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

About Us

My photo
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.

17 June 2016


ON 539162 
Built by Jensen Shipyard, 1972, for Ernie Gann,
all of San Juan Island, WA.

Photo scan courtesy of Jan and Dave.

Ernest K. Gann
San Juan Island

Dear Ernie:

      You don't know me and perhaps are irked at the gall of a stranger addressing you informally. If so, beg pardon. But your boat was moored near mine the other day, so I tied up and hiked over for a closeup look.
      Curiosity rather than brashness drew me to her. I wanted to see what qualities in a man who had authored 13 books were reflected in his boat. Your 14th. Band of Brothers is just off the press, I'm told.
      I greet you informally because nobody I know on the waterfront around here refers to you as Ernest K. Most of the guys call you Ernie and let it go at that. They know you best, as waterfront men and boaters, through your book, Song of the Siren, in which you described 17 other boats you had sailed.
      As a waterfront newsman I am supposed to be cynical on my beat, but am not. Curious, yes––one reason I went back to look at your 35-ft Diesel cruiser, Strumpet. She was at Commercial Marine on Westlake North where Dave LeClereq and his guys were installing a gurdy and doing other chores. I went aboard and peeked around, with Dave' permission. Besides, she was open and a couple of men were working. They said come aboard, thinking you wouldn't mind. I only looked––didn't touch. 
      I've never written to a book author––or anybody else who was a notable, for that matter. John Wayne's yacht, the Wild Goose, comes to town occasionally. But I have never visited it or him. I mean, it is a converted ex-Navy minesweeper. If you've been aboard one, you've seen 'em all, right? Wayne, I recall, played the lead in The High and the Mighty, which you wrote. Sorry to say I never read it but I did catch the filmed version.
      Also, Bobby Darin, the late singer-actor, was in town and bought the old tug boat Jim. Darin spent a bundle to make the interior posh. But I never went aboard or tried to see him.
      But your Strumpet is something else. The first time I saw her was at night at Doc Freemen's moorage. Ole Johansen, who skippers a rescue vessel he acquired in Norway, was with me. We stood on the pier and ogled the Strumpet like young men would gawk at a beauty queen in a ripped bikini.
      We thought she was an authentic North Sea trawler out of Scotland or perhaps Scandinavia. We stood there in the night's damp chill, wondering who owned her and if she was hauled over in a freighter or sailed across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal and up the coast.
     So I was surprised to learn later that she was designed by Jay Benford of Seattle and built only last  year by the Jensen & Sons Shipyard at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.
      The waterfront guys here respect your Strumpet, which as you know is an know is an indirect tip of the watch-cap to the skipper. She's honest, genuine and well done. Those shipwrights at Friday Harbor must have gone all out to put their best into her.
      I'm told you were very particular about details during architectural planning and actual construction. A hull containing all the thick cedar, oak and he finest fir has to be skookum. The interior mahogany, bereft of plastic and cuteness, is soothing to the eye.
      The guys installing the gurdy said you apparently were going deep-water fishing, probably for halibut.
      The first thing that held my eye was her canoe-like stern, quite full and nearly round to provide lift in following seas. She's got an extraordinary fantail, all right––like a plump little blond I used to know in bygone years. But she wasn't as beamy in proportion––the blond, I mean. A 12-ft width on a 35 length is a lot of broad.
      The most eye-grabbing object in the wheelhouse was the shiny brass engine telegraph. For a moment I envisioned your buddy, La Frenier, on all fours in the engine compartment, acknowledging your engine-speed signals. As I read Sirens describing you and him in the fish boat Fred Holmes. I thought you were a goner while crossing that stormy bar at Astoria. Then I realized the Strumpet's engine was bridge-controlled and the telegraph was only a throttle-gearshift.
      Your Strumpet is the first boat I've seen with a solid-copper stovepipe. Never knew they existed. In fact, I've never seen as much copper tubing in a boat. Most of the guys use galvanized, black iron or plastic stuff around here. I'm told the 6-cylinder engine lets her cruise nicely at seven knots and with a fuel capacity to permit a 1,250-mile range. Benford said she exceeded by about a knot his architectural predictions on paper.
      Something else about the Strumpet. I never saw a 35-footer with three stoves aboard––one aft, one in the galley, and one in the forecastle bunk area. Usually a galley stove is sufficient. At least one old wood burner is enough in my gaff-rigged sloop. The little kerosene "swede stove" in the bunk area was a delightful surprise–solid brass, too. 
      Your padded engine room floor is the only way to go. They told me the lining in the compartment effectively deadens the engine noise.
Ernie Gann
In his studio on San Juan Island. 

Original from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      Another reason I went to see her was to learn what you have evolved to after owning 17 boats since your boyhood days. That's how many you described in Sirens. I recall the imposing Albatros, the old bucket that was object of your biggest love affair, and the tiny Thetis that charmed you. And the fish boat, Fred Holmes, which you and La Frenier took a beating off Oregon. Also the quirky Don Quixote which needed a blowtorch to start its cantankerous engine. Then there was the Butterfly, hardly more than a raft with patchwork sails that rose and nearly soared gull-like before the wind.
      You ended the book with the Albatros, and I often wondered what you went down to the sea in after her. Evidently the Strumpet now is your sequel siren.
      Here in Puget Sound country, in this cold and wet wintery state of affairs, I often chicken out when the cover tarps stiffen and ice forms on deck. Then I am landlocked and wait impatiently for sunshine to break through. When it does finally come, I remember that last italicized paragraph in Sirens:
      "I think we can sail today. Both the wind and the sea have gone down and there is a patch of blue sky to the north as big as a Dutchman's pants. Which is invitation enough for any sailor."
      The guys at the marine yard installed your fishing gurdy good and proper. They mounted it on a teak pad and socked in plenty of bedding compound.
      Good fishing out there, Ernie.
Above text: Carter, Glen. My Waterfront. Seattle; Seagull Books Co. 1977.
There is another post on Gann and his Strumpet posted here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Archived Log Entries