"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.

28 August 2013

Herreshoff Quote

"The best material to use in building a boat is common sense, and she should be well fastened with sincerity."
L. Francis Herreshoff
El Toros ready for launch day, 2011.
San Juan County, WA.

21 August 2013


 ON 161054
Sloop built on Waldron Island, WA., by A. J. Hinckley in 1894,
for the Thomas brothers, Ashton, Elery, and John, of that island.
38.1' x 12' x 3.6' 

8 G.t. and 7 N.t.
Later owned by smuggler Larry Kelly, Guemes, & Sinclair Islands.
Photo from Thomas family, courtesy of the Anacortes Museum.
Vessel data from federal document (MCC) in SPHS records.

"A legendary character who sailed San Juan waters was Lawrence Kelly, better known as 'Smuggler' Kelly. One can still hear the most lurid accounts of his supposed bloodthirstiness, yet Kelly himself always insisted he was an 'honest' smuggler who never harmed his fellow man.
      The surviving evidence seems to bear out Kelly's claim. Part of the problem is that for decades Sunday Supplement writers have carelessly confused Larry with a hoodlum and sometimes smuggler named Jim 'Pig Iron' Kelly (no relation), who did terrorize the Puget Sound country during much of the same period.
      Larry Kelly sometimes trafficked in wine and Chinese illegals, but his main stock in trade was opium. In those days drugs were not illegal in the US, but they were dutiable. Uncle Sam's customs officials were supposed to see the government got its cut in the lucrative business of supplying Chinese laundry and cannery workers with their drug of choice. Kelly used to claim customs men themselves were the most active opium smugglers of all, and that the real reason they pursued him so relentlessly was to cut down on the competition.
      Kelly hailed from the Emerald Isle and went to sea as a young lad, seeking adventures that took him to the ports of Europe, Asia, and the South Seas. A ship chanced to land him in New Orleans just as the Civil War was getting underway, and Kelly decided to stay and join the fun. Records of Louisiana's Confederate soldiers show that he joined a volunteer company of the 22nd and 23rd Infantry on 2 September 1861.
      Perhaps the war wasn't as much fun as he had expected. The records show he was only present until February 1862.
      Presumably, there was another sea voyage and then Kelly landed on the shores of Puget Sound in 1865. He did some honest labor at the little village we now call Tacoma, loading lumber on board a sailing vessel.
      Sometime in the 1870s, Kelly settled on the southwest shore of Guemes Island at a spot which is still known as Kelly's Point. It afforded him a view through Bellingham Channel to the Strait of Georgia which was useful in monitoring the movements of customs boats. He married an Indian woman named Lizzie Katz and began raising a family.
      In Helen Elmore's book about Guemes, there is a description of Kelly: short, barrel-chested, wiry brown hair,  bushy beard, small bloodshot eyes, dirty shirt and overalls, bare sun-tanned feet. Bill Rosler of Friday Harbor told me years ago that Kelly also had a scar across his forehead and was a "nice fellow".
      Kelly would purchase opium in Victoria, where there were at least two factories openly manufacturing the drug. Then came the illicit dash over the border on his fast sloop, first to one of several hideouts in the San Juans, then on to some Puget Sound city with a large Chinese population. A frequent destination was Pt. Townsend, where Kelly used to land at night and let opium down the chimneys of Chinese laundries.
      Apparently, it was a most profitable business. By 1886 Kelly was able to buy up the western half of Sinclair (also known locally as 'Cottonwood') Island where he moved and became a leading citizen. He was even elected to the school board, in spite of his occupation.
William Rosler, Friday Harbor, WA. 
Son of Christopher Rosler (d.1907) 
who was one of Capt. George Pickett's soldiers 
who helped build American Camp.
(Writer Richardson interviewed Bill Rosler in 1960.)
Original photo from S. P. H. S.© 
As Bill Rosler recalled, 'everyone knew he smuggled, but the trick was to catch him.' Kelly was a first-rate sailor and pretty hard to catch. He mastered the old smugglers' trick of going out in bad weather when the law stayed close to shore. The customs boat at the time was a steamer, the WOLCOTT; but it was pretty slow in any kind of wind, Kelly could sail faster than the WOLCOTT could steam! In any case, Kelly knew every inch of coastline and if pressed too hard he would head for shallow water where the larger vessel couldn't follow.
      In time, they caught him and Kelly paid several fines for carrying contraband. But he was a thorn in the side of customs officers who were determined to 'put him away'––and they did.
      In March 1891, Kelly was traveling to Portland to board a train that, whether by accident or design, was also carrying two customs inspectors. They opened Kelly's large, new leather suitcase and found 65 half-pound cans of prepared opium. Kelly was arrested at Castle Rock and returned to Tacoma for arraignment, where he protested long and loudly that the customs men themselves had planted the drug among his effects while he was in the wash room.
      Larry Kelly wound up in McNeil Island pen for a couple of years, in spite of the petition his Sinclair Island neighbors put out for his pardon. During his incarceration, his small son was drowned in a shallow well on Sinclair.
      When Kelly emerged from the federal clink he was a beaten man. Federal agents had raided his home and seized and sold his sloop. He needed $500 to pay back bills and had to mortgage his property to raise the money. There were domestic disagreements and Lizzie moved out. By 1896, the last of the Sinclair Island property had been sold and Kelly was living in Anacortes.
      He was in and out of just about every jail on Puget Sound in the course of the next ten years. The last record of Larry Kelly in an item in the San Juan Islander for 16 May 1911, reported that his sloop had just been boarded again off the north end of Lummi Island. Kelly gave a fictitious name and claimed he was on his way to Alaska, but the boarding officer was sure Kelly was headed for Victoria for another buy.
      It's claimed Kelly finally retired from the smuggling business, went back to Louisiana and lived out his days in a Confederate soldiers' home. Some years ago this writer tried to find some documented record of Kelly's last days but a fairly lengthy correspondence with Louisiana archivists, including the curator of the state's Confederate Cemetery, failed to turn up Kelly's name.
      Kelly used several sailing vessels in his career, the last two of which were seized by agents. Some years ago the Anacortes Bulletin ran an article claiming that one of Kelly's boats, a ketch-rigged sloop, 38-ft long, weighing over seven tons, was still in use in local waters. The boat in question had been built on Waldron Island, [WA] in 1894, named the KATY THOMAS.
      In one of those strange twists Fate seems to delight in, Kelly happens to have two great-great-grandchildren still living in Bellingham. And their names just happen to be Katy and Thomas."
Above text by author, historian, long time San Juan County resident David Richardson, for The Islands' Sounder, 9 December 1981.
From the collection of the Saltwater People Historical Society.
This year the KATY THOMAS was the subject of a news article by Marine Editor Glen Carter of the Seattle Times.
      At that time the sloop was on the hard on property owned by the City of Anacortes, next to the Washington State Ferry terminal, Anacortes, WA. She was owned by the Northwest Seaport who had plans to save her but in the next decade she fell apart and was scrapped. 

16 August 2013

❖ REEFNET FISHING in the SAN JUAN ISLANDS ❖ 1946 with June Burn

Lummi Island reefnet fishermen
 making a haul.

Photo by Mary M. Worthylake; dated July 1949.
Tap image to enlarge.
Original from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
Stuart Island––Day 70 of One Hundred Days in the San Juan Islands, one in a series of newspaper columns June Burn wrote under contract with the Seattle P-I in 1946.

Before the white men came, Native Indians were reefnet fishing. They made nets with string woven of the inner bark of cedar, fished from their dugout canoes.
      Now we have string nets, ropes, plank boats, lead for weights, but the principle of reefnetting hasn't changed a particle.
      When traps were outlawed in this state [1934], fishermen began to take to reefnetting by the hundreds. But Dad Chevalier has been reefnetting off the same bluff of Stuart Island for 45 years. Before that, when he was only 18 he began fishing, making his nets with cedar bark as the Indians taught him.
       The principle of reefnetting is based on the rather tragic fact that salmon hug the shores on their historic run for their home spawning streams. They swim around every shore, a little way up into the mouth of every stream until they find their own stream, when they go on up and up, over every difficulty, to make their shallow "nest" in the gravel on the bottom-up where the stream is shallow, clear, swift, clean. There they lay their eggs, die, and yield up their own bodies as feed for whatever young are just then hatching. Thus, each salmon feeds young salmon, though never it's own, for, by the time its young are hatched, its body is long since consumed. The body of mother salmon is there ready, however, in this unique cooperative borning and dying. So that in reality, in this wholesale nature's way, each salmon does feed its own young with its own dead body.
      Hugging the shore, in search for the home stream, the salmon run headlong into the reefnets hung there between two longboats. This is how it works:
      You have two very long, narrow, deep, dory-like boats––oh, 35-ft long. At the bow of one, you build a high platform on which the fifth man of the crew stands for hours, looking down into the water to watch for fish. Two men in each of the boats wait for the watcher's signal, when they start pulling with all their might, hauling up the filled––or sometimes empty––nets.
       Down between the boats, the net swings for 24-ft below the surface. Out in front of the boats, reaching out down the bank for 30, 40, 50-ft or more, depending on the location, there is a rope lead, long rope, top, and bottom held 18-ft apart by floats and weights. Ropes six-ft apart are strong between them, making a squarish lead which the salmon obediently follow right into the net. Now and then the ropes of the lead must be taken out and washed so that the salmon will stay between them––afraid, you know, of the bright rope lines of a fence that isn't a fence––like the ones we'd stay inside of too, for lack of imagination and courage to get out.
      Right down the rope fence with pickets six-ft apart, the salmon swim. The watcher gives the signal. The men back in the boats, make ready. The watcher says when. They begin to haul in the nets. If it is heavy they begin to gloat, to shout, to jive, to holler, and laugh. If there are watchers onshore, we begin to shout, too, as if we were at a ball game, egging on the players.
      It doesn't take long to pull in 24-ft of the net. One of the boats is already full, say. We'll dump the load into the other boat. The men in hip boots do not mind the wet, slithery, spray that comes over the gunwale to fall all around them. They haul away on the lines, bring in the last beautiful sockeye. If it's 500 fish they've got on that haul, all the men shout and wave their hats. The men on the other two locations shout in sympathy––and wish it had been their boats that had made the haul.
      The boys and men––now and then a woman––fishing at this Stuart Island location are mostly Dad Chevalier's sons and grandsons and the Indians and their sons who have worked for him for 50 years. Johnny Sam is his bookkeeper. Old General is now pensioned, but he gives up his pension for the reefnetting––he wouldn't miss this fishing season if he starved the rest of the year!
      The men share and share alike except that Dad gets a share of each location for his boats and gear. Last year was the best they ever had. Each man made $2,000 a share on No. 1 net. In nine weeks of fishing, that isn't bad unless you're depending on that for your year's income as some do. Some years the fishing is woefully bad. This looks to be a bad year, so far, but it may pick up. (Though by the time you read this, it will be nearly over and the tale will be told, whatever it was.)
      Bill and Alfred, Bill's and Alfred's son, all Chevaliers, are fishing this year and General, and old Isaac, the rainmaker, and General's sons, and Johnny Sam and Louis Smith. On three locations, 15 men are employed. Norman Mills, a son-in-law, is on his own boat, the ALOMA, buying fish.
Norman Mills and his 46.8-ft fish tender
ALOMA (O.N. 243877),
buying salmon from reefnetters in 1943,
the same year ALOMA was launched In Friday Hbr, WA.
Original dated photo from the S. P. H. S. ©
Caroline, his wife, and little Wilma Jean are living in a little house taken off a PAF barge, and planted on a Stuart beach. Lizzie Chev, from Waldron, is there with her menfolk and Adelaide Chev lives on Stuart. Sarah and Katherine, the Indian women, cook for their men and so all the crew gets fed. Reefnet fishing time is a time of work and picnic and camping and nobody would miss it for the world.
See you tomorrow"
June Burn

13 August 2013

❖ Kennell Quote ❖

Mariner, San Juan Archipelago

"Encourage all people to get on the water regardless of what size or type of boat. If you like boats, you like them all."
Ed Kennell

07 August 2013

❖ Japanese Glass Fishing Floats ❖

Vintage hand blown glass fishing floats
Saltwater People Historical Society collection.
Kindly donated by islanders 
Susan Bauer, J. C. Boyer, Irmgard Conley and M.L. Clark.

"Japanese fishing floats, like solidified bubbles of the sea itself, drift from Asia to America, where they are swept ashore onto the beaches of the Pacific Northwest. Beachcombers, picnickers, collectors, and children seek them or happen upon them unawares, and the fragile, air-filled glass balls that arrive intact end up in a roadside store, an antiques shop, a showcase, or somebody's attic––their mission fulfilled, their journey ended.
      The history and origin of these amazing little travel-minded spheres make possession more interesting to their finders and keepers. Nearly everyone living along the West Coast is familiar with the wood and cork floats used by local fishermen. But Japan, having little of either of these buoyant materials, yet abounding in a plentiful supply of cheap labor, has developed a fishing float unusual among its kind.
      To begin with, the balls are crudely made of glass that is blown by hand, easily recognized by the sea-green color, the imperfect shape, and the presence of air bubbles. Many of the balls have a Japanese character impressed into the thick 'blossom' end. These characters are the identifying marks of the fishermen, similar to a cattle brand.
      Handwoven net mesh is the only means used to confine the balls and fasten them onto the nets. This expendable cover rots away in time, allowing the float to slip out into the freedom of the wide open sea.
      Then begins the long journey to America. For the balls bob about like bubbles of foam, tossed by the winds as they ride the ceaseless current on a broad path that sweeps from Japan past the string of Aleutian Islands, down the coast of Southwestern Alaska and BC, to the coast of WA and OR––where they finally are skimmed onto shore by the prevailing westerly winds.
      These balls vary greatly in size. Some are but little larger than tennis balls, others graduate upwards through the sizes of indoor handballs, basketballs; a few jumbos have been found even larger. A second type, elongated instead of round with grooves for securing by rope on each end, also has been developed. The predominating color is the bluish-green aquamarine of sea water, but some have amber tints and a few are purple. The purple balls are the "ultra" of a collector's dream, for these were permitted to be used only by those fishing for the royal household.
      So practical and efficient have the Japanese fishing balls proven themselves that they now have been adapted by American enterprise and are replacing large numbers of our old-style floats. The American product, however, is different distinctly from the Japanese. The balls are machine made, uniformly spherical in shape and only in medium size. The glass is either the clear transparent of a milk bottle or the dark brown of a beer bottle.
      Fishing floats are not too difficult to find. There are seasons and areas for good float finding. The best season is winter or early spring, after a storm, and the best areas are the sandy ocean beaches. Rocky beaches mean sure destruction to glass objects.
      Our own beachcombing expeditions have met with varied success. The best luck we ever experienced was one winter at Tokeland. The sand beneath our toes was soft and yielding on the high dry spit and warmed by an unseasonal sun, but cool and firm as we walked the wave-tossed shoreline.
      Curiosity is a wonderful thing! Imagine the thrill of holding in your cupped hand a fragile ball with such history behind it!
      And the thrill was repeated sevenfold––for my husband picked up three Japanese fish floats in the space of the next few hours, I found two, and our two small boys, less than kindergarten age, found one each!
      So reluctant were we to leave the fascination of the uninhabited island, the tide slowly ebbed away then hesitated and turned, pouring the ocean back across the wet sands of the channel. Our return trip was made with the two boys riding on their father's shoulders while I carried the balls held high in my skirt as we half waded, half swam, back to the mainland!
      Beachcombing, like fishing, has other possibilities if one is bent more upon results than methods. Just as a fisherman may resort to a market and enjoy a fish actually caught by somebody else, so these souvenirs may be acquired in small towns along the ocean beaches from beachcombing natives.
      The biggest ball in our collection, and incidentally the largest one we ever have seen, was purchased from the attendant of a crab cart parked along the highway, and as we drove away his partner remarked: 'congratulations, George! So you finally unloaded the old white elephant!' 
      Such is the origin and romance of the Japanese fishing floats found in the Pacific Northwest––fragile, air-filled bubbles of glass, traveling thousands of miles on a sweeping path from Asia to America, before finally being washed ashore by the restless sea."
Above text by Charlotte Widrig
Published by The Seattle Times, 1951.
Tokeland, WA,  inscribed in upper left of map.
Detail of a postcard from the archives of S.P.H.S.
Click to enlarge.

Glass fishing floats found in Washington State.
Color photo by O'Neill of Long Beach, WA.
Other two photos by Ellis, all undated from
the archives of the S. P. H. S. 

01 August 2013

❖ SCHOONER RANGER ❖ of Milwaukee and Deer Harbor, ORCAS ISLAND

Schooner RANGER
Drawing courtesy of B. L. Brown.
Click to enlarge.

Gas auxiliary Schooner (Yacht) RANGER 
O.N. 212407
Designed by Thomas D. Bowes and Charles D. Mower, 
Naval Architects of Philadelphia.
Built by Henry B. Burger, Jr.  Manitowoc, WI, in 1914.
The owner, R. B. Brown of Milwaukee, WI, and Deer Harbor, WA.

Dimensions listed on the Tonnage Admeasurement papers filed with the Dept. of Commerce & Labor, 
27 June 1914:

Gross tonnage: 48

Net tonnage: 44
Reg. Length: 67' 
Tonnage Length: 74.8'
L. O. A: 77.6'
Reg. Beam: 17.2'
Reg. Depth; 8.2' (centerboard)
Spoon Bow, Square Transom
HP: 50-HP Wolverine.       

There is some incorrect information on the web regarding this vessel, including entries on the Woodenboat Forum; the data listed above is newly archived information thanks to the helpful staff from the National Archives, Chicago. 
      After good times sailing the Great Lakes area, The RANGER sailed from Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1939, with the owner and a crew of seven friends, through the Chicago drainage canal to meet the Illinois River, down the Mississippi River, across the Gulf of Mexico to Kingston, Jamaica, then to Cristobal, to head for a transit of  the Panama Canal, up the rugged west coast, safely to her new anchorage in front of "Arcady", the home of the skipper in Deer Harbor, WA. A total of 8,500 miles.
A segment of RANGER's course from
home state of Wisconsin to the Gulf.

10 days were spent at a shipyard 
in the heat of New Orleans.
Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

RANGER had a three-week layover at Kingston, Jamaica.
Something about tasting the rum and 

welcoming aboard an engine mechanic.
      Those on board for the long passage were the owner/skipper "R. B." Brown, "Doc" Earl Cilly, Bill Steinike, Jake DeBoer, radio man, Mr. Curtis, Johnny Findorff, cabin boy, Eddy Price, cook, and seaman Lew Dodd of Orcas Island. The last two mentioned each wrote separate accounts of the trip.
      With some good fortune, Lew Dodd's descriptive article was published in Pacific Motor Boat, January 1940. His name will be familiar to some readers from and interested in San Juan County life. Lew and his wife were known for building and retiring to a small, delightful, cabin on Yellow Island in c. 1947, another intriguing story. ("Their" island is now owned by the Nature Conservancy.) Lew's article is nine pages; it is included on this site as a "Page" and can be located just under the bow of the wind vane CAMANO on the home page.
RANGER was used by the US Coast Guard in the waters of Washington State during the war. Through operator error, the vessel was wrecked on the rocks of San Juan Island, wrecked meaning her keel was broken. She was stuffed with empty barrels to keep her afloat for a passage to a shipyard. The barrels thrashed around the interior to demolish the fine woodwork. It is not clear in what condition she was in when released to the next private party.

H. M. Fierrell buys RANGER from the original owner, R. B. Brown, now of Deer Harbor, WA.
1949, Summer:
Ruth Brown chartered RANGER with skipper/owner, H. M. Fierrell, for her programs at Westward Ho Camp, Orcas Island, to substitute for WESTWARD HO, off sailing the TransPac Race.

1949, Winter:

owned by H. M. Fierrell
Preparing for an adventure trip to the South Pacific,
Location, Queen City Yacht Club, Seattle, WA. 1949.

Original photo from the archives of the S. P. H. S.©
"Within 2 weeks H. M. Fierrell, 40-yr old Navy veteran, plans to head his schooner-rigged RANGER for South Pacific waters. 
      Fierrell has been interviewing crew for an expense-sharing cruise. "You have to be sure to get the right sort of men for a cruise like this," he declared.
      So far he has lined up four men, he said he could take six more crew members. He figured it will cost each man about $500 for the six-month cruise.
      Fierrell is living aboard the RANGER at the Queen City Yacht Club until he sails for the South Pacific. He plans to return in six months to spend the summer running charter cruises in Puget Sound as he did last summer." 
This text in quotes, from The Seattle Times, 6 December 1949.


From a Seattle Times report of 14 May 1952, we learn that skipper/owner, H. M. Fierrell and wife were rescued at sea with 8 others from their schooner, ELOISE, c. 22-miles south of the Golden Gate, CA,  bound for an adventure trip to the South Seas. The USCG EWING reportedly towed the distressed, 1915-built schooner, to San Francisco. The article states that Fierrell did not make it to the South Pacific in his previous schooner, RANGER.

We hear from Panama correspondents that RANGER is being restored in hopes she will be sailing for her centennial birthday in 2014.

With help from several informants, we are building a historical file on RANGER for San Juan County records. If you have any photos or documentation you'd like to share please write to us in care of the email listed in our Log profile. Thank you.

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