"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.

12 January 2011

A DANISH STORY ON ORCAS ✪ ✪ ✪ by West Sounder John Gorton


Danish fishing boat from Bornholm to West Sound, WA.
Photo by author/photographer/mariner John Gorton.
One afternoon back in the '90s, I was down at my dock pottering about my boats - "pottering" is an English boating expression signifying a deep, soul satisfying peacefulness that comes over certain people when left alone with a boat that doesn't need anything done to it but requires a very careful perusal to be absolutely sure. Pottering is best done on a Sunday afternoon when there is no wind, although a little light rain is acceptable.
       This particular afternoon was an entirely pleasant afternoon for pottering because it was warm and still and not raining. I had spent some time examining the mooring lines of my dinghy. My wife was away for the day and so I felt quite relaxed about checking the stern rope for wear one more time.   Actually I was kneeling down in ROSIE with my head poked down in her stern checking the brass ring to which the stern line was fastened. I am giving you these details because I want you to understand that I was quite absorbed in what I was doing and really quite oblivious to what was happening - if anything - on the greater waters around me (known to Navigators of the World as West Sound).
       When it came it was as though somebody had suddenly ripped a blanket from over my head. I mean it was a terrific splash followed immediately by the clanking of heavy chain running down a hawse pipe - almost next to me! I poked my head up above the gun'll and felt my eyes widening in absolute amazement. Not fifty yards away, was a genuine Danish fishing boat! Here in West Sound - ten thousand miles from, I mean the other side of the world from Denmark! Incredible as it was, it even had a Danish fishing boat registration painted on its bow. I hadn't seen such a boat for maybe ten years.
       I realized it must have cut its engine some way out and just coasted in close to my dock to contact what probably appeared to be the only living person down at the waterfront that afternoon. Pulling my self together I quickly untied ROSIE grabbed the oars and headed out across the short gap between us. A normal West Sounder might not have done that, but you see, I spent a fair part of my adult life in Denmark, have a Danish wife, many Danish friends and used to cruise amongst the many Danish Island faerylands.
       "Hello on board!"  I shouted as I came alongside. A face appeared above me - a young boy's face, in his twenties, but well weathered.
       "Hi" he said. "Do you want to come on board?" The Danish accent so familiar to me - but it seemed natural on the deck of this boat, all cluttered with boat gear, chain and coils of rope, crab pots etc. We shook hands as he told me his name, I think I recall it was Eigil Petersen. Then a girl appeared from somewhere near the bridge and he introduced me to her as his friend from Seattle.
         "Well, I know Bornholm quite well." I said. "In fact I lived there for a while about thirty five years ago."   "That was before I was born," he observed. "What were you doing on Bornholm?" So then I explained how Bornholm was the only piece of real estate that NATO owned that was behind the Iron Curtain. He knew about NATO and what it was because the Berlin Wall had fallen in '89 while he was still in Denmark and he remembered all the newspaper and TV publicity. Did you have something to do with all those strange antennas in the forest at the center of the island?" he asked. I told him how those installations had been the prototype for a line of huge radars that extended from Eastern Turkey, three thousand miles across Western Europe, to the top of Arctic Norway and how we had been able to watch the Soviets flying across eastern Europe during the Cold War.
       I recall the three of us sat on his boat talking about Bornholm for most of the afternoon. As I got up to leave, he suddenly asked,  "do you have any photos of Bornholm? I would like to show my girl friend where I come from."
       Well of course, being a bit of an amateur photographer, yes, I had quite a few pictures of that idyllic island!   And so we all piled into our dinghys for the short row back to my dock and the scramble up the hill to my house. I used to take lots of 35 mm slides in my travelling days so here I am reaching deep into the storage cupboard marked "Archives" and bringing out all sorts of old slide boxes. Eventually I find one with a rather faded label marked "Bornholm", pop them into one of those ancient rotating slide carousels and fire up the old slide projector - this is a steam driven device that takes an alcohol "spirit' burner to heat the little boiler (that is, it was very old and hence used "metaphorical" steam!) And, in a few minutes - well half an hour - the boiler begins to steam, the mechanism starts turning and pretty soon, a few flashes and a whistle sounding and the screen lights up with a photo of the steamer that used to take visitors from Copenhagen to Bornholm.
       We study the photo of the steamer and my Danish friend tells us about his first trip to Copenhagen. I sound the whistle, pull the clutch on the projector and push down on the (metaphorical of course) steam switch. The projector clanks round to the next slide and poof! in flash there is a beautiful picture of Rønne harbor - the epicenter of life on Bornholm! And so we while away the afternoon while Eigil extolls the beauty of "The Pearl of the Baltic" as Bornholm was known in those days - maybe it still is!
       Suddenly, with a strange look on his face, Eigil asks me to go back to the last shot, that close-up of the quay in the harbor. I wrestle with the (metaphoric) clutch and eventually get the projector into reverse. The Dane leans forward and stares intently at the picture on the screen. I see a lot of identical looking fishing boats and not much else. Eigel lets out an exclamation that sounds like sort of "Wa-how" and stabs his finger on the front of one boat that somehow made it into the foreground. "That's my boat, that's the boat we just came from!" I glance at the photo but can't see any difference between this boat and all the other dozen or so boats at the quay.
       "How do you know?" I say.
       "Look, look at the top of the stem he says stabbing his finger on the front of the boat. See that length of new wood let into the stem? My father put that in after he had hit the edge of the quay in a storm one night. This is a miracle! You have got a picture of my boat here on Orcas Island.
       I went over to the window of my studio, took up my binoculars and focussed them on the fishing boat at anchor below our house. "Holy (metaphorical) smoke, your right!" I said. Yes, yes. I can see it from here - just like there on the photograph." I turned to the screen. "But that means I photographed your boat many years before you were born - and on the other side of the world - and now its here - at my dock! What an incredible coincidence."
       We drank several more beers that afternoon before they finally left - with a print I made for them from the slide.
        I never saw them or the boat again, although over the years I have met at least two people on separate occasions from Seattle who knew who I was talking about when I told them the story - but neither of them knew where he had gone or what happened to the boat. Just another one of life's "stranger than fiction" happenings that one collects as one gets older.

10 January 2011

❖ BOATS WE KNEW ❖ WINDENTIDE ❖ by L.W. "Corkey" North

Chet North, Deer Harbor, Orcas Island.
Caulking his WINDENTIDE.

"The WINDENTIDE had been developing in Dad’s mind for years. When I joined the Navy, he set about gathering lumber and parts for her. I doubt I cost that much to keep, since they had taught me from very young, if there was something desired, it was up to me to get it, and so – bed-sheet sails, old boats, and vintage cars were my proud possessions.
      But the time had arrived for Dad to have a toy or two. He had built boats for other people for years and had tired of the hassle with people that really couldn’t afford the boat they wanted and somehow it became Dad’s responsibility to get them their desire.
      My uncle had done well fishing summers off the Washington coast for salmon and Dad had made a few trips out with him. So the WINDENTIDE now had an excuse for being built. For three years, Mother as much as Dad, worked at earning some income while scrounging for equipment and laboring on the boat; early, late, and weekends until an extreme tide at daylight the two of them launched that big hull into the morning sun.
      This was the summer of 1953 and I was in Korea, waiting out my last few months in the Navy. The photographs I received did little to sooth my homesickness. She was a trim thirty-nine feet and needed me, I could feel it."
 Thank you to L.W. North for sharing the above photograph and text.

08 January 2011


Coon and McConnell Islands, San Juan County, WA.
Original Photo  from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
Jack Tusler was a character Eunice and I got acquainted with sometime after WW II; Eunice had known his wife because she was a teacher at the U of Washington when Eunice was there. Jack was originally from somewhere farther south, and they owned Coon Island. Coon Island is so small that some people don't even know it is there. There were no raccoons on it when Jack had it, but that's how it got its name. There was nothing at all on the island when Jack arrived, and he was kind of an opportunist so I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he bought it at a tax auction. [The Tuslers of Carmel, CA. bought Coon Is. from Gene Gould of Seattle in the peak of summer in 1940.] He built a nice cabin, just a log cabin with a gravel floor, and an outhouse, nothing more, and the Tusslers used it strictly as their summer home.
        Jack had a little daysailer, not very big, but it was a keelboat. The boat had a tent that they slipped over the boom, and as such, it was their cruiser, but mostly their cruising was rather short range.
        Well, one of their best stories was about the time a boat that was built at Grandy's went by Coon Island. The Tusler's beach was on the east side of the island, and Jack was there getting their boat provisioned for a cruise when he saw this nice 48-footer; it later belonged to Mrs. Eddie Hubbard, the widow of that great aviator who flew the first airmail contract between Seattle and Victoria. The boat went by well off the island, but awfully close to the reef on the east side of Coon, and is covered at high tide. Jack stood there on the beach fully expecting the boat to strike the reef, but they missed it by inches or a few feet, and so he continued stowing the equipment and food aboard his sailboat, using his two-man life raft for a dinghy.
        Pretty soon Jack's wife was ready, so they got on the boat and started sailing north. They wanted to go to Sucia Island, and of course, this was long before Sucia became a State Park. But they ran out of wind as soon as they got up a little past Jones Island, so they decided to go into the bight on the north side of Jones and drop the hook for the night.
        Jack was still standing on the foredeck after dropping the hook and double-checking that he had it in the ground properly when he noticed the 48-footer anchored nearby. A man called over to him from the aft cockpit, "Hi neighbor, wouldn't you like to come over and have a drink?"
        Jack said, "That sounds very nice," and Mrs. Tussler approved of accepting the invitation, but she did start her Primus stove and set the pressure cooker on it so supper would be ready in about an hour.
        They rowed over to the power cruiser and had a very pleasant hour. When it was time to row back to their boat, the man said, "Oh, just a minute, please. Tomorrow we want to go to Bellingham, to do some shopping. Do we go this way or that way?" pointing each way around Orcas Island.
        And Jack said, "Well, as a matter of fact, you can go either way. We're awfully close to the halfway mark right here, but I wouldn't know for sure without measuring it. Let me show you on a chart."
        So the man reached up to the chart table and got out a Shell Oil Co highway map of WA State. Jack said to him, "Gee, this is awfully small to measure accurately. Don't you have hydrographic charts?"
        The guy shook his head; apparently, he had never heard of hydrographic charts. Jack was looking around, and he saw the chart drawers down under the counter to the left of the wheel and he pulled a drawer open and said, "This is what we need. These are hydrographic charts.
        "Oh, the guy said. "I can't do anything with those things. All those little numbers, they just confuse me."
        Well, the next morning the couple went on their way, and Jack never heard from them again, nor read of any boating disaster in the newspaper, so he assumed they got to Bellingham all right. That was probably in the early 1950s, and the boat is still around, to the best of my knowledge.
L-R: Orcas Island mariners
Jack Tusler and R. B. Brown

Image courtesy of photographer Barbara Brown, Orcas Island, WA.
A rare image of these two well known Orcas Islanders.
If anyone has another, would you share for maritime history archives?

Another story about Jack Tusler--that guy was really a character-- he liked to create tableaux for passing boats, on the reef mentioned earlier. One time he got Dr. George Horton's 16-year-old daughter dressed up like a mermaid, sitting on the reef when it was a little out of the water. She had a mirror with her, and when the ferry from Anacortes came through Wasp Passage she flashed it and gave the passengers quite a show. Another time, he set up on the reef, a real old-fashioned barber chair that he had salvaged off the beach; he and a friend stood out there just like a barber giving a customer a shave. He always wanted to get a horse out there with a guy in a red coat sitting astride it, but he could never convince anyone to go along with putting their horse on that reef.
        Jack Tusler was a yachtsman himself but in a small way. The yachting people who knew him liked him, and I never heard a disparaging remark of any kind about Jack Tusler or his wife. And after she lost Jack, Mrs. Tusler married Jack's only brother.
Above text by:
Blanchard, Norman C. with Stephen Wilen. Knee Deep in Shavings, Memories of Early Yachting & Boatbuilding on the West Coast. 0-920663-63-X
Seattle, WA., Horsdal & Schubart; 1999.


The Museum of History and Industry, The Sophie Frye Bass Library, is the repository for photographs, boat plans, and brochures of the Blanchard Boat Co. (1900-1963).

03 January 2011

DAWN ROW .... by John Gorton, West Sound, Orcas Is.

John in his Walker Bay 10 in West Sound Marina.

 John Gorton with his planked 15-ft  Wisp, KATE ELEY, which he built in his shop in S. California. Kate was his first "Dawn Row Boat" imported to Orcas in 1989.
During the summer months I go rowing more or less every morning, a little after dawn. Down to the dock. All very still and the water like molten nickel as it softly laps at the rocks; silence all around except for the occasional cry of a distant sea bird. Off to the left, silhouetted against the dawn mist, a lone blue heron stands motionless on a big stone, its head tilted down as it watches for its prey. 

I go into the bridge house of my little motor boat, collect my soft seat, a dry rag, and some lubricant for the oars. Drop my bits and pieces by the dinghy and cast off the bow line, then bring the stern line in and step down into the boat. The seat is covered with glistening pearls of dew – I wipe a space clear and sit down on my soft seat.

For a long moment I sit as the boat softly drifts away from the dock side. The lap of the water is there beside me now, far off across the bay a rooster crows. You feel the soft, damp, air and there is no single identifiable noise but your whole body is filled with the sense of dawn, alone on the water.

I run out the saturated wet oars and wipe dry the upper foot or so, rub some stuff on the leathers and feel the water under the blades. A glance at my watch to remember my start time and then we pull away. The heron at last realizes I am nearby, reaches out his wings and, with a ghastly cackling screech, launches himself into the air and departs for a new rock a hundred yards down the shoreline. The light over the hill to the east is beginning to brighten, the gently moving mist clouds begin to take on a third dimension as the new day's light strikes through.

I am rounding the Point now, the dock and my motor boat fast disappearing from view. Somewhere a motorcycle clatters its way down the road and fades into the distance. Then, silently, a seals head appears on the surface a few yards behind me. I quietly say, "good morning". I am not sure if he recognizes me or not but I see him most mornings. He looks at me with a doleful expression and swims a little closer. I know the seals because they each have their own territories and are never more than a hundred yards or so from the same spot each morning. Of course I only see two or three or maybe four on any particular day – but they are always in the same place and never together. We have one who gives birth on our dock, sometimes twice a year. Two years ago I came down one morning and found a seagull had draped the afterbirth over the top of my wheel house – what a mess to clean up! Then I jumped with surprise as the seal came half out of the water and crashed down into it right alongside my boat. Was he playing, or just showing off!

I am half way out to The Rock in the middle of the Sound now. I glance over my shoulder and see I am right on track about two hundred yards to go. I watch my shore marks to hold my heading. The boat is pulling well now and I have overcome my early morning stiffness, not a sound as we come up on the The Rock and I round it, close too on the western side. The usual white seagull gazes down at me from the top of the pole – and then, as the little sand patch comes in sight, I realize there is a seal lying there waiting for the morning sun. I am only twenty feet away but going smoothly without making a sound and he just lies there and watches me pass. Strange that I have never seen him there before.

Back in the 1930s, my father used to take us to spend a summer holiday at the seaside. We always went to the same little town of Barmouth on the west coast of Wales. It stood at the head of an estuary and had done for perhaps several hundred years. My father's family used to take him there when he had been a small boy. My father was highly regarded by the old salts who operated the fleet of row boats and the ferry across the river from the town harbor. And so I was naturally inducted into this small group at an early age. I recall that I used to watch with great care, how they handled the boats and particularly, how they rowed them and how smoothly they came in to the quayside. I vaguely have an image in the back of my mind of being sat at the rowing thwart of a skiff called the EVA, and then pushed out into the stream. I would have been about ten.

Anyway, I managed to get the oars out and row back to the quay and that was how I learned to row. When the War came, and the bombing started in Birmingham, my father was very ill and my mother took us to live at Barmouth. Looking back it seems to me that I spent all my waking hours down at the quay. By the time I was twelve or thirteen, I was allowed to take parties of summer visitors up the estuary in the big, Whitehall style rowing skiffs and, when I wasn't doing that, I was "Bow Boy" on the ferry boat BETTY – my first ever paying job at a sixpence a day, (10 cents US). I learned to sail a small boat in those years but sailing never got into my blood like rowing did.

In the years that followed, I found myself living in coastal areas in various parts of the UK and Scandinavia and never missed a chance to go rowing. As I grew older and progressed at my work, I was able to own a boat – and of course it invariably had a dinghy. Cruising for me, whether it was on the English coast or later, in the Baltic Sea, was essentially going from one place where I could row, to the next opportunity to take off in my dinghy at dawn – or as the sun was going down.

As I approached retirement, (I was now a regular reader of Wooden Boat magazine), I started building small row boats. I built a "Wisp", a fifteen foot narrow, planked boat that had remarkably similar lines to those much bigger boats that I had rowed as a child in Wales. I named it KATE ELEY after one of the larger boats of my childhood. When I finally did retire in 1989, I took KATE ELEY, along with a sailboat I then owned, to our new house on Orcas Island. There, in West Sound I found my Nirvana! At least I think that is what its called. Now I could row to my heart's delight and any time of the day or night! Which of course for me meant dawn every summer's morn.

After a while we built our own dock and shortly thereafter, I spent one winter building ROSIE – a dory with its stern sawn off that Dynamite Payson had published in the pages of Wooden Boat. It so happened that about that time the child of a friend of ours had suffered serious injuries after being run over by a speed boat in Florida. I wanted to do some experiments to see if I could come up with a small motor boat that would be safe for children to play with. So I modified ROSIE to have a false inner bottom that I could easily remove and so enable me to simply install different propulsion schemes.

Partly because of the experiments I intended to do and partly because I didn't much like thin ply boats – that wasn't how those old boats at Barmouth had been built – I doubled the plank thickness for ROSIE. Well, about the time I finished ROSIE, my life style took on a new dimension as I started a video production company and, by the end of the 1990s, this was becoming modestly successful so that my attention was permanently diverted from the workshop to my new studio. Though ROSIE had now replaced KATE ELEY as my standard morning row boat.

It is now full sun-up and I am approaching Skull Island. The sun is just about to top Turtle Back Mountain on the east side of the Sound – I have been going for about twenty minutes now and I ship the oars as I come up on the inside of Skull and let the boat drift. Sure enough, a moment or two later a seal's head comes out of the water just astern. I say softly, "good morning Diana." I don't know if it really is Diana but she had said before she died that she would come back as a seal to swim in front of her house and she is nearly always there when I pass by on my early morning passage.

I head east now, across the Sound to Jennifer's Rock where I watch the early morning traffic on the road above me. Then along the shoreline heading south towards Haida Point. I like to go in real close to the rocky shore along here. If the tide is very low I can usually find the old car chassis that lies on the bottom below the high point of the road – the vehicle must have fallen about eighty feet into the water many years ago.

About five years ago we had some heavy rain storms in July and I discovered my aged old body was no longer strong enough to pull ROSIE with several gallons of rainwater in her bilges, up onto the dock. My wife told me I had to sell her and she went out and bought me the "Walker Bay Ten."

At first I was a little concerned about going out in the new boat. I mean I am not a wooden boat fanatic but most of the boats in my life have been of wood and I felt a certain kinship to wood – I was comfortable in a wooden boat, I knew how to fix whatever broke or came adrift; a reasonably chunky wooden boat just feels so stable and you know if you accidentally hit a stone on the beach, the stone will get pushed aside, not the boat.

And now here I was about to set out in "Tupperware". As the next few mornings came and went I began to realize that the "Walker Ten" had some quite pleasant features! To my surprise I heard myself telling a friend one morning that, "It really rowed rather nicely." Now after five years, I tell people that it is the ideal row boat for an old man – and I love it! I can beach it, pull it out, turn it over, and pull it back right side up – all on my own. It is a real delight to row, doesn't mind a bit of a chop or a headwind – and it tracks nicely. But, strangely enough, I have never given her a name. You see plastic boats hadn't been invented when I started rowing!

I'm just raising Haida Point on the way back now. 

There is a sort of indentation in the rocky shore just before the Point. It would make a delightful little harbor – that is if it had a rock breakwater across the entrance to hold off the violent westerlies we get here occasionally. Common in the UK, but here on the West Coast breakwaters are a real rarity – but then the breakwaters across harbors around the Atlantic coasts were built hundreds of years ago (how did they know where to put them before they had Planning Departments I wonder?) Anyway, like this morning, most times I run into my little harbor and count the oysters on the bottom and look for red Rock crabs scurrying under the rocks. There is a resident mink amongst these rocks and sometimes he will make an appearance – going quite fast across the jagged and barnacle infested rocks along the water's edge. How is it his feet are not torn and bloody I wonder?

I head out and round the Point, to see my little tug sitting at the dock a hundred yards away. Between the Point and my dock there is what I call "Our Pool". It lies below our house and I keep a mooring in the middle for guests. Since the Pool looks sort of threatening to boats – too small for a big boat and obviously too shallow to anchor in, nobody ever hangs out there unless we have invited them. We had a friend who used to come in an old sailing fishing boat with a keel that went down ten feet – my friend was quite safe in "Our Pool" nestled up to the corner at the lowest tide!

I am passing my mooring now – I hang a line on it to catch mussels so I pause for a moment to pull it up and check the catch – not bad.

The sun is well up now, contractor's trucks make noisy processions on the road and the big cruisers on the Club dock are disgorging kids of all sizes into incredibly fast speed boats that chase madly across the Sound in noisy search of their crab pot markers. One stops just off the end of my dock and proceeds to haul in his pot. I potter over to him and bid him a "good morning"!

I suggest politely that he has chosen an unfortunate spot for his pot. He finally accepts my presence and gruffly demands why. I explain he is twenty feet away, directly in line with my dock and that I sometimes have visitors come after dark when it might be difficult to see his float. He says, "so?" I explain they might cut his line and he would have lost his pot or, the prop shaft of one of my big boat friends might catch his line and damage the boat – and maybe sue him for the many thousands of dollars the marina may charge him to fix it.

He responds that there are no such boats in sight this morning – he doesn't see very well, I assume! I point to an area a couple of hundred yards away and tell him that is a real hot spot – he grunts!

And I row back to my dock where I can see a neighbor is waiting to tell me the latest news of his wife's illness. I let the boat glide in towards the dock, dip my port oar at the last minute and lift the starboard out of the gunn'l. The "Walker Ten" softly kisses the side of the dock and I lean over to secure the bow rope. For my last few seconds aboard I sit and look around at the bustling activity – the magic of the dawn has softly stolen away.

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