I do not have a checklist. Noted.

Jack up the trailer, pull the wheel, bearings and brake drum. Mark Fortune, Tofino Air pilot arrives. Is that a Steamboat? Is it for sale? What will you take? “Right” says his wife holding a baby in one arm and his brother who is trying to crawl out the window in the other “we only have two airplanes and a dump truck in the front yard now and who wants to see grass or flowers around the house you have exactly two minutes to get back in this car before it leaves.”

That is time enough to learn that Ucluelet is the place to find a new wheel; Serge Noel Towing, open tomorrow. The next Samaritan confirms Serge and recommends grease in salt water. “Rust works 24 hours a day, use plenty grease.” Unhitch trailer, split firewood while we wait and walk along the river until bears appear. Make supper in the boat, relax, and have a homebrew.

07:00 head for Ucluelet, avoiding bears on the road, into the fog but no Serge. Try café, home of Lions, Kiwanis, Boy Scouts, Soroptimists, and Wednesday bingo, this is it. At least the waitress is it, no wonder the place is full. Yes they serve oatmeal and no it is not instant, they serve that stuff in Tofino but not in Ucluelet.

08:15 Serge arrives and notes it is a six-lug, 16.5 wheel which is why they don’t make them any more but thinks there is one on a wreck out back under the blackberries. There is and, after rounding up some new studs and nuts, we are on the way back to the Kennedy river to ship the hub, bearings, new (to us) wheel, hitch the trailer and roll on to Tofino. First, however, squeaking ALL wheel nuts.

The launch site in Tofino is very steep, crowded, without a float, and very busy. Fishing boats are barely afloat, loading into half submerged pickups about to speed fresh fish/scallops/crab to Victoria & Vancouver but we pitch in, shipping and loading too, and are afloat again. Tofino is surrounded by water and most of it is not very deep but it moves very quickly. And it is busy. Commercial fishing, wild and farm, sport fishing, and ecotourism are everywhere. Yamaha-250 outboards are the universal power plant, single and twins.

In all, RAINBOW will spend three weeks in and out of Tofino. The first is spent circumnavigating Meares Island, a passage any single Yamaha-250 can do before lunch but we find plenty to see. On the return we try fishing some kelp beds on the ocean side until the fog sets in. As the fog sweeps past we take a compass bearing on the harbor and start the fog whistle. The 250s fly by in the murk, with radar, I hope, and Tofino Air takes off on the right while I can barely see the crew on the bow who eventually sees the pier equally at hand where it should be. Trust your compass.

The second week Wolfgang Schlager is aboard, before the mast again after many years. It is nice to have crew that can understand the weather reports and be trusted not to put us aground if the skipper takes a snooze. In fact, there is too much to do for much snoozing under way. Wood firing and navigating is a two man job under all but ideal conditions. We head north to Sidney Inlet and the traffic quickly thins. There are no float houses or vacation houses, anywhere. The boiler is firing sluggishly and it must be time to clean tubes. Again.

Fire-tube boilers are good steady steamers but the tubes are not self cleaning. The previous boiler, a Semple vertical was easily blown clean with a steam lance but the present horizontal is a chore. It is not the tubes, five minutes does them, it is cleaning the engine room afterwards. Wet cloths everywhere to catch most of it, washing the cloths, then washing everything with Ajax, then the engineer. Wolfgang, who was sent ashore, returns in the dinghy in time for lunch and then underway into gathering skies. Rain.

Tuesday, rain. This is the time we miss a dry bookshelf to wile away the time with Calvin & Ricketts and Belloc and Captain Marryat. Consume bonded stores and Ovaltine.

Wednesday, overcast but no rain. Bail fresh rainwater out of the dinghy into tanks and get underway for Hot Springs Cove where the hot springs and the surf mingle. And where the float planes and twin Yamahas bring tourists for a genuine wilderness experience. Getting there means rounding Sharp Point at the mouth of Sidney Inlet and as we approach the wind and tide and sea all rise and the dinghy would be airborne if it was not half swamped and we reflect on the beam reach around the point and how bad we want a hot bath with twenty other tourists and turn back to quiet Riley cove and have a cold bath in the creek.

02:00 in the night, the thing that goes bump in the night is heard.
Whack…………………whack………………………..whack…………..…….whack. Some say it is spirits and others say it is a bird and it sounds like someone breaking rocks with a 12# hammer. Is it a bittern?

Thursday, overcast, Jiffy cornbread muffins with huckleberries, baked in the firebox, and maple syrup for breakfast. Rain. Kyakers, very wet kyakers, pass thru the cove and we proffer some dry firewood. Wolfgang notes that some people are paying a lot of money for less fun than we. Under way in light drizzle and immediately wrap dinghy painter around the propeller shaft. Eventually we pass thru beautiful Sulphur Passage, the scene of old environmental battles.

Friday, overcast, catch some rockfish and start a soup stock atop the steam dome. Underway into wind and chop, things sound rough and find it is the shaft which has loosened. We duck into a lee and tighten up all and away for Matilda Inlet. Here we find calm water and a little warm spring at the head of the inlet.

Saturday, the word on the water is that the Coho are running. It is not clear what the fishing rules are even to the locals but all the fisheries workers are on strike so we slip a troll astern. We must pass Russell Channel, wide open to the Pacific, today but by afternoon find only a gentle swell passing in under now blue skies–– COHO! A 36” fish is aboard. By nightfall Wolfgang has it home in the smoker.

In three weeks, RAINBOW had barely glimpsed the reaches of Clayoquot Sound and it was time to haul out again and head up the road for home. The road held no allure but home, after a month beside the boiler it did, and I was out of firewood again.

Did you have fun, people ask? It was rain and fog and sun, lots of firewood splitting, bears and birds and fish and fresh huckleberries and the unknown around every point. And an almost dry roof on a rainy day. Fun sounds carefree like a Princess Cruise with short pants, funny hats, dancing, and all you can eat and no dishes to wash. We grill in the boiler and wash the dishes in the ocean and when we catch a salmon we have more than we can eat and lots of smoke and hot iron too. It is insufficiently carefree to be fun. It beats working, however, so maybe it is just loafing.
John M. Campbell
Orcas Island
September 2001

16 October 2009


This promotional booklet contains photographic images by
James A. McCormick, working seasonally from Friday Harbor.

He was listed as the official State photographer for the 1909
Exposition in Seattle, WA. Publisher:
the Board of County Commissioners; 

Shull, Cayou, and Buchanan.

This first log entry welcomes all Saltwater People Historical Society members and friends interested in studying, collecting, sharing, and preserving the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and the northern Puget Sound area. Informal blogs will follow with stories of salty mariners, their private vessels, the early Mosquito Fleet, the shipwrecks, the smuggling, and some of the events that have shaped the lifestyle of almost everyone living in the beautiful islands of San Juan County, Washington, the most westerly state in the continental US.

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