"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.

24 February 2012

❖ The Ship THERMOPYLAE ❖ Victoria B.C.

Detail of a painting by Robert McVittie.
off the west coast of British Columbia.
The ship in her later years, in cut down barque rig.
"To have been the home port of one of those queens of the seas, the speedy tea clippers of the latter half of the eighteenth century was an honour for any sea town. To have been able to claim, as Victoria could from 1891 to 1895, that on her port register was one of the two fastest ships afloat is an honour of which this city has perhaps never been sufficiently aware.
      The question of whether it was THERMOPYLAE or CUTTY SARK that should have the pride of first place is one that even today is good for an argument in sailing circles but certainly at the time THERMOPYLAE was berthed in Victoria there was one old veteran sailing ship captain who was not afraid to write in the local press of "the THERMOPYLAE which, I believe, is still the fastest sailing ship afloat."                                                    
THERMOPYLAE picking up the pilot at the mouth of the Columbia R.
Photo by Robert Reford, her agent. 
Courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library.
      She was beautiful...and she was glamourous... with an aura which rubbed off onto those who sailed on her so that they were said to be "not like other men."
      Small wonder then that when a group of retired sailormen in Victoria looked for a name for their sea-lovers' club they decided to call it 'The Thermopylae Club'.
      Many have written of this famous clipper, Basil Lubbock among them. 'How sweetly she sailed!' he wrote, 'able to fan along at seven knots in an air that would not extinguish a lighted candle, yet she was both comfortable and easy to handle when running over 13 knots under all plain sail.'
      Even those she defeated applauded her. On her first passage, when she passed H.M.S. CHARYBDIS off Port Phillips Heads, her captain hoisted the warm-hearted message, 'Good-bye. You are too much for us. You are the finest model of a ship I ever saw. It does my heart good to look at you.'
      To use bald figures about such beauty seems sacrilegious, but then that is the practice of the day, so here in all their starkness they are: Length from stem to stern 212-ft, beam 36-ft, depth 21-ft, displacement when loaded 970-tons. From keel to topside her hull was rock elm, above that India teak.
      In rigging this vessel--planned to be a winner in the days when the earliest load of tea to reach London commanded the premium price--her builders made some changes from designs already in use. Mast height was lowered, sails widened, her mainyard a great 80-ft spar from which dropped a mainsail 40-ft deep at the bunt. Thirty-two hundred square feet of canvas in that sail alone!
      The THERMOPYLAE was built to make records--and she did. Her speedy passages helped by her first captain, the daring, driving, Kemball. It was under his command that, in the dim of early morning in Nov. 1868, she left the London docks. By the time she returned to them she had broken many records, including making in  24-hours, 380 miles and cutting two days off the record for the FOO CHOW, China to London run.
      THERMOPYLAE then was the talk of the docks.
      It is rather sad to have to add that this record was not hers for long. Within two weeks the SIR LANCELOT had shortened the passage by a further two days!
      But the THERMOPYLAE continued to pile up other records until rivals were driven to build the CUTTY SARK to challenge her reign. 
      Finally, it was steam that put an end to all sail in the tea trade and the ships moved to other uses.                    
      THERMOPYLAE was sold to the Montreal firm of Reford who planned to use her on the Pacific to bring rice from the Orient to Puget Sound.
      At midnight, on 24 June 1891, by the light of a moon just over full, she sailed for the first time up the Juan de Fuca Strait and anchored in Royal Roads.
      Later in Victoria, she as taken over by Nova Scotia-born Captain J.N. Winchester and added to her crew a number of men from the sealing schooners, as well as three apprentices.
      On her runs to the Orient, the THERMOPYLAE had some rough times, the worst, that reported in the Colonist of 24 March 1892.
      They arrived here 101 days after leaving Bangkok. Waterspouts had menaced them and winds had been so destructive that captain Winchester had felt he had to excuse his vessel's battered and untidy appearance when she reached Victoria with the words 'though we left Bangkok with three suits of canvas, she now has not one presentable or serviceable sail!'
      They had also run out of food and for the last ten days had been subsisting on rice, this while they were enduring two weeks of struggling to make the entrance into the Strait.
      How different another voyage from China in a record 29 days!

loading lumber through ports cut in her bows.
The size of the pieces being loaded is 24" x 23" x 100'.
The figurehead of Leonidas stands proudly at the bow.
Courtesy of the Vancouver City Archives.
       In 1895 Victorians had their last sight of her cloud of white canvas coming up behind Race Rocks and she was once more off for Europe, this voyage being the only one, I believe, on which she rounded Cape Horn. In her holds then she had some of British Columbia's great forest harvest, including monstrous balks of Douglas fir, a hundred feet long and 24-inches square!
      So ended Victoria's connection with a world-famous ship, a jewel in this city's history for long overlooked but now recalled by the plaque which the Thermopylae Club added to the Parade of Ships embedded on the Causeway wall in 1962."
Text by Ursula Jupp. Home Port: Victoria, BC. 1967. 

Well done book of short stories by one of the most regarded maritime historians from British Columbia.
Book search here––Home Port: Victoria

This fine book has 14 beautiful pages devoted to the THERMOPYLAE.  
Book search here––

Westcoasters, Boats that Built BC

19 February 2012

❖ The Great Solo Circumnavigator ❖ ❖ Robin Knox-Johnston and SUHAILI

Painting of SUHAILI 
by Melbourne Smith.
Published by Rudder magazine
September 1974.
In the early afternoon on 14 June 1968, Robin Knox-Johnston had a final beer in a local pub before stepping onto a small, heavily laden sailboat rising gently to the swell in Falmouth Harbor. As usual, when important events are in the wind, last-minute preparations were still being done and two friends of Knox-Johnston's busied themselves forward bolting down a final deck fitting. With his departure imminent, the loneliness and doubt of the passage ahead seemed to suddenly press in on the young Englishman, threatening to undo all the resolve built up during the long months of preparation. Finally, he called out, "Okay, I'll finish that, I'm off."
      And so he was. Off on one of the truly epic adventures in nautical history; one man and his small vessel would sail 30,000 miles non-stop around the world.
SUHAILI, 32-ft ketch rigged,
leaving Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
One American and 3 British sailors sailed from
India to Africa, and ultimately to London
in 1965-67 where solo sailor,
Robin Knox-Johnston, age 27,
would begin his circumnavigation.
Original photo dated 29 Mar 1966 from the archives
of the S. P. H. S.©

American, Rob Hill, aboard SUHAILI,
leaving Dar es Salaam.
Original photo dated 29 March 1966 by Keystone Press,
from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      At age 29, Knox-Johnston had 11 years of experience in the British Merchant Navy behind him with a passage from India under sail to toughen him mentally and physically for what lay ahead. But to many observers, his little 32-foot wooden ketch appeared to be a most singularly unqualified candidate for such an undertaking.
      Basically slow, with antiquated gear, a high cabin trunk, and a rickety self-steering system, the boat had not been the one Knox-Johnston had had in mind when a chance remark first started him thinking about attempting the passage. But as is often the case, money, or the lack of it, is the final determinant for the vessel many a sailor sails. And besides, there was more to SUHAILI than met the eye. Named after the Arabic word for southeast wind, she had been built in Bombay using hand-hewn Indian teak for stringers, frames, floors, and deck. Completed in 1965, even her planking was 1 ¼-inch teak and, with the exception of the high cabin coaming which would cause trouble southwest of Cape Town, she was a sturdy craft.
From India to Africa to England
32-ft ketch off the Kent coast heading for Gravesend, Eng.
Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.
L-R: Heinz Fingerhut, 25, of
Knightston Lodge, Tenby, Pembrokeshire,
Christopher Knox-Johnston, 22, and brother 
Robin Knox-Johnston, 26,
both of The Rookery, Downs, Kent.
Aboard 32-ft Bermuda-rigged ketch SUHAILI
arrived Gravesend, 1967, from Bombay, India.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      Shortly after Knox-Johnston made his decision to go, an English newspaper announced a $12,000 prize for the first man to do the circumnavigation non-stop. Suddenly SUHAILI had seven competitors, and nearly all much faster. So it was a race against the clock, the solitude, and the elements, as the SUHAILI sailed into the Southern Ocean and its wailing winds and crashing seas. The specter of failure and total disaster was continually raised as fitting after fitting packed up. SUHAILI nearly lost her high cabin when smashed flat in a knockdown. Later her hull began leaking badly and had to be repaired under water. The steering vane broke, battery acid splashed into the skipper's eye. The gooseneck sheered off, water became contaminated, and the sextant took a severe jolt. Two tillers broke, and the boat was temporarily grounded on a sandbar south of New Zealand. A jibstay parted, and the engine seized up. The sails and even the skipper's clothes disintegrated as the gallant little vessel weathered gale after gale in the austral waters. It was a marvel of courage and endurance. At last, as the competitors dropped out one by one, it was SUHAILI alone that laid claim to the prize.
SUHAILI, 21 April 1969.
She was slowed down by gale force winds on the
final lap of the 29,5000 mile non-stop voyage.
Location here is c. 100-miles from Falmouth.
Original photo by Keystone from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      On 22 April 1969, after 313 days at sea, a heavily reefed SUHAILI entered Falmouth Harbor in half a gale. The ship and crew had accomplished what no boat and no man had ever done before. Together they had encircled the world non-stop under sail.
Englishman Robin Knox-Johnston 
aboard his 32-ft SUHAILI
following his single-handed, 
non-stop circumnavigation 1969.
Photo from the book A World of My Own by R.K-J,
 William Morrow and Company, 1969. 
"Where from?" The English customs man asked the time-honoured question as the skipper stepped aboard.
      "Falmouth" Robin Knox-Johnston replied. The long journey into history was over.
Text by Jerry Cartwright
Rudder, September 1974

Robin Knox-Johnston
23 April 1969
A tankard after his solo 312-day non-stop circumnavigation.
Winner of the Sunday Times Golden Globe trophy.
Original photo from the S.P.H.S.©
Knox-Johnston donated his prize money for being the fastest competitor in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race to the family of Donald Crowhurst, who committed suicide after attempting to fake his round the world sailing voyage.
BRITISH OXYGEN, 9 March 1974.
L-R: Gerry Boxall with champagne and 
Robin Knox-Johnston
Launching of the world's biggest racing catamaran,
Brightlingsea, Essex, England.
She will contest in the 1974 Round-Britain Race with
this crew of two. 
70-ft LOA, 32-ft B
Sails: 2,000+ sq. ft of plain sail.
Designed by Rod Maculpine-Downie.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
The sailor of long-standing, with a big heart, was knighted in 1995.
Winter 2008-2009
The National Maritime Historical Society (USA) recognized Sir Robin Knox-Johnston for his accomplishments and contributions promoting the heritage of seafaring by bestowing upon him the NMHS Distinguished Service Award. 
Since the Golden Globe Race in 1969, he has competed in countless sailing races both solo and crewed, written a number of very popular books, and worked tirelessly to promote world-class marine events.
He was interviewed by Richard du Moulin for the NMHS's journal Sea History winter issue 2008/09 when he asked Knox-Johnston several questions; two we've chosen to include here:
Du Moulin--How did you first get involved in sailboat racing, and solo sailing in particular?
Knox-Johnston: I learned to sail in the merchant navy. In the 1950s, lifeboats still carried masts and sails--so we had to learn how to use them. But I was lucky, I was sent to a Cadet ship where the crew were replaced by apprentices, and we were given a sailing whaler and two dinghies for recreational purposes.
      I had built my boat SUHAILI in Bombay (Mumbai) and sailed her home via Arabia and the Cape of Good Hope. Whilst I was doing that, Frances Chichester sailed around the world with one stop, and I felt that left just one thing left in sailing--to go 'round alone non-stop.
Du Moulin--How did you finance the 1969 Golden Globe Race? 
Knox-Johnston--I tried to get sponsorship but failed completely, so I financed the voyage on a bank overdraft and by writing. The advances for a book helped.
Du Moulin--In hindsight, what is your most memorable observation or recollection of that race?
Knox-Johnston--My most memorable recollection is dealing with those who told me the voyage was not possible and I could not do it. I thought differently.

A World of My Own

13 February 2012

The Good Ship ✪ ✪ ✪ IMPERIAL ✪ ✪ ✪ by L. W. North

Rosario Resort transport.

"Rosario had a hundred guests coming up to Anacortes to be transported to their Orcas Island resort on the M.V. IMPERIAL. The fog had come in during the night and by morning visibility was down to only a few feet. The little ship had very limited navigational equipment, being primarily a sightseer type boat in her mature years. It seemed not a good idea to leave until the fog had raised a bit, but Gill Geiser, the owner of the resort, encouraged me to at least try; by his comments, there was going to be some pretty upset people in Anacortes if I didn't show up, with a veiled suggestion the same might be true on his end.
      Idling along at 3-knots, bouncing whistle blasts off the bluff a hundred yards away, and counting the time it took for the echoes to return, in total isolation from any other part of the world, the first conclusion only seemed more valid. That was not what an excursion boat was supposed to be doing.

1972 Route of the IMPERIAL, 
Capt. "Corkey" North and son Chet.
Photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
     At Obstruction Pass we got a break and the north side appeared briefly a couple hundred feet away, confirming that the world did exist and we were about where we should be. The east-end light fretted out of the blanket and then hid again. Tide was ebbing fairly strong and Strawberry Island in the pocket of the south end of Cypress Island should be the next landfall. Long minutes with no echo and wondering if the guess at the current speed was even close. My fifteen-year-old son stood on the bow, fog dampening his cherubic face, and dripping off his curly hair, intent on hearing the first echo. A stripe of sun hit the boat and then opened to haze around us; all too soon the thick blanket settled on us again.
      Chet yelled and pointed ahead. He had heard an echo, eventually, the south end of Strawberry Island toyed with us, so we turned south to parallel Cypress with hopes of finding the bell buoy. Suddenly we were in beautiful morning sun and Anacortes was where it should be; it seemed we raced along at our normal 9-knots again and would be in time to pick up the passengers while they still had smiles on their faces.
      Son Chet pointed behind us where maybe ten boats streamed out in our wake as the fog lifted and sun brightened the morning. Someone called on the marine radio "good job, skipper". Much later I was informed that voice had been one of the investors, following behind us in the fleet, since we had left Rosario.
       In Anacortes, passengers rushed to get aboard, some of them looking in every box and compartment, even in my own day-bag and passed theories on everything. Not all theories of a correct nature as we cruised back to the resort among wisps of fog in the warm, fall sun.

Rosario Resort, Orcas Island, WA.
Undated photograph by F. Wear.
From the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society.
      After the tie-up, I went up to the resort's front desk and helped check-in part of the one hundred new guests where I heard comments on how long it took to get to Rosario.
      One can only smile and say "maybe we will do better next time you visit".

Written by L.W. North, historian/mariner, and longtime Orcas Island resident.
For the Saltwater People Historical Society
January 2012.


09 February 2012


      "The nucleus of what may prove to be a very important industry in this county was started Thursday when hundreds of eastern lobsters were 'planted' at various points in our waters by an agent of the government, acting under instructions from the fish commission.
      A carload of lobsters arrived on the Sound a few days ago direct from the coast of Maine, having been only seven days en route. 
They were packed in seaweed and crated and came through from coast to coast in fine condition. They have been distributed at various points along the Sound where natural conditions seemed to be most favorable to their propagation. A great many have been placed in the waters of this county [San Juan] in well sheltered bays. They arrived on the steamer ISLANDER Thursday and were simply dumped overboard in varying numbers wherever the man in charge of them thought best. Some were 'planted' at Decatur Island, quite a number of crates of them were put in the water here [Friday Harbor, San Juan Is., WA.], and many were turned loose at various points along the shores of Lopez and Orcas islands. Little doubt is expressed by those in charge of the work that they will thrive and propagate rapidly.
      Lobsters are the best known and most valuable for food of all the Crustacea. The lobster industry is an important one on the coast of Maine, centering chiefly at Portland and Eastport, and there are several hundred lobster canneries along the coasts of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. As long ago as 1889 nearly eleven million pounds of lobster were canned in Canada and nearly four thousand-tons were sold fresh;  since then the industry has assumed much larger proportions.
      Quite a number of years ago--about 1889 or 1890--a few lobsters were planted near Port Townsend, WA, but the experiment was not an extensive one, or very thoroughly made, and was not a sucess. It is said that some of the lobsters were soon afterward caught by Indians and sold in Port Townsend."
Above words from The San Juan Islander
November 1907
Typed verbatim.

1917: "Government Believes in Policy of Keeping at It"
A car load of live lobsters arrived over the Great Northern for distribution among the waters of the San Juan Islands. They left Booth Bay [Maine] last week and came through in fine condition with a loss of less than 2% enroute. There were 6,000 in the lot, packed in cartons with sea weed, wet straw, and ice to keep the temperature as near 42 degrees as possible. Capt. Halm of the National Fish and Game commission, personally conducted the crustacean colony on their Western tour and superintended the placing after their arrival. The State Fish and Game department came to Anacortes when the car arrived. The Coast Fish Co. cannery boat, the SOUND, was commandeered for use in distributing them. This is the fourth shipment that has been made from the east coast and from well authenticated stories it is believed that Puget Sound will soon have more lobsters than can be eaten. The lobster is a great traveler, however. Plant him here today and tomorrow he may be miles away. Southern California or China may benefit by the efforts of the commission, but here's hoping.
Anacortes Citizen
November 1917

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