"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.

26 January 2012


Capt. Thomas Drake,
Photo dated 1933.
Original photo from the S.P.H.S.©
The first photographic morsels of Captain Thomas Drake to slip into this historical collection came with the arrival of two vintage photo postcards. Research indicates the bluewater sailor had this card (below) printed in Seattle to sell at speaking engagements for funds for his international sailing adventures. 
      The puzzle for this writer started unfolding when brief references to Captain Tommy were noticed in books by Andrews and Kirwin, This was Seafaring and also, High Tide by newspaperman R. H. Calkins. These writers indicated Drake was a sailor friend to many in the Northwest, sometimes mooring in Seattle or Stanwood, but known around the globe.
(O.N. 231796)
Captain Thomas Drake
She was built in Tacoma in 1932;
lost with the skipper in 1936.
Homeport was Stanwood, WA,
as listed in federal documentation.
Undated original photo postcard from
the Saltwater People Historical Society©
Below text by Glen Carter, The Seattle Times, 1973.
Thanks to the Northwest and Special Collections Librarian, Sean Lanksbury, WA. State Library, Olympia, WA. Herein a long-winded story of one tough, deep-water, sailor:

"If Seattle ever establishes a Hall of Fame for extraordinary old men of the sea, Captain Tom Drake would get my vote. Should somebody form a Tom Drake Fan Club, I'll be first in line to register.
      A man who would roam the seas alone for more than 120,000 miles--as late in life as 76--he deserves a tip of the watch-cap. Consider also that he built the boats he sailed--none longer than 37-ft.
      If you've never heard of Tommy Drake, you're not alone. He didn't make big headlines--even when he went down to the sea in his last little ship in 1936. Captain Tom just went away for a while. He was last seen headed out from San Francisco, bound down the coast for San Diego and ports beyond.
      Drake favored double-enders--those boats pointed at both ends. He built or worked on all of them at Stanwood, Snohomish County, which he also called home. He sawed his own timbers and scantlings there.
      Captain Tom was some sea-going man. He was only 5-feet tall, mustached; the grin into a camera's lens was ever-ready.
Thomas Drake
Faint inscription by him on photo.
Drake had postcards published 

in Seattle and England 
to promote his talks.
Undated, original photo postcard from S.P.H.S.©
      A tough little guy, he was. At 70, he pulled into the Seattle harbor from Hawaii after battling mountainous seas for part of 53 days. His 37-foot PROGRESS was limping with sails shredded and bowsprit gone. Tommy also was battered. His right arm hung loosely at his side. The hand was broken and the arm badly sprained. He had caught them in the boat's spinning wheel-spokes.
      'I'm going into Marine Hospital to get patched up, then I'll head out again,' he told a reporter. Tommy said he had steered and sailed left-handed for 20 grueling days.
      Who WAS Tommy Drake? The records are sketchy but complete enough. He was a peppery little man who talked with a Cockney accent, in short, clipped sentences. He limped badly on a leg shortened 4-inches by a shipboard fall in his youth. He began sailing out of England at age 13.
      Old newspaper clippings describe him as 'The Lone Sea Rover'. He never traveled with a companion. Newsmen repeatedly said he had roamed the seven seas, calling on 117 ports and logging 120,000 miles out of Puget Sound. He had sailed in windjammers and rounded Cape Horn as a matter of life. The last two tall ships on which he was mate were the bark IFIFIA and the brig TARTER.
      Men here knew him well. He was a member of the Seattle and Queen City Yacht Clubs. His oil portrait, done by Peter Jordan Savage, was a prized adornment of the Seattle Yacht Club. [Do you know the whereabouts of this painting?]
      In 1935 a newsman wrote: ' Tommy Drake, venerable seaman and nautical hermit, is gone again.  He left at dawn yesterday and pointed his schooner's bow outbound from Lake Union. Where was he going? Nobody knows, except perhaps Tommy himself.'
      Tommy was that way--chatty and congenial but close-mouthed about his destinations. One summer he shoved off and didn't return for more than four years. During those absences, he wrote to friends such as 'Doc' Freeman, Harry Kirwin, Jacob Lough, George Broom, and others.
      It was Lough, a druggist, who traveled to San Francisco, August 1937, and on to Pescadero Point to examine the beached wreckage of a boat identified as Captain Tom's.
      In October 1926, it had been Lough who received a letter from the lone skipper who wrote he had arrived safely in Balboa, en route to his boyhood home in England by way of Cape Horn. There had been no word from him since his departure from Seattle four months earlier in his 36-foot schooner, the PILGRIM.
      He did battle his way around the Horn, up to the Bahamas, made a good passage across the Atlantic, sighted the Azores without putting in, and arrived off the English coast in a gale that forced him to heave to. Blown back out to sea, he had to beat for nearly a week before he made Fowey after 52 days at sea.
O.N. 223254
35.5' x 11' x 4.2'
Built in 1923, Quilcene, WA
Location: South coast of England.
Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
Archived 23 March 2016,

Courtesy of a reader in Wales.
      He called at coastal villages, then sailed up the English Channel and entered the Thames, happy and triumphant to revisit the river waters he had left 50-years earlier. But his joy was marred when he luffed into the moorage of a Gravesend yacht club and was told he could not tie up, being a non-member of a yachting fraternity.
      Drake explained that his lame hip was painful, that he had voyaged a long distance and was tired. Club officials still denied his mooring, so he went to a less prestigious club and told officials there he was a member of a Seattle yacht club. After confirmation by Atlantic cable was made, Drake became a celebrity on the London waterfront. The yacht club that had denied him moorage sent a delegation to offer the club's apologies. The press reported that he received the apologists cordially and invited them aboard.
      He left England for leisurely touring of Scandinavia and Holland. Then came a press report out of Amsterdam that described how the Lone Sea Rover had been shipwrecked and was rescued by fishermen.
      Tommy worked his way on a ship to the East Coast, rode a freight train cross-country and arrived in Seattle's railroad yards.
      Drake, then 66, was back from the sea in Seattle after four years and six months.
      In all, Captain Drake sailed 4 of his home-built ships out of Puget Sound. His first schooner, the SIR FRANCIS, was completed in 1915. She was 32-feet, a double-ender, and drew less than four feet. The vessel was lost in a storm on the east coast of Mexico after he had logged 31,000 miles in the Pacific, Atlantic, South American, and Caribbean waters.
      Then followed the 35-foot double-ender, SIR FRANCIS II, lost off Cuba.
Capt. Thomas Drake of Stanwood, WA., USA.
Sailing solo from Charleston, S.C. to
  Southhampton, England.

The white canvas sign reads: 
"Come and See the Big Ship PILGRIM."
Photo dated 1927.

Click image to enlarge.
Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
     But the PILGRIM, that he sailed to Europe and lost off Holland, probably was his best-liked boat. After he arrived home to Seattle on the freight train, he went to work on his last ship, the PROGRESS, 37-feet, with inside ballast of 5-tons and draft of 4-feet. To shake her down, he sailed down-coast and across to Hawaii. It was on his return passage to Seattle that he broke his hand.
      In the fall of 1936, Drake shoved off--again down the coast, not announcing his ultimate destination. In March, his Seattle friends began to voice apprehension. For him not to mail letters for months was not unusual. But uneasiness was growing. His last known whereabouts was San Francisco, where he had headed outbound under the Golden Gate Bridge in November 1936.
      The skipper's age then was reported in the press as 76 years."

The Seattle Times, 16 May 1937 reported:
      'The aged skipper's fraternity of friends are afraid that when Captain Drake stood proudly erect at the PROGRESS's wheel during the marine parade through the Lake Washington Ship Canal last summer, Seattle had its last look at him. They hope he'll turn up--in Hawaii, India, in the South Seas, or somewhere.'
      Occasionally you find an old-timer who knew Tommy Drake well, and he talks about his long-ago friend. But there ought to be a memorial or some kind of remembrance in Puget Sound country for Tommy Drake. He was a champion of sorts."

Quote below from: Sea Quest, Borden, Ballantine, 1967.          

"Once or twice a year for a quarter of a century, the Cape Flattery lookout at Tatoosh Island, recognizing the familiar scrap of hull and sail coming up over the horizon, would report Capt. Tom bound into the Strait of Juan de Fuca again from Samoa, Honolulu, Panama, and other ports around the world." 

Closer to home; from Chuckanut Chronicles. Thomas, Robert B.
      "A well-known world navigator, Captain Thomas Drake, who hailed from the home port of Stanwood, WA, was a frequent visitor to the yacht club in Chuckanut Bay, [Whatcom County] with his small sailing vessel. He was an honorary member of yacht clubs the world over."

Further reading:
      The Sea Chest,  Journal of the Puget Sound Maritime Hist. Society. Dec. 2013. Seattle, WA. Cherie Christensen. Pages 72-83. 
      Midget Magellans, Great Cruises in Small Ships. Devine, Eric. New York. Harrison, Smith and Robert Haas, 1935. Pages 63-83. 

Drake, Capt. Thomas. The Log of the Lone Sea Rover; being the story of the 32,000-mile voyage alone of Captain Thomas Drake, As Told by Himself. Copy kindly shared by Stanwood Area Historical Society, Stanwood, WA. (SAHS 

18 January 2012


N by E  

Rockwell Kent (Wesleyan University Press, 1930)
Block print by Rockwell Kent from N by E
 Weslayan University Press, 1930.
From the library of the Saltwater People Historical Society.
If N by E had been written recently, or by someone else, it would be a very different book. The account of a trip by the author and two comrades in 1929, sailing a 33’ wooden boat from Nova Scotia to the west coast of Greenland, and of the ultimate shipwreck and rescue that ensued, would be, above all, full of detail. We’d know why the young men decided to set out and why they chose Greenland. We’d know their full names and brief autobiographies. (As it is, we surmise that “Skipper Sam” must be Arthur S. Allen, Jr; the first mate is known to us only as “Cupid.”) We’d be given clear information about the planned route of travel and day-by-day events, with journalistic explanations as events unfold, leading in an orderly path from departure to disaster to an extended stay on Greenland for the author (and the swift exit of the skipper and first mate). But the book was written by Rockwell Kent, painter and illustrator, woodblock print maker, and free spirit as well as author (and incidental navigator and cook).
Block print by Rockwell Kent from N by E
Weslayan University Press, 1930

There is, in fact, an alternate version of the story available. After the later untimely death of the voyage’s skipper, Sam Allen’s ship’s log and other documents were compiled and privately published by his father’s friends as Under Sail to Greenland, Arthur S. Allen, Jr., (The Marchbanks Press, 1931). The book was republished in 2002 by DN Goodchild (http://www.dngoodchild.com/0218.htm). (As it is not part of the story of the voyage of the DIRECTION, Kent doesn’t tell us how Allen died, only that he did.)

N by E, as written by Kent, tells its story as a kind of extended prose poem, with the tone of a tale perhaps translated from another language, such as the Odyssey. Indeed, interspersed with the narrative are retellings of Danish and indigenous folk tales from Greenland. Although the relevance of the tales to the adventure at sea may not always be clear, as Kent tells the reader in his preface, these stories and the voyage as he recounts it make sense to him. “And if an author in recording what has interested himself differs from editors—so everlastingly concerned with what may interest others, he may no less…hope that a hundred thousand souls will see him as the mirror of themselves—and buy his book.” Not a very pragmatic attitude to producing and marketing a book, but one that sets Kent’s story apart as a timeless work of art rather than an evanescent memoir.

Block print by Rockwell Kent from N by E
Weslayan University Press, 1930.
The best part of N by E may be Kent’s woodblock and ink and brush illustrations. Again, in Kent’s own words, “The full page ‘illustrations’ of this volume are less illustrative of the text than supplementary to it.” They can stand alone—and frequently they do. Kent often uses them to illustrate a metaphorical idea or to express the emotional meaning of a scene rather than to describe the narrative. Characters in the illustrations are presented in classical attitude, often naked, and abstracted in form, a beautiful example of late Art Deco graphic design. Kent’s prints demonstrate the beautiful potential and expressive geometry of the line itself. Among his other works, Kent provided the illustrations for a 1930 edition of Moby-Dick published by the Lakeside Press, a work that sold out, was rapidly reissued in a trade edition, and contributed to Moby-Dick’s rehabilitation from obscurity to a recognized classic.

But what is N by E about? Ostensibly it’s about a sea voyage but more than that it’s about the possibilities of being young and alone on the ocean, with ample time to contemplate the night sky. “In the half light of the early morning of July the fifth all hands bestirred themselves, got up; we came on deck. It was cold. The silent town lay dark against the eastern sky; the land was black, and stranded bergs glowed pale against it. Clear heavens strewn with stars, and a fair wind S by W! Noiselessly, as if stealing away, we hoisted sail, weighed anchor and bore out. And so, without tumult and the clamor of leave takings, quietly as the coming dawn, we entered the solitude of the ocean. And if we were not annihilated by the contemplation of such vast adventure it was by grace of that wise providence of man’s nature which, to preserve his reason, lets him be thoughtless before immensity.”

So the book is about existential contemplation. But it is alternately about moments and days of terror, freezing water, unpredictable tides, dense fog, exhaustion, and complete concentration on the object of survival. And about rumination on the historic voyages taken by earlier travelers, such as Leif Ericsson. About the limits of technological advancement. And about the difficulties of living in a very small space with two other men, one of them characterized as having the expression of a “petulant potato” and grating in his every word and deed (culminating in his being asked, by the governor of Greenland, to leave the island immediately upon his rescue).
Block print by Rockwell Kent from N by E
Weslayan University  Press, 1930.
Although Rockwell Kent occasionally confides in the reader (such as sharing his opinion of the first mate), he doesn’t always tell the reader everything. We’re left a bit at sea at times, like the DIRECTION, adrift in fog but still out adventuring. A neat trick and beautifully done.
This review is kindly submitted to our Log by Allison Hart Lengyel, writer and mariner from San Juan County. Please scroll down to 13 November 2011 to read her piece on The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare (HarperCollins, 2008) 
Examples of Rockwell Kent's artistic illustrations coming soon.

N by E book search––

15 January 2012

S.S. ISLANDER ✪ ✪ ✪ Sails for Mexico

Text from:
The Friday Harbor Journal
7 June 1917
Front Page.
Built at Newhall, Orcas Island, San Juan County, WA.

Photographer unknown.
Original undated photo from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society©


Commanded by Capt. S.A. Leffingwell, the steamer ISLANDER will say good-bye to Puget Sound in a few days and sail for San Francisco to enter the Mexican west coast trade.

The ISLANDER was built in 1904 [by J.A. Scribner] for Capt. Newhall at Newhall, Orcas Island, for the Bellingham-San Juan Islands-Anacortes run. She is 162 gross tons, 72-feet long, 18-feet 9-inches beam and draws 9-feet of water. After her sale to the San Francisco firm she was taken to Seattle and given a thorough overhauling, the texas removed and other alterations made which will add to her sea-worthiness for an ocean voyage.

      Commenting on the risk of the trip, Capt. Leffingwell said: 'that is where you're all off. Columbus crossed the ocean in a ship not half as good as the ISLANDER. I'd just as soon take a run over to Australia on the ISLANDER if I could carry fuel enough. In fact, I'd rather take her down the coast than a big steamship. The big ship business is a cut and dried proposition, leaving and arriving on schedule. With the ISLANDER I may make a quick trip, and then again, I may not. That's what appeals to me.'
      Those San Juan Islanders who have traveled on the old boat in all kinds of weather know that Capt. Basford used to take her out on the Island run on days when the regular Seattle steamers remained tied up at the dock in Bellingham, and that while rather slow, she always arrived right side up and on time regardless of rough seas and high wind. While not exactly an up-to-date passenger steamer, she is a well-built and staunch little vessel and a great deal better than the average steamer that has been on the west coast run for the past fifty years or more.

05 January 2012

❖ THE STEAMER TOURIST ✪ ✪ ✪ By Captain Ed Shields

by Seattle photographer James A. Turner, undated.
Original from the archives of the Saltwater People Hist. Society.©

Undated image saved in the Joe Williamson collection,
most were purchased & archived by Puget Sound Maritime.

Original from the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society©
"The TOURIST was a sternwheel steamer used to transport passengers and freight to various points in Puget Sound. She was shallow draft with dimensions of 156.8' x 27.9' x 7.6'. She was built in Port Blakely in 1907, owned at that time by the Puget Sound Navigation Co. When new, she was placed on the Bremerton-Port Orchard route. She was a handsome vessel with a tall, slightly raked smokestack, huge sternwheel and high pilot house at the forward end of the upper deck. She was painted white. The upper deck was fitted with comfortable chairs and benches while freight was confined to the lower deck.
      In 1929 she was extensively rebuilt to serve as a freight vessel. Her shallow draft, requiring only four-feet of water, made her fitted for the Seattle-Mt. Vernon run, where she could navigate up the shallow reaches of the Skagit River. An elevator was installed on the forward deck; she also operated in the cross sound auto-passenger runs during the early days of auto ferries. The cars were loaded via the elevator with the TOURIST being moored alongside the wharf. The auto was driven onto the elevator by one of the crew members, the elevator lowered and the auto driven back into the freight area. The same scheme was employed in off-loading. The auto passengers were not in the car when loading or unloading.
freight boat owned by Puget Sound Freight Lines,
 moored here at Roche Harbor, San Juan Islands, WA.
Her house was from the sternwheeler TOURIST.
Archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society©
      In 1937, the TOURIST was laid up for the last time. The pilothouse was removed and installed on the new motor freighter INDIAN of the Puget Sound Freight Lines Co.
      The TOURIST was typical of several early freight and passenger vessels, being fitted with a sternwheel instead of with propeller as present vessels are equipped. Vessels of this type operated with a very low-pressure boiler and the exhaust steam from the engine was discharged out the smokestack, in a manner similar to the exhaust system used by steam railroad locomotives. She did not have condensers. In the early days, the boiler fires were stoked with slab wood from the many sawmills in the area."
Text by Captain J. Ed Shields. About the Boats.

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