"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.

28 October 2011

❖ "CAPI" BLANCHET of the classic book ❖ The Curve of Time ❖

Of the hundreds of books about sailing and cruising along the Pacific Coast of BC--one of the most enduring bestsellers has been The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet (1891-1961). It hovers perpetually on or near the list of the ten best-selling non-fiction books in BC. It's a memoir of the Blanchet family's adventures in the 1930s and 1940s condensed as if they were from one extended voyage. 
      Here is a lovely tribute (abridged) about the author's life from Edith Iglauer Daly, author of Fishing with John, courtesy of Harbour Publishing (see website below.)

"When I came to live on the BC coast I was given as a sort of spiritual introduction, a remarkable little volume entitled The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet. The book was an appropriate choice, my summers were spent on a fishing boat, the MOREKELP, with my husband John Daly, a commercial salmon troller, and the area he regularly traversed partly followed the path traveled by Mrs. Blanchet and her five children on their tiny motor launch, the CAPRICE.
      The five Blanchet youngsters, led by their indomitable parent, spent four summer months for fifteen years––on a 25' boat, traveling around the west coast of Vancouver Island and as far north up the Inside Passage as Cape Caution. They explored the inlets and bays, sometimes following the trail broken by that mariner Captain George Vancouver, with whom they felt a great empathy; their experiences finally written down in a series of sketches that encompassed all the years of their journeys as if they were one. 
      The Curve of Time is M. Wylie Blanchet's only book, originally published in 1961 when she was 70-years-old. That same year she died of a heart attack, sitting at her desk where she was found slumped over her typewriter. She had lived just long enough to enjoy being a published author. 
      M. Wylie Blanchet. At first, she tried using just 'M. Wylie.' was for Muriel, the author's given name, which she hated; Wylie was borrowed from a grandparent, and Blanchet was acquired by marriage. Altogether it was the impersonal sound that she intended: she hoped the author would not be recognized by the people up the coast about whom she was writing, who knew her simply as "Capi" Blanchet. As to the nickname––wasn't she the Captain of the CAPRICE?
      In the last chapter of the book, entitled 'Little House,' Mrs. Blanchet comes off the CAPRICE to write about the family's land base on seven secluded acres of Vancouver Island's coast, from which they departed each June and to which they returned in October. The Curve of Time manages to be sentimental, imaginative and often strays into whimsy, but it is reticent about the hard facts; it reads like an impressionist painting. Its characters, whose physical appearances are never really described. We know what they do and how they feel but not what they look like or who they are other than a mother and 5 children.
      Despite the reticence, we do know the important things about this remarkable woman. She comes through as extremely courageous, innovative, and as a kind of mechanical wizard compared to most women. Yet readers close her book with a scratchy feeling of curiosity.
      Her Canadian publisher Gray Campbell was both neighbour and friend, has described her as having 'a delightful shyness, as a serious person with a delicious, dry, sense of humour.' Campbell first became acquainted with her when the CAPRICE was berthed next to his boat at Canoe Cove, a short distance from the Blanchet house, which was 5-miles from Sidney. He too was writing, and Capi used to sit in the cabin of his boat and read the chapters of his uncompleted manuscript. He has said since that it was the lack of success of the first edition of The Curve of Time, whose English publisher never bothered to see that it was stocked in bookstores either in Victoria or Vancouver, that helped to convince him that there was a need for regional publishing.
       Muriel Blanchet was born Muriel Liffiton in 1891 in Lachine, Quebec, into a well-to-do family with High Anglican principles. The Liffitons were English but the Snetsingers, on her mother's side, were pre-Revolution Dutch settlers in the Hudson Valley. They crossed the border into Canada during the American Revolution, settling in the St. Lawrence valley with a land grant downstream of the town of Cornwall. Grandfather Snetsinger was a Member of Parliament for the area and left a considerable inheritance whose final distribution was made only a year ago [c.1979]. The ancestral home is now under sixty feet of St. Lawrence River water and all the original land has been sold.
      Muriel was the middle one of three sisters and something of a tomboy.  The results of her 4-yr scholastic campaign are still evident in a row of small red leather Temple Volumes of Shakespeare. Each volume was given her as a prize for top honours in a different subject, and she never stopped until she had the whole set, inscribed to Muriel Liffiton in the heavy black script of R. Newton, Rector of St. Paul's, and bearing the motto Non Sans Droit with the school's coat of arms. Between 1905 and 1908 Muriel Liffiton repeatedly captured first prizes in Latin, French, spelling, astronomy, history, geography, geometry (Euclid), algebra and English, beginning with a modest two her first year and winding up with six at graduation. 
      Muriel Liffiton was expected to go on to university but instead at 18, she married Geoffrey Blanchet, the brother of a school friend––a decision she is said to have regretted later. 
      Geoffrey and Muriel Blanchet started married life in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The family grew to include four children, they packed them all into a Willys-Knight touring car which, according to one of the children, 'had flapping curtains and a great top that folded like an elephant sitting down,' and started driving across the country looking for an island to live on.
     The Blanchets were able to buy 7-acres at Curteis Point, overlooking the Gulf of Georgia, and they kept it until Mrs. B. died in 1961, although Little House was torn down in 1948. It was an unusual house, a strangely mystical English cottage covered with ivy, with a big fireplace and a billiard table on the first floor and four bedrooms up a rickety flight of stairs on the 2nd floor. 'It was designed by a celebrated architect, Sam McLure, and built by a crook,' said David Blanchet, who was born there.
     Their boat the CAPRICE was purchased in 1923 for $600. It had been built the year before, a cold year, and the Brentwood Ferry, near which it was anchored, managed to shove a cake of ice into the side of the boat, sinking it. She was hauled out on a nearby dock and the Blanchets bought it on the spot, with water still dribbling out of it. 'This was probably when my mother learned to deal with engines,' David has commented. 'It had to be cleaned out immediately, once it had been in salt water. We had that same engine for 20-years until it was changed in 1942.'
      Peter B. remembers the first time his mother took the CAPRICE out on her own. It was in March, on his sixth birthday, and she had promised to take him to Shell Island, a favourite spot where she liked to say she would spend her 100th-birthday. She and Peter got in the boat, which they kept at Canoe Cove, and 'she cranked and cranked that darned engine, and still it wouldn't start,' Peter recalled. 'She could see my father sitting on the Point watching to see if we would get off and she had to go and get him, which really irked her. Then she and I went fishing for the day off Sidney Spit. We caught a couple of fish which we cooked over a fire on the beach at Shell Island.'
      The second summer after the death of Geoffrey, Mrs. B rented Little House and took the children off on the boat for the first of the venturesome trips that as a composite memory became the substance of The Curve of Time. With the money she received from renting Clovelly in summer and her own small income, she was able to manage. 
      The three younger children, Joan, Peter, and David, were educated almost entirely at home, by correspondence, by their mother, and by a Scottish engineer who was a mechanic at the Canoe Cove boat works, who taught them math, chemistry, and physics. Joan, known as the rebellious member of the family, went to art school in Vancouver and then continued her art studies in New York. When she left Vancouver, she bought an old Indian dugout canoe for five dollars and paddled home. It took her five days, and she crossed the Gulf of Georgia at night, to avoid traffic and heavy seas, a remarkable feat since it required at least nine hours of steady paddling. Frances King vividly recalled hearing about her sister's arrival. 'When she rounded the point in her dugout, wearing an old red sweater, Capi and the boys were sitting on the bluff, wondering who the Indian was! Joan had expected some commendation and was amazed at Capi's anger. 'Just because I'm a fool doesn't mean you children have to be!' Capi said.
      In appearance, Capi Blanchet was of medium height, with very fine blonde hair brushed upwards so that it formed a kind of haze around her head. Her normal attire was a pair of khaki shirts, an Indian sweater, and sneakers that sometimes had holes in the toes. She had begun wearing shorts in the 1920s, long before they were fashionable, and her daughter Elisabeth has recalled that a journalist writing about people he had met on the BC coast in The Saturday Evening Post 'commented on her shorts and how suitable they seemed for what she was doing-- running a boat.'
      Mrs. B's children and friends were enormously fond of her, somewhat in awe of her all-around competence, and thought her fair-minded but domineering. She could do almost anything that men did and still be feminine.
      'She had a lot of courage or self-confidence, but she did not overestimate her mechanical ability,' a writer friend, Hubert Evans, has said. "On a run from Sidney to Vancouver, the CAPRICE was overtaken in the Gulf by a late-season southeaster, and the little boat took quite a dusting,' he related. 'Capi had several children aboard. 'I told the Lord I could take care of the boat but would he please keep the engine running,' she said to me afterward.'
      Capi Blanchet does not seem to have been particularly light-hearted or spontaneous, and she was somewhat arrogant about anyone she considered her inferior. She had a slightly Church-of-England attitude, even talking to fishermen, who were never sure how to take her. She had a good sense of humour but a rather studied laugh.
      A description from her daughter Frances exemplifies the quality of character her children and friends remember best: 'she was capable of handling any situation. If she was worried she didn't let us know.'
      On the boat Mrs. B was even-tempered under what must often have been trying conditions at such close quarters; her method of discipline was to separate her children, not argue. David remembered his mother losing her temper with him only once when he was about twelve. 'It was some silly mistake, something about an anchor, that I did my way instead of what she wanted,' he said. 'Normally her eyes were brown, but suddenly they were a turquoise colour and blazing. It was unbelievable!'
     She was one of those rare women who are mechanically inclined and enjoyed tinkering with engines and working with tools. Every so often she took apart the CAPRICE engine, a 4-cylinder Kermath, cleaned and painted it and put it back together again, grinding the valves herself. 
      An intimate friend of Mrs. Blanchet's, Kathleen Caldwell, has described her as 'not excessively domestic, but interested in people and politics, which she loved to discuss. Her house was comfortable and pleasant, and Capi could produce a beautiful meal with what looked like no effort.' In their close circle, Capi was renowned for her roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and mouth-watering pastry. Oddly enough, although she liked to eat fish, she never cooked it except outdoors on a beach because she couldn't stand the smell.
      Mrs. B liked to draw sea creatures in pen and ink, and once illustrated a fairy story she wrote with drawings in the margin. She was also a fair pianist, and in later life enjoyed playing a violin that her grandfather gave her when she was 12. It now hangs on the wall of David's living room, but his mother used it often; she had joined a small orchestra at Deep Cove, playing second violin, reputedly a quarter-tone flat.
      David fell ill before the interior of Mrs. B's new house was completed and it never seemed to advance beyond that half-built stage. She lined the whole interior with vertical cedar planks herself, but doors were a late addition to the bathroom and kitchen and knobs usually came off in hand. Her firewood was never quite dry; Kathleen Caldwell once delighted her by bringing a gift of Presto logs. When Capi's doctor prescribed a drier climate for a cough that later developed into emphysema she ignored him and instead sat with her head as far into her oil stove as she could get it for 20-minutes a day. 'That's my high, dry climate,' she said.
      As for the CAPRICE, it was never meant to have any other owner than Capi B. After the war she planned to build a new boat and sold the CAPRICE for $700––a hundred more than she had paid for it––to the owner of a boat works in Victoria, who hauled it up for repairs. While it was on the ways the entire boat works burned down, including the CAPRICE. Mrs. Blanchet did have another boat after that, the SCYLLA, but she never really used it.
      'I loved the summer journeys but I doubt if any of us appreciated quite how unique our childhood was. We just knew Capi was doing something unusual,' daughter Elisabeth writes from England. 'She used to get a bit tense if we were taking green water over the bow, wallowing about in a following sea, or running the Yaculta Rapids. Otherwise, she took everything in her stride––whether crossing the Straits at 4 am to beat the sou'wester or exploring new territory.'
      'Only fools seek adventures,' David has remembered his mother as saying at one time or another. However foolish Mrs. B's adventures may have seemed to her (which is doubtful), they have a dreamlike charm for an increasing number of readers. The Curve of Time has had a separate and ongoing life of its own, achieving its own small immortality."
Thank you to author Edith Iglauer Daly who celebrated her 100th birthday on 10 March 2017 in Madeira Park, B.C. She passed away at Sechelt, BC, 13 February 2019. 
Raincoast Chronicles Six/Ten, 1983
Courtesy of Harbour Publishing

12 October 2011

❖ US Coast Guard's Most Famous Vessel ❖ BEAR (update)

Looking to sea from the deck of the BEAR.
1934 original photo
from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
The Cutter BEAR
by R. H. (Skipper) Calkins

"From the time I began my career as a waterfront newsman, the historic old cutter BEAR, Uncle Sam's most widely known mercy ship in Alaskan waters, fascinated me. Perhaps it was her barkentine rig which gave her an appearance unlike any of her fleet mates, and her glamourous service as an Arctic whaler, before she was purchased by the US government. For years she was pay dirt as I panned the waterfront in quest for news and feature stories, some concerning the fabulous gold strikes of the Klondyke.
      At that time, my rival on the marine beat was a stocky fellow with an English accent who had reached our shores from Australia. He was a pompous individual, a two-fisted drinking man, who made the bar of the old Rainier-Grand Hotel, where many waterfronters gathered, his often-frequented club.
      I had bumped the fellow from down-under with a story concerning the purchase of a ship by the Pacific Alaska Navigation Co., and was told he was gunning for me.
      One day I picked up the rival sheet and read under screaming headlines what purported to be a story of the rescue of a freighter afire at sea, by the "famed" cutter BEAR. Such extravagant expressions as "a blazing torch", "blistered decks", and "seafaring men periled" were used.
      When the BEAR reached Seattle, I was the first man aboard. I questioned every one from the captain to the cook and discovered that my rival on the marine beat had not allowed the lack of facts to spoil a good story. The freighter "rescued" had a bunker fire, the BEAR was nearby and convoyed her to Dutch Harbor where she discharged part of her bunker supplies, reloaded, and proceeded.
      However, from that time on, I never missed a sailing or arrival of the BEAR. I made friends of the officers and crew and praised the service of this old mercy ship.
Original postcard from Byrd's Antarctic Expedition II on BEAR.
Capt. R.A.J. English served on the Bear from 1933-1935.

Saltwater People Historical Society archives. ©
      The stout little barkentine-rigged wooden-hull vessel had her steam engines removed and replaced at Boston by a six-cylinder 600-HP Diesel. The tall stack from which black smoke billowed as she arrived off the Arctic coast of Alaska, giving her the name of "big smoke ship" among the Eskimos, was removed. A power plant which saved valuable space, due to the smaller fuel supply needed, was installed in the BEAR, one of the world's oldest vessels.
      During her long service in the Bering Sea and the Arctic, the BEAR was driven by a two-cylinder compound steam engine. Until 1912 she was navigated by a two-blade propeller, installed by her builders 38-years before.
      The BEAR's 'black gang' experienced plenty of grief when the old cutter sailed from Seattle each spring bound for Point Barrow and the little settlements near the top of the world.
      The coal-fired steam plant required 392 tons of fuel, part of which was stored on the vessel's deck. With her steam engine going at full speed, the old BEAR was able to log about nine knots. Under canvas alone, which she carried for her barkentine rig, the vessel, in a spanking breeze, could make about eight knots.
      I remember seeing the old BEAR each fall after her annual cruise to the Arctic. We were welcomed aboard by the genial skipper, a heavy-set bespectacled man, who took us to the officers' quarters. Here, seated at a table drinking steaming hot coffee and eating rolls, we received the news of the long Arctic cruise. Captain Cochran usually called for the log book in order to give newsmen details of rescues and assistance rendered the natives of the far-flung Arctic coast. After the interview was over, the captain would present trinkets of ivory made by the Eskimos.
      The BEAR was built in Greenock, Scotland in 1874 for the Arctic whaling industry. In 1884 she was purchased by the US and assigned to the Navy for service in the Greely Relief Expedition. In 1885 she was transferred to the US Revenue Cutter Service for duty in the Bering Sea and performed this service until her replacement in 1928 by the Diesel-powered cutter NORTHLAND.
      The BEAR earned more fame in the Arctic than any other vessel. To the natives she meant law, order, civilization, and justice. The big 'smoke ship' to the Eskimos was a symbol of power of the white man.
      Although the BEAR spent her winters at a wharf in Oakland, she was sent to isolated little settlements along the northern coast; she usually began her annual cruises in Seattle.

      The BEAR called in at Elliott Bay on her way to the Far North to take aboard stores and embark government employees. Sometimes she carried a famous scientist who was en route to isolated districts of Alaska to study glacier formations or the origin of the ancient tribes which first settled the westernmost islands of the Aleutian chain. 
      Famed for her cruises in Arctic seas as a mercy ship and to Little America with personnel of the Byrd Polar Expedition, the historic old Coast Guard cutter BEAR, last was reported carrying Jewish immigrants from the Mediterranean to Israel."
The Seattle waterfront long will remember the historic old cutter BEAR, which ranks as the Coast Guard's most famous vessel. Retired by the government under the stigma that she was too old and too slow, the BEAR was converted into a motorship for her part in the second Byrd Antarctic Expedition
From: High Tide The Big Stories of Seattle's Waterfront 1952.

Captain C. S. Cochran.
The old USRC BEAR finally made her last
northern cruise in gov't service in 1926.
The veteran commander Cochran was on her
bridge during most of her recent service.
The historic BEAR terminated her government service
and was given to the city of Oakland, CA, as a
maritime shrine, she still had a long and thrilling
career ahead of her, which was to span
more than a generation. 

Undated original photo from the archives of
the S.P.H.S.©

10 October 2011

❖ Bristol Bay Boat WHISKER ❖

Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, WA.
 “John Dickinson’s 29-ft Bristol Bay sailboat started taking on water when he launched it in the spring of 1978, and that meant a big job to be done that summer.    
      The boat was then at least 50-years old, but it had never leaked before—and wouldn’t have then, he’s certain, except that he had stored it out of the water for three winters running. He won’t do that again, he vows.    
      The planks of a wooden boat will shrink when they dry out, and thus the  seams will open; but if the owner is lucky the planks will swell and the seams will close when the boat is re-launched.
      John wasn’t so lucky, and he had to re-caulk (pronounced “re-cork”) the  seams—all 430 linear feet of them. He finally hired an expert, Tim Eslick, to help,  and got the job done in about two months. First John pulled out the old caulking cotton (think cotton “yarn”) with a  hooked tool called a reefer. Then Tim put fresh caulking cotton in with a caulking iron and caulking mallet. And then John put in black seam compound with a  putty knife before painting her bottom and putting the boat back in the water.    
      Bristol Bays are sturdy, seaworthy boats built for fishing under sail in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, starting perhaps around 1880. In 1952 the state allowed power boats in the fishery, and although fish caught from sailboats brought one-cent a pound more than those fish from power boats; that was the beginning of the end for the sailing fleet.        
      There are still good, solid ‘Bristol Bays’ stored in rotting warehouses in Alaska, John says, and a lot of people would like to have one. But it’s such a  problem getting them out, that most people eventually give up.
      John and his wife, Edie, bought their boat from Camp Orkila on Orcas in 1963 and sailed it home to San Juan. Their daughter, Elizabeth, then 3-years old, named it WHISKER, because it 'whisks through the water.' (Camp Orkila had been given a number of Bristol Bays by Alaska Packers Assoc. in Blaine.)
      There might be a dozen Bristol Bays in the county now [1983], John guesses, some sailboats and some converted to power. They're popular because of their good sea qualities, their lovely lines, and their still reasonable price."
By John and Louise Dustrude
San Juan Almanac 1983
Longhouse Printcrafters,
Friday Harbor, WA.

08 October 2011


Home waters, Vancouver, B. C.
WESTWARD HO was designed by Edson B. Schock,

and built in 1927 by George Askew, for Walter Cline.
Cline traded her to Barney Johnson for the famous ALEXANDRA in 1930.
"I suspect it was Barney who changed her gaff rig.
He added the first genoa to be seen in these waters.
 He won a lot of races with her during the years he owned her.
It seems he borrowed her on occasion; he won the Beaver Cup with her in 1939.

Photo and quote courtesy of David Williams, Vancouver, B. C.

"At approximately 8:30 this morning, in the swirling narrows and under an overcast sky, Captain Barney Johnson, popular skipper of the WESTWARD HO, dipped his ensign and officially said goodbye for his WESTWARD HO to the Royal Vancouver Yacht club. Ushered out by Tom Ramsey's ARMITA, carrying Skipper Ramsay, Art Jefferd, and Fred Holland, the WESTWARD HO, under power, circled around in the swirling tide, while the representatives on the ARMITA gave three hasty cheers and blew loudly on a foghorn.
      The WESTWARD HO has been sold to a girls' school outside of Seattle. Johnson was delivering her this morning. She was built in Vancouver and has been the property of Barney Johnson for the past eight years during which time she has been the commodore's ship on two occasions. She has always been regarded as the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club's number one sailing vessel, sort of one of the pillars of the sailing craft.
      'She's a beautiful boat,' sadly murmured Johnson. 'I'll hate to lose her. But I have made up my mind. Come on, boys, have another drink with the sun, you have to have a mizzen now you have your topsail set. Can't sail on one wing, you know.'
      Another toast, a few hearty choruses of 'Blow the Man Down,' and the WESTWARD HO was on her way.
      Over the weekend she sailed her last race, the Ballenas Islands race for the Beaver Cup, and was an easy win.
      'We really sailed her on her last race,' said Barney. 'I'll hate to see her go... but maybe we can get her up here for the ladies' race with some of the girls handling her.'
      According to reports Barney Johnson will not be off the sea. The famous old salt plans to get a small boat and do some racing."
News article by Hal Straight 
The Vancouver Sun
Tuesday 22 June 1937.
From the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society

Below notes from Miles McCoy, West Sound, Orcas Island. 
McCoy was the skipper of WESTWARD HO in the summer of 1950 when he was 19-years old. The West Sound sailing scene hooked him on settling in the area.
WESTWARD HO (O. N. 236434)
West Sound, WA., then sailing with Camp Four Winds-Westward Ho campers.
"Turtleback" land formation in background.
Undated photo courtesy of Nick Exton, Orcas Island.

 "The yawl WESTWARD HO was associated with Four Winds-Westward Ho Camps from the late 1930s through the mid 1950s. The camp being named after the vessel; Westward-Ho camp became the boy's camp when Four Winds-Westward Ho became co-ed. The yawl served the camps for many years longer than any other vessel. Hundreds of children sailed and sang camp songs aboard while learning the ropes and the ways of the sea. After WW II ended, Jack and Bill Helsell prepared WESTWARD HO for the 1949 Trans Pacific Yacht Race. The race was a windy one with above average winds over a majority of the course.  [Miles McCoy was crewing.]
      While in Hawaii WESTWARD HO was met and sailed by a bevy of senior campers from Four Winds. They sailed several day sails in Molokai channel and learned about sailing in brisk conditions.
      Later in August after a pleasant voyage from Hawaii to the coast, WESTWARD HO arrived at the Orcas Island camp to a jolly welcome by some of the Hawaii contingent and camp staff. There was much music, singing, and regaling of sea stories.
      WESTWARD HO sailed for the camps for several more years before being sold in the 1950s to sail off to Hawaii and points south. She has not been spotted in the Pacific Northwest since."

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