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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.

06 October 2016

❖ CRUISIN' TIME IN THE 1940s and '50s ❖

"Cruisin' Time"

"Cruisin' Time" in the San Juans divides itself into short cruises, harbor hopping, anchor sitting, town visiting, and fishing. The occasional use of exact time for thousands of yachtsmen is only for tidal, current, and weather requirements––bolstered by that innate sense of skippers who can judge by eyeball calculations the moment the sun is over the yard arms in harbors from Friday Harbor to the Sucias.
     My own discovery of this kind of "time" in the San Juans dates to chance. In the Depression my close friend and I, up from Oregon, chose a stay in Bellingham. A large group of students organized a sail aboard a classic large, wooden-hulled sailboat for a stay at Olga's hotel, and we went along after scrounging hard for the fee. That was fifty years ago, but I still vividly recall standing on deck at the mainmast, wondering, "where is this?" 
as we made that gorgeous run through Obstruction Pass and into Buck Bay to the Olga dock used by those little passenger steamers that knit the islands' travel and commerce.
     The following day, a typical May overcast, zero wind and flat water kind of day, we wandered a rock roadway along East Sound and stumbled onto the great Moran estate at Rosario. We saw no one, and wandered at will in subdued awe. Before us undulating in the most gentle of tiny swells was the 107-ft SANWAN. She was anchored fore and aft to hold her at right angles to the beach, so close to the shoreline we could have waded to her bow. 
Seen here in San Francisco.
Built on Orcas Island by shipbuilder Robert Moran.
Date c. twenty years before this Bob Walters article.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
The SANWAN had seen better days. Some streaks of rust had run down her fading white sides. The depression times had laid up the yacht that Robert Moran had both designed and built and we were sad. This was the most famous of local yachts, along with John McMillin's CALCITE, but SANWAN, was like a clipper ship and twice the length.
     Fourteen years later, my wife Erma and I took a weekend cruise with a Bellingham writer who saved his gasoline coupons––the rationing was still on in 1945. We spent the Fourth of July in Fossil Bay at Sucia Island. DISCOVERY was the only boat of any kind in the harbor all that day and night, and we were the only crew wandering the shorelines.
      Our host showed us the tumbled structures of the "caves" that had been constructed in the small boulders on the spit. The rum runners used these hiding places: they would dash the three nautical miles with loaded speedboats from the International Line, pull to the beach in the cove opposite Fossil, stow the Scotch and Canadian Whiskey in the timber-shored caches, and dash back. The local connections would then slip into Fossil in the dark and start the cargoes to the down sound thirsty.
     My third encounter with "Cruising Time" was the next fall––1946. Joe Williamson, Seattle's renowned ship and tugboat photographer-historian acquired a classic Stephens Bros. power yacht. He suggested a cruise to sample the fine middle October weather in the San Juans. After leaving Friday Harbor, we took on San Juan Channel in a developing storm.
     We rounded Limestone Point, passed Pearl Island and cruised right to the head of the harbor, hard-by the shipping warehouse at Roche Harbor. 
Roche Harbor, WA.

Tied to the main float, and almost touching the McMillin home, we spent a warm, snug evening against the passing storm. Not one person came to question us; not one yacht or commercial craft in sight. 
Hotel de Haro,
Roche Harbor, San Juan Island. 

Original dated photo July 1950 from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
We explored the Hotel de Haro, literally encased in vines and unused, and I learned the background of Roche Harbor and its patriarch.
     Good fortune comes in threes. Now I had visited Rosario when we were the only ones in sight, anchored in the Sucias with the freedom of hermits, and ported at Roche with the place to ourselves.
     From items I jot on my cuffs are memories of the wonderful 1950s such as when we docked at the floats at Norton's Deer Harbor and at eventide walked the road up to the historical Norton farmhouse and orchard and partook of the marvelous chicken dinners served family style to visitors.
Boat docks at Deer Harbor, WA.
Photo by Boyd Ellis from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
      There are others––Waldron Island, Jones Island, Mitchell Bay––all combining to produce a string of family cruising highlights and memories of "Cruisin' Time" in the San Juans.
Above words by Bob E. Walters. San Juan Islands Almanac. Vol. 9. Editorial staff, Therese Morrow and Nancy Prindle. Long House Printcrafters and Publishers. 1982.

      Those who spent hours cruising the San Juans in the 1950s may have memories similar to those of Bob Walters, former editor of Pacific Motor Boat and SEA magazine. Walters was also publishing editor for San Juan cruising books, writer and photographer for San Juan and British Columbia magazine stories, a charter founder of the Northwest Marine Assoc and president of Puget Sound Interclub Assoc that fostered donors for Sucia Island State Marine Park.

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