"The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down." A. Whitney Brown.

About Us

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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 750, 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.

22 February 2016


after 40 years.

On the Swinomish Channel at LaConner, WA. 

Undated postcard by Puget Sound Mail & Printing.
From the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
If Owen "Tony" Tronsdal acted like a kid with a new toy when he was around his 65-ft sternwheeler, that was because he was realizing a dream that had been on his mind for 40 years––since he was 10.
      Ever since he saw his first sternwheeler chug up the Skagit River to disgorge passengers and take on peas, oats and vegetable crops, he has had one consuming passion––to own his own sternwheeler.
      And then the dream that came true right before his eyes. A beautiful river queen took shape near Tronsdal's auto mechanics shop in Conway. 
      Neighbors and pals dropped around to watch the big flat-bottomed boat grow and none have been able to resist hopping aboard to lend a hand. 
      Glen Seehorn, Mt. Vernon, stopped at the building site in LaConner to see how his old friend Tony was doing with his new toy. He wound up spending three days getting the boat up on dollies and moving it a mile to the water.
Top: inscribed, Diesel Sternwheeler
April 1966
Bottom: LaConner, WA., 3 Feb. 1963.
Photos courtesy of Capt. Jack Russell, Seattle, WA.

      It was floated to Fresh Water Slough on the South Fork of the Skagit. 
      This all began in 1961 when Tronsdal and his wife decided they wanted a summer home. Tony conceived the idea of a sternwheeler that would serve a dual purpose––satisfy his life-long dream of piloting his own sternwheeler and provide a summer home at the same time.
      As the boat took shape Tony was asked by so many people to hire out for a trip up the Skagit that he finally decided he would turn the paddle-wheeler into a commercial venture and sell tours from Mount Vernon to the mouth of the Skagit, 12 miles. 
      Tony wouldn't say how much the boat cost, but did admit "you could buy a nice house, I mean, a nice modern house, for the price of this boat."
      The first thing Tony did when he decided to proceed was hire the best boat builder he could find. This was Howard Boling, a commercial fisherman in season and a boat builder in the offseason. 
      The vessel contained a 180-HP GMC Gray Marine Diesel engine for power that took it easily at eight knots. The paddle is 10-ft in diameter and 11-ft wide. The boat itself was built 65-ft overall in length and 18-ft in beam. 
      The hull is 100% Alaska cedar and only galvanized bolts were used throughout. An extra slab of concrete five and one-half inches thick backs up the heavy decking in the bow. "No deadhead is going to poke through and sink this baby," Tronsdal said.
      The wheel itself is a masterpiece. Two young men in Mt. Vernon High School, Bill and Albert Olson, asked if they could have the privilege of outfitting the paddle-wheeler with its wheel. One brother worked on it for two years and when he graduated from shop class a second brother moved in to finish the job. It is five feet in diameter and made of mahogany and teak.
      Tronsdal was asked to sell his blueprints.

      "There aren't any. This baby came right out of my head. I just drew a picture of what I wanted and some details and Boling started building her. And who's there to go to for advice on building a stern-wheeler? Nobody. They're all dead and gone."
      The vessel was named after Tony's son, John Edward Tronsdal. He was 10 years old at the time, the same age as when Tronsdal saw his first sternwheeler.
Text by Willis Tucker for The Skagit Herald, 22 March 1966
JOHN EDWARD lived to go on to other owners under the name of EMERALD QUEEN. 
Well, it is only 2 1/2 years but I said I would get back with more history on this vessel.

Capt. Owen (Tony) Tronsdal of Conway, Skagit County, formed a partnership and revived the 12-year old sternwheeler, JOHN EDWARD, with Capt. Ray Hughes of Mukilteo, a skipper for WA. State Ferries.  They called their business the Skagit Bay Navigation Co. They began by mooring her at St. Vincent de Paul's on Lake Union but loaded passengers from the Puget Sound Excursion Line dock at Fisherman's Terminal in Ballard. They hoped to cater to tourists, church groups, and senior citizens, to show the fantastic points of interest along Seattle's inland waters. Then next we see a new owner––

Built 1967
Capt. Alan W. Cox out for sea trials on Lake Union.
March 1987.
Click image to enlarge.
Low res scan of an original photo from the archives of
the Saltwater People Hist Society©

1987: In March the Seattle Times announced a new cruise in town with the EMERALD QUEEN, Capt. Alan W. Cox taking a test run. For a $3. ticket a person could glide all day along the shores of Lake Union on the sternwheeler. The QUEEN was licensed for 49 passengers with speed on the lake at 7-knots. Several restaurants had signed on including the Hungry Turtle, the Lakeside, Arnie's Northshore Restaurant, Franco's Latitude 47, Triples, and the Rusty Pelican. 


18 February 2016


Lettering template
donated by Sherm Thompson's son, Cliff.
Frank Jensen
Of all the Jensen-built boats, Frank's favorite is the one built
for his own use, the VERDUN.
When historian David Richardson interviewed Frank in 1960,
 he had made four or five trips to AK with her and
 had sailed her all through the San Juan Islands many times.
When she was home, Frank kept VERDUN
anchored in the bay off Turn Point.

Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©

ON 217946
Owner: Islander Sherman Thompson 

on board for this photo, Deer Harbor, WA.
Photo by professional photographer Jacobson
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©

Built by Frank Jensen for launching in the spring of 1919, she was off and away to fish in Southeastern Alaska. Captain Joe and his brother Frank put in time trolling for salmon, home by mid August 1919. The Journal newspaper didn't report how they did fishing. 
Master Carpenter Certificate
Purchased from the National Archives, PNW, Seattle.
Copy from the S.P.H.S.

1934, September. 
Nourdine Jensen, in command of his uncle's VERDUN, returned from a cruising trip of approximately 200 miles in BC waters. Along for the adventure were Donald Mullis, Launor Carter, Bob Buck, Eddie and Jake Dyuff and Crayton Smoots. They encountered rough weather in the gulf but did not report on the sport fishing.

1946, February.
Well known Orcas boat, William Norton's VERDUN, suffered an explosion heard over the waterway in Bellingham. The watchman aboard the VERDUN came flying out of a cloud of smoke and flame to land on the fantail. 
Crew from the freight/mail boat OSAGE ran to the VERDUN with what fire fighting equipment they could carry and by the time the city fire department arrived had the flames extinguished. The injuries to the watchman were not thought to be severe but the boat was badly damaged.

Soon after the above accident, Sherm Thompson bought the VERDUN to use for a boom boat, a cannery tender, and for setting concrete anchors in the local reefnet fishery. See the photos below.

Sherm's son Cliff lost track of the boat after she was damaged in the Columbus Day Storm in 1962. Have you seen her?
Sherman Thompson,
life long resident of Deer Harbor, WA.
aboard his Friday Harbor built VERDUN
c. mid to late 1940s.
Photo courtesy of his son Cliff.

VERDUN and her crew.
L-R: "Mississippi"
Billy Kelton
Cliff Thompson
Sherman Thompson
Courtesy of Cliff Thompson.

14 February 2016

❖ Fleet Captain Oliver Van Nieuwenhuise ❖

Drawing of the well known
Capt. Oliver Van Nieuwenhuise
a.k.a. "Ole Wooden Shoes."
Fleet Captain for Black Ball Ferries.
Sketch dated, 1945.

Quotes submitted to The Piling Busters Yearbook, 1951:

Running along in the fog, blowing the whistle at least every minute, more upon approaching a landing––a lady passenger said, "what are you blowing so much for, Captain?" He replied, "It is foggy and I'm trying to locate the landing." "But look up, one can see the clouds and the sky." The captain replied, " you are right but we are not going that way unless the boiler blows up."

A lady stepped up to the ticket-window and laid down a 10-cent piece and in a Southern accent accent asked for a ticket.
Ticket seller: "where to, please?"
Lady: "on the ferry."
Ticket seller: "what place are you going to?"
Lady: "San Juan Islands."
Ticket seller: "which island––and besides we have no 10-cent tickets."
Lady: "well, hell, that's all we pay to cross the Mississippi!"

04 February 2016

❖ BAILEY GATZERT, Once Queen of the Sound

ON 3488

Williamson Collection
Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
"A dingy storeroom float rode at moorings at the plant of the Lake Union Dry Dock & Machine Works. Fishermen climbed aboard to store gear in rows of lockers. The long, narrow frame structure was spacious and conveniently near a score or more of trim schooners repairing, over-hauling or tied up to wait the opening of the 1940 halibut fishing season. Few of the fishermen or busy shipyard employees gave a thought to the fact that beneath the dingy storeroom was the hull of the swift stern-wheeler BAILEY GATZERT, that made steamboat history on Puget Sound and the Columbia River.
      There was a fascination in the name "BAILEY GATZERT" to old-timers on the waterfronts of Puget Sound. There was an air of grandeur about the famed vessel. She was a floating palace in her day. The BAILEY GATZERT met the fate of all ships a number of years ago, but her memory still lives––on Puget Sound and the Columbia River.
     The famed sternwheeler's nameplate, a weather-beaten piece of timber, has adorned a wall in the offices of The Marine Digest in the Canadian National Terminal on the Seattle waterfront ever since she reached the end of her career. Jackson B. Corbet, editor and publisher says it is not unusual for some stranger to come into his office and ask for the privilege of sitting down and gazing at the plate with affection and reverence. 'They come from all over––the Columbia River, San Francisco, and Los Angeles,' Corbet said.
      On Puget Sound, the BAILEY GATZERT is remembered chiefly for her great record in the Seattle-Tacoma and Seattle-Bremerton routes, but she also operated between Seattle and Olympia, plying in this service more than a year in the early part of her career.
      With her wheel, twenty-two feet in diameter, churning the waters of the sound, the BAILEY GATZERT defeated the swift sternwheeler GREYHOUND in an exciting race. Later she left the sidewheeler T.J. POTTER astern in one of the most furious races in the history of the Sound.
ON 3488
177.3' x 32.3' x 8'
Williamson Collection.
Original photo from the S.P.H.S.©
      Launched broadside in Ballard in the fall of 1890, the BAILEY GATZERT moved away under her own steam. The launching party which made the journey from Seattle to Ballard by train, was carried by the new vessel on an excursion cruise to Tacoma and return. The vessel was built by the John Holland yard for the Seattle Steam Navigation Co. Her first service was in the Seattle-Tacoma route.
      In 1891 her original owners sold the BAILEY to the Columbia River & Puget Sound Navigation Co, which immediately transferred her to the Seattle-Olympia route. In 1892, the vessel went to the Columbia River. The BAILEY GATZERT's career on the Columbia and her subsequent return to Puget Sound to become one of the queens of the inland sea is an interesting chapter in the history of navigation in this region.
      The BAILEY GATZERT was the finest vessel of her day plying inland waters. Her interior decorations were carried out under the direction of an English artist named Harnett. The panels in her engine room were the work of Capt. Howard Penfield, who was first to hold the position of mate in the vessel. The GATZERTS's first master was Capt. George I. Hill, who had as his engineer, Charles Follett.
      Skippers of the BAILEY GATZERT included Capt. Harry Anderson, now port captain of the Puget Sound Navigation Co; Capt. Gilbert Parker, who took the GATZERT to the Columbia River in 1892, and Capt. R. B. Holbrook, who brought the vessel to Seattle in 1918 after she had been sold by The Dalles, Portland & Astoria Navigation Co to the Navy Yard Route.
      In the spring of 1920, the BAILEY GATZERT became the first automobile ferry between Seattle and Bremerton. The vessel was named for Bailey Gatzert, one of Seattle's most widely known pioneers, who came to this city in 1869. He was a member of the City Council in 1872 and 1877 and was elected mayor in 1875.
     Bailey Gatzert helped to organize the Seattle Drydock & Shipbuilding Co and was its first president. He died 19 April 1893 and as a tribute to a life rich in ability, enterprise, and charity, one of Puget Sound's most remarkable steamboats was named in his honor."
Unidentified publisher. 
Below notes from H.W. McCurdy's Marine History of the PNW. Newell, Gordon. (1966)

Invitation for a passage on the new
Steam Bailey Gatzert
Ballard to  Olympia, Washington
from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society 

The BAILEY GATZERT was extremely popular during the Lewis & Clark Exposition of this year and a popular song, the Bailey Gatzert March was published. 
She was reconstructed with heavier hull & engines. 
Her whistle, one of the most melodious among the Northwest steamboats, and her ornate name board are preserved by Seattle's Museum of History and Industry on South Lake Union.

01 February 2016


Built 1881
Undated, original photo collected by J. Williamson,

photographer unknown.
From the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
"While hijacking an ocean liner is theoretically more practicable than trying to divert a passenger train from its ordained course, it poses many problems. Several thousand tons of very solid steel make a much less vulnerable target for gun or bomb than does or a thin-skinned airliner, and there is a crew of from fifty to several hundred widely dispersed and horny-fisted seamen and engineers to contend with. For these and other reasons, hijackings were rare on the coastwise sea lanes. The few which were attempted were not successful.
      Some were farcial from beginning to end. Back in 1903 the old Pacific Coast Steamship liner, UMATILLA, set out from Seattle on her regular run to San Francisco. Along the way a passenger, either mentally deranged or overcome by the liberal service of the UMATILLA's bar, became convinced that he was the ship's captain and the only man aboard who could save her from disaster.
      Mounting to the bridge, he began issuing orders to the crew, much to the amazement of Capt. Louis Nopander, the steamer's veteran skipper. Finding the uninvited guest to be harmless, Capt. Nopander decided to humor him. The self-appointed navigator remained on the bridge all the way down the coast, periodically bellowing orders that he felt essential to the safety of the ship. The crew responded politely with "Aye, aye, sirs" and went on about their business.
       At San Francisco the deluded passenger politely turned the bridge back over to Capt. Nopander before being escorted ashore by several men in white coats."
Above text from the Sea Rogues' Gallery. Newell, Gordon. Superior Publishing Co. 1971.
1918, 5 March
One of the best known of the Pacific coastwise fleet and the survivor of many a stranding during her years of service, finally became an apparent total loss in the offshore service of Admiral Oriental Line. The UMATILLA, the old iron steamship, stranded off the coast of Japan this day. All of the 55 persons aboard were removed safely, but the veteran steamship, built in 1881, was considered to be a hopeless wreck and was abandoned. In subsequent months a sandbar gradually built up between the wreck and the shore and the Japanese took advantage of this development to dismantle the UMATILLA plate by plate. They later reassembled the vessel from plans obtained from the original builders, and this remarkable and virtually indestructible craft was subsequently operated for many years as a Japanese steamship.  
The H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the PNW. Newell, Gordon. Seattle. (1966)    

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