"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 700, 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.

30 March 2012


Knots tied by Spike Africa in the 1970s
Object history from the archives of the
 Saltwater People Historical Society©
"The sailor, from the very nature of his craft, has a dependence upon rope and a consequent familiarity with knots that is demanded of no other workman. It follows that most important knots owe both their origin and their names to the requirements of a ship at sea. So diverse are these requirements that the number of knots devised by the sailor is probably ten times greater than the sum of all other handicrafts combined. Nor is this surprising if we consider that on a full-rigged ship, in everyday use, are several miles of rigging, and an able seaman, of necessity, is acquainted with every inch of this extent.
      Knotting has been an important adjunct to the everyday life of all people from the earliest days of which we have knowledge. There are still primitive races who fasten their huts, traps, canoes, and harness with knotted thongs and withes. But civilized man is no less dependent on knots than his more backward brothers, even though knots today are much less in evidence in sophisticated surroundings.
      Long ago man recognized the decorative possibilities of knots, and 'fancy knotting' is one of the oldest and most widely distributed of the folk arts. But it remained for the sailor to seize upon this art and to develop it into something that is peculiarly his own.
      Aboard ship knotting had reached its flood early in the 19th-c and by mid-century, with the commencement of the Clipper Era, it had begun to ebb. Folk arts flourish best where there are leisure and contentment, and either of these conditions obtained on clipper ships. After the American Civil War the economic situation in the merchant marine was such that all ships were undermanned; sailors had little or no time to spare from their labors, and knotting was pushed into the background.
      At the beginning of the 19th-c it was unusual to find in the forecastle of a sailing ship more than one or two sailors who could read and write. It was a common thing for boys to go to sea before they were 10-yrs old, and cabin boys of 7 and 8-years of age were not unusual. Even ashore, at that time, education was considered unnecessary in the classes from which seamen were recruited. But the isolation of the sea was such that the sailor's inability to read and write was an almost intolerable hardship. In order to keep his mind occupied when off duty, it was necessary for him to busy his hands. Fortunately there was, aboard ship, one material that could be used for that purpose. There was generally plenty of condemned rope with which to tie knots.
      There were two arts that belonged to the sailor: scrimshaw, which was the carving and engraving of whalebone and ivory, peculiar to the whaling fleet, and knotting, which belonged to all deepwater ships, including whalers.
      Jackknife industries also flourished aboard ship, and much of the tattooing of the old days was done in the forecastle. Sailors knitted, sewed, and crocheted; made baskets and straw hats. But the true shellback was more apt to specialize in knots.
      Aboard coasters and fishermen knotting has has never been so widely practiced. There is a fundamental difference between the deepwater and the coastwise sailor. The latter, in common with the fisherman, spends much of his time ashore, making harbor at short intervals. Usually he has a home and family ties of some sort. His excursions on the sea are too brief, and his hours at sea too busy, to encourage handicrafts. But the shellback, if he has a home, generally ignores it when ashore so long as his health and thirst last. Most of the days of his life are actually lived at sea.
      The character of a sailor's knotting depends to a great extent on what branch of the service he is in. It would be impossible in the Navy to hand out rope in sufficient quantity for the large crews that are carried. Generally the men have to be content with log line, fishline, and such small stuff. This has resulted in the Navy's seamen specializing in 'square knotting' or 'macrame.'
      Merchant sailors have been better provided. Although they seldom obtain new material to work with, junk is generally issued, which they 'work up' into foxes, nettles, and twice-laid rope.
      It was the whaleman who fared best; his voyages were longer and less broken, and his ship was heavily overmanned. New whale line was frequently allowed, that had been broken in the whale hunt. This was the best quality rope that was manufactured; and could be worked up into any size material required. But to balance against these favorable conditions was the divided interest of the whaleman. Unless he possessed a special gift for knots he was apt to succumb to the lure of scrimshaw.
      The interest of seamen in their knots was widespread and intense, and often decidedly competitive. Complicated knots were explained under pledge of secrecy; often a knowledge of one knot was bartered for another. I have heard of a sailor who carried an unfinished blackjack in his ditty bag for several voyages until at last he found a shipmate who could teach him the knot. A sailor was judged by his chest beckets and his bag lanyards. A superlative knot tier, in the middle of the 19th-c, stood in the estimation of the forecastle about where the Artist of the Cavern Walls stood in the Cro-Magnon days.
      Very little nationalism is evident among knots. One reason for this may be that the merchant sailor has never been too particular about what flag he sailed under, and in the general shifting about, knots soon became common property. Here and there we have a 'Spanish', 'Portuguese', 'English', 'French', or 'American' knot, but seldom is the application of such a name at all universal. 
      It is impossible to make a distinction between the British and the American contribution to knots. There were English sailors in every Yankee forecastle. But it would seem that English-speaking people as a whole have made the largest single contribution to the subject. At the present time Scandinavian sailors are doing more toward preserving the traditions of marlingspike seamanship than any other seamen.

Above text by Clifford Ashley (1881-1947)
Two pages from the 620-pages of the encyclopaedic reference, 
The Ashley Book of Knots,
Doubleday & Co.,1944



25 March 2012


The First Vessel to Transit the Northwest Passage
Original photo postcard postmarked 1936, San Francisco.
From the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society.
"Roald Amundsen, born in 1872, was raised near Oslo, Norway. From early childhood he had had the yen to explore the Arctic regions. Somewhere along the line he read of the explorations of Sir John Franklin and the death of the entire expedition.
       Amundsen began preparing himself for this calling. He practiced daily exercises to produce a super body and strength for the trials of life in the Arctic.
       Together with a companion, he undertook a several-day, cross-the-mountains trip in the dead of winter to become somewhat acquainted with hardships in the frozen north.
       On reading of past Arctic explorers he discovered one flaw in their management organization. The ships had an exploration leader and also a captain on the vessel. Many times the two were at odds. Amundsen determined to avoid this possibility by studying navigation and ship handling. To add to his knowledge, he shipped out on a sailing vessel bound for antarctic exploration.
       Amundsen acquired the GJÖA on credit, and proceeded to outfit her in Oslo. He had sought financial backing both in Norway and Germany but had not obtained sufficient backing. On 16 June 1903 his creditors demanded payment. He was without funds. That night, Amundsen and his six followers slipped the GJÖA's moorings and sailed out of Oslo and into the North Atlantic beyond the reach of his creditors.
       The GJÖA was a one-mast vessel of 74-ft. in length, 11-ft. of beam, shallow draught, and 47-tons. The GJÖA also had a small gas engine, although these machines were not very reliable at that time. Stops were made along the coast of Greenland where additional supplies and 20 dogs were obtained.
       They sailed north and then west through Lancaster Sound, thence south; on 9 September, with winter threatening, they found a small, snug harbor on the south end of King William Island and named it GJÖA Harbor. A shore camp was set up including a building for magnetic observations. For this, Amundsen had made careful preparations. Only coppers nails were used and all other precautions were taken to avoid any object that could affect the magnetic observations. Hunting parties went forth and secured over 100 caribou for winter food.
       Amundsen and party were secure and safe in this snug harbor and finally departed on 13 August 1905, having spent nearly two years there performing scientific studies. During this time, they found the last camp of the Franklin Expedition where those men had perished.
       Amundsen then sailed west through Simpson Strait, between King William Island and an unnamed peninsula jutting north from the continent. This area had been charted by shore parties, but no sounding had been obtained. Three weeks were required for the GJÖA to negotiate this channel, with many times only one inch between the keel and the bottom. At other times they were stuck in the sand.
       On 26 August 1905, when they sighted the whaler CHARLES HANSSON of San Francisco, they realized they had finally completed the Northwest Passage. They had just sailed west through Coronation Gulf, Dolphin and Union Strait, and into the Beaufort Sea. On 2 September they were beset by new ice and had to seek shelter for another winter. They found a location behind several icebergs, only a few miles from Herschel Island where several vessels of the whaling fleet were secured in harbor for the winter. The winter of 1905-1906 was spent icebound. When the thaw came, Amundsen and GJÖA proceeded west past Point Barrow, south through the Bering Sea, the North Pacific Ocean and on to San Francisco. He entered the Golden Gate in October 1906.
       The GJÖA became the first vessel to transit this most fabled waterway--the Northwest Passage. For many years the GJÖA was open for show in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Several years ago, the GJÖA was returned to Oslo on the deck of a steamship and is on display there.
       The adventurous Amundsen went on to be the first man to reach the South Pole. Eventually, he lost his life in the Arctic in 1928 during a attempted rescue of the explorer Umberto Nobile who had crashed in the dirigible ITALIA."
Text by Captain J. Edward Shields,
Poulsbo, Washington.
Writing for the Journal of the P.S.M.H.S.
The Sea Chest, June 1995

20 March 2012

❖ Guardians of the Sea ❖ THERMOPLYAE CLUB ❖ Victoria, B. C.

"As guardians of memories of the sea, the Thermoplyae Club [formerly of Victoria, B.C.] has undertaken a variety of projects. Of these, most valuable was its part in the preservation and restoration of the famous TILIKUM, the craft (basically an Indian canoe), in which in 1901 Captain J. C. Voss set out from Victoria; three years and 40,000 miles later he reached England after a voyage that took him across three great oceans [with a near] circumnavigation of the world.
Home port, Maritime Museum of B.C., Victoria.
      That this boat should, after all the admiration heaped on her at Earls Court, by the mid-1920s have become a derelict hulk, rotting in the mud on the banks of the Thames, seems unbelievable. Equally surprising is it to learn that although in 1930 the efforts of the Victoria and Island Publicity Bureau and the generosity of the Furness Withy Line saw the canoe returned to its home port, the repair the hull was given was but rudimentary, and it was left roofless, exposed both to the weather and to the depredations of vandals.
      So she lay for some years--but then there came one evening to the Thermopylae Club meeting some naval yachtsmen who had just sailed across the Pacific. These told the club members in no uncertain terms their opinion of a group that called itself ship-lovers yet neglected such a priceless, irreplaceable craft as the TILIKUM.
      The club sprang into action. Led by the dynamic Captain McDonald, they soon collected the money needed to finance restoration and Captain Victor Jacobsen started on the work that saw her returned to more or less, the condition in which she appears in the Maritime Museum today.
      Later the Thermopylae Club, on the suggestion of old sealing captain Max Lohbrunner, and through the work of shipmate Bob Dallaway (with the permission of the BC government) installed in her three hollow masts. These, though shorter than the original, do give some idea of her rig and also provide ventilation for the interior.
      The club has also painted her hull and encouraged her removal to the protected position in Thunderbird Park that she occupied for many years. Today they rejoice that now she, like themselves, enjoy the hospitality of the Maritime Museum in Bastion Square, Victoria.
      Another spot that finds TILIKUM and THERMOPYLAE close neighbours is on the Causeway wall above Victoria's Inner Harbour. Here 28 bronze plaques make up the Centennial Parade of Ships which commemorates vessels that had some historical connection with Victoria, TILIKUM and THERMOPYLAE of course among them. The first was donated by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, the second, presented by its namesake, is easily found since it is the only tablet bearing an illustration of the craft it memorializes--a non-conformity not achieved without effort and obduracy on the part of the veteran mariners!
      Another reminder that Victoria was once the home port of this famous ship was the ten-foot water-line model of her entered in the history section of the Victoria Day Centennial street parade of 1958.
      Built on the premises of the 100-year ship chandling firm owned by Shipmate Emerson Smith, and not far from the rings on the cliff at which the original clipper once tied up, the model is one of fine detail. That these are accurate was assured by the daily visits of Captain Harry Bilton to the premises on Wharf Street. It was by then 65-years since he had trodden her decks but he had not forgotten, although it is to be doubted that on so small a replica her figurehead of King Leonidas would be provided with the demountable sword whose removal, for safety's sake, the old captain remembered as one of his last duties before the start of each voyage.
      Later this model was given to the Rainbow Sea Cadets in whose headquarters in Victoria West she holds an honoured place.
      Yet a few miles farther west, above a little cove in Esquimalt Harbour, a concrete pillar marks the spot where, as the bronze tablet on it records:

      'When Vancouver Island was an infant colony nearly a century ago it was here that the gallant sailing ships from the old world stopped to replenish their supplies of water.'
Conceived by Shipmate John Keziere and carried out through the co-operation of provincial government departments, the generosity of city building supply firms and the sweat of sundry Thermopylae Club members, the cairn recalls the days when, from ships anchored off in Limekiln Cove, sailors poled to shore the floats loaded with barrels in which they would take on from the fresh-flowing stream water for the long journey back to Europe.
      Today the sailing ships and most of the men who sailed them are gone, but through this book some of their experiences, it is hoped some little contribution may be made to the preservation and dissemination of the memories of those sturdy times".
Ursula Jupp, Home Port: Victoria. Published by author, Victoria, B.C. 1967.

Book search here––

Not quoted here but an interesting book on the "absorbing and instructive true-life story" of Captain J. C. Voss (1854-1922) and his 40,000 mile voyage from Victoria to England has been published.

Captain John C. Voss
The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss, 
Century Publishing, 1989.

A introduction to the Voss book by F.E. Grubb, the Registrar & Librarian of the Maritime Museum of B.C., lists historian/writer Ursula Jupp as the greatest authority on Captain Voss.
 Book search here––

12 March 2012

❖ Schooner WAWONA "A Lucky Ship" ❖

"Ships of the sea, particularly those graceful sailing ships now finally slipping into the limbo of the past, have always been endowed with distinctive individual characteristics. No ship ever built has been exactly like any other. Once down the ways each ship has acquired not only a name but a soul of its own in an amazingly short time. And a reputation.
      One would soon be known as a dry ship, another as a wet one. This one would be called a "stiff" ship, that one "easy". One would be labeled "steady", her sister a "roller". She might be known as a "happy" ship or a "workhouse". Some ships cruise like a millionaires' yacht, while others get into all sorts of trouble.
      Sailors have only one definition of a ships character. The wet, uncomfortable, cantankerous workhouse they would call an "unlucky" ship. The other kind would simply be known as "lucky".
      A "lucky" ship has been the WAWONA, a three-masted fore-and-aft rigged schooner owned and operated by the Robinson Fisheries Co. of Anacortes, WA. If ever  there has been a ship worthy of the appellation, the WAWONA is it. For she has been serving faithfully and well for nearly fifty years, in many parts of the world, and is still making money for her owners. From the days of Capt. Matt Peasley, one of her first masters, to the present, she has been every inch a lady, well behaved, and the pride of the men who have sailed her.
Robinson Fisheries, Anacortes, WA.
Original vintage postcard from
the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society.

      In the offices of the Robinson Fisheries they actually speak in reverent tones of the WAWONA. Jack Trafton, the company's president, and E. N. Trafton, his son, could scarcely find words to tell of the old schooner's long service in the N. Pacific codfish trade, of the masters, mates, and men to whom she has been home and career, of the part she played in both world wars. But the company watchman, who has known the WAWONA a good part of his life, expressed it in a few words:
"She has always been a lucky ship, and 
has always landed a good trip of fish."
Postcard reproduction purchased 
from the Anacortes Museum.
      The WAWONA was built in Fairhaven, CA., in 1897, by the famous [Hans Bendixsen] yard. Her registered dimensions are 468 G. tons, 413 N. tons, 156-ft. length, 36-ft. beam, and a depth of 12-ft., 3-in. One of her first masters was Capt. Matt Peasley of "Cappy Ricks" fame. In that era Peter B. Kyne's stories in the Saturday Evening Post were widely read, and Matt--the fellow who, in fiction, wiped up the deck with the "Big Swede" and who finally married the attractive daughter of Cappy Ricks--was identified with the life-sized skipper. Capt. Peasley, now 80-years of age, retired from the sea a few years ago, and now lives in Aberdeen, WA.
      The Robinson Co., purchased the schooner in 1914, and she has made a least one trip to the Bering Sea every year since, except when she was in government service. She is the largest fore-and-aft rigged sailing ship on the Pacific Coast, and she is one of the few sailing ships that have served through both world wars and is still in active service. In 1917, during WW I, she made a voyage from Vancouver, B.C., to Suva in the Fiji Islands with a full load of lumber, and served with the U.S. Army from 1941 through 1945. Between wars she has landed a tremendous tonnage of codfish for her owners.
      Captain Charles Foss was her master from 1914 through 1935, which was one year when misfortune overtook the hard-working ship. While clearing Unimak Pass on her way home from the 1935 codfishing season in the Bering Sea, Capt. Foss suddenly passed away. The ship was put about, and Capt. Foss was buried by his sorrowing crew in Lost Harbor, AK. The first mate, now Capt. Tom Haugen, took command, and has been her master ever since, except when she was in Army service. On her first trip north in 1936, she carried with her a monument to mark Capt. Foss' grave, and each year on her way north the WAWONA stops at remote Lost Harbor, Akun Island, so that her crew may pay their respects to Foss and care for his resting place.
The 1940 burial of Capt. Richard A. Trafton, 
at Lost Harbor, Akun Island, AK., next to the grave of
Capt. Charles Foss, who died on board WAWONA, 1935.
Courtesy of Bruce Trafton for S.P.H.S.
      The WAWONA has always been a proud ship, but she has never been prudish. At sea, she has always been as graceful as a bird, yet during the late war, stripped of her masts and gear, she served without shame as a lowly scow. Since then her former beauty and accoutrements have been restored in shipyards at Friday Harbor and Bellingham. Once again the grime of war service is gone. She is scrubbed and shined and polished. Three 114-foot "sticks" were brought down from the woods and stepped in. With Tom and his crew of 36 men she sailed this spring for another season in the Bering.
      The WAWONA has always been a "lucky" ship. Her reputation is still good. And when that can be said of such a ship, it is like saying of a fair lady, "here is a useful and honorable life."
Above words by Leon M. Swank
Pacific Motor Boat
October 1946
Archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society
Typed verbatim.
1941: An unlucky day on 27 May when the 2nd mate, Nick Field, age 58 of Tacoma was lost from a WAWONA dory. The master was Capt. Tom Haugen. Seattle Times 4 Sept. 1941.
1963: An organization known as "Save Our Ships" was organized with the intent to purchase the WAWONA, one of two remaining sailing ships in Puget Sound. The other, FALLS OF CLYDE, was purchased by a fast, fund-raising campaign in Honolulu, where the vessel was taken in 1963 to serve as a floating museum. All of the other sailing ships either have been broken up for scrap or sold to other ports for maritime museums.
1968: Not quoted in this log but a fine tribute to WAWONA is featured in West Coast Windjammers by Jim Gibbs. Superior.
1970: WAWONA was declared a National Historic Site, the first vessel to receive that designation in the country.
1981: The president of the National Maritime Historical Society, Peter Sanford, sent out an SOS to save the WAWONA, owned at that time by Northwest Seaport who moored her in Lake Union, Seattle, WA. Sanford described the WAWONA as an international maritime treasure that deserved better treatment than decrepitude.
2009: After 46 years of volunteer effort, the WAWONA was towed to a Seattle scrapping yard.
2011: Archived on this Log are some of those scraps in Schooner WAWONA's Bones, written by Roy Pearmain.

For further reading;Pacific Schooner Wawona  

03 March 2012

❖ STEAM TUG BRICK––Capt. James W. Tarte ❖ by June Burn

Steam tug BRICK
Built in 1883, Seattle, WA.
55.6' x 12.1' x 14.6'
with captain/owner Jim Tarte, on rail on right.
C. C. Fisher is standing on the pilot house.
Location, Bellingham, WA, after a return from B.C.
The houses behind were known as "Captains Row",
along the Boulevard on the waterfront. Undated.
Photo purchased from Whatcom Museum of History and Art.©
This image for non-commercial purposes only.
For a copy of this image,
please contact the W.M.H.A. in Bellingham, WA.
"How, before there were docks, did the passengers get from ship to land in the old days? I asked my captain that and he replied that when the tide was high, rowboats or light-draft scows took them in. But when the tide was out and several hundred yards of mud lay between ship an shore, the passengers waited for the return of the tide or were taken to land pig-back.
      'I've carried many a squealing woman on my back, her squeals getting me so tickled I'd all but drop her into the oozy mud. When the ship would anchor, every man in the crew would shoulder his passenger, set her down on the beach, return for another until passengers and their luggage were all safe ashore. I never dropped a passenger, but after carrying a few through soft mud I've nearly dropped, myself, with fatigue.'
      During the years of 1881 and 1882 Captain Tarte (1849-1932) piloted, first the HOPE, and then the EVANGEL, the latter the first passenger boat between Seattle, Vancouver, and New Westminster.
      The EVANGEL was owned by a Mr. Ludlow of Seattle. One time the pilot was taking a boatload of passengers to Victoria for a May 24 celebration. There was a storm and everybody got seasick. On board was the owner's daughter, Miss Ludlow. She was seasick, too. But she must have been pretty plucky about it. Or maybe seasickness was becoming to her. At any rate, the confirmed bachelor pilot of the EVANGEL fell in love with her then and there, and nine days later was betrothed to a girl who wouldn't marry an Englishman under any consideration. They were married a year later.
      In 1883 Captain Tarte bought one of the first tugboats ever to run on the Sound––the 55.6-ft steam tug BRICK which was later lengthened several feet. He carried freight and towed all manner of things with his little boat. He was one of the first to tow log booms for the first big sawmill. It was owned by Eldridge & Bartlett and was on site of the old E. K. Wood mill, which burned a few years ago. In storms, the captain of the BRICK used to pour oil on the troubled waters, calm his stampeding logs, and so bring them safely to the mill.
      It was a custom of Captain Tarte––one of the earliest and most popular mariners on Puget Sound––to treat 20 school children from the Fairhaven and Sehome schools every Saturday to trips to the islands free of charge. One day Captain Tarte was surprised on his arrival to see a great crowd of people, most of whom were children, at the dock, under the escort of the principal of the Fairhaven school. In recognition of his kindness in giving free outings to the kiddies, the skipper was presented with a set of silverware.
      The captain ran the BRICK for nine years, later as a passenger vessel around this part of the Sound. But at last, he lost her, never having made enough money to pay more than the interest on the money he stilled owed on her.
      Tarte's last active service was as mate on the tug DANIEL KERN during two trips to Clallam Bay at 80-years of age."
Text above by June Burn,
Bellingham Herald, April 1930
With notes added from:

E.W. Wright, editor. Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest
Antiquarian Press Ltd., 1961

Island Sounder. Friday Harbor, WA. April 1896
"The steamer BRICK came into port [Friday Harbor] with a scow loaded with 24,000-feet of lumber from the Whatcom Falls Mill Co., of Whatcom, for Mr. J. L. Farnsworth. This is part of an order for 100,000-feet to be used in the construction of the new cannery buildings and also for the new scows for the Island Packing Company."

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