"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 April 2018



Charles Chevalier snapped the starting cord on his outboard motor.
      "It looks like a great day for fishing," he said.
      At 10:00 AM, the sun was already bright in the clear blue sky over the San Juan Islands and a light breeze ruffled the water.
Fisherman Charles Chevalier
Photo by the late great Josef Scaylea.
Date stamped verso 1978

Original print from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society©

      Charles Chevalier is a part-Indian, sixth-generation reefnetter. His comment about the fish conditions was based partly on instinct, inner knowledge. It proved to be accurate.
      A grebe, floating in front of him, took a dive deep into the water to avoid Charles' boat as it headed out of Friday Harbor around the bay bound for Stuart Island. Chevalier was in a hurry. He wished to meet his crew at the reefnet site well before high tide at noon.
      Though bare-foot, Charles had tossed his tennis shoes into the seat in front of him, together with a light jacket and a sack lunch. He would not be home until dinner, and the late afternoon wind on the cold waters of the San Juans could be chilly.
      Charles passed a few gillnetters coming in late from their night's fishing off the salmon banks. Purse seiners, their huge nets wrapped around hydraulic drums, beat past him.
      And all around him, first in one direction and then the other, a quick eye could catch the flash of silver spray as the beautiful sockeye jumped out of the water to take a look around.
      Stuart, the most westerly of the San Juan Island group, is close to the Canadian boundary. Here off a kelp bed near the entrance to Reid Harbor, Charles came upon his reefnet rafts. His crew was already there cleaning drift out of the lines.
      This reefnet location has been fished continuously by members of Charles family for six generations. It is licensed by the State––one of 71 stationary sites still being fished commercially in Puget Sound waters. [1978]
      Reefnet gear includes two canoes or rafts anchored parallel to each other 200' from shore in a spot where the ebb tide and floodtide currents will carry salmon into the 50' square net spread between the canoes or rafts.
      Setting out the net was the job Charles and his crew set about doing. The net was heavy; its four-inch mesh had been dipped in black tar so that the fish wouldn't 'tangle up in it.'
      The crew pulled one side of the net tightly between two rafts, the line stretched taut on the surface of the water. The opposite side of the net, secured to anchor lines, was held down in the water by weights.
      A few salmon, running ahead of the tide, evaded Charles' net. The current was not yet strong enough to make the net 'bag back.'
      "Fish traps blocked most of the reefnet sites by 1890, and many of the native owners of the locations were forced out. But in 1934 fish traps were outlawed and some of the old locations were reclaimed.
      Our spot at Stuart has been fished continuously for as many years as we can search back. I've fished it myself since I was 12––some 35 years."
      "Grandpa Bill Chevalier and his partner, Al Drouillard, started fishing this site in 1905," Marge went on. "Grandpa made a ceremony out of setting the anchors for the nets.
      He would pick the huge rocks carefully for their shape, wrap cedar-branch cables around them, lash them to the canoe and wait for the tides to float the rocks to the reefnet location."
      Charles' father, Alfred Chevalier, and his uncle Louie (like their ancestors) used to 'call' fish to the net. They learned the call from Charles' Great-Great Uncle Ned, a medicine man.

Marge Chevalier Workman
Cousin to Charles Chevalier.
Photo by Josef Scaylea.
Original print from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society©
Charles and Marge also occasionally use the call to coax fish into their nets and describe it as a soft, rather high-pitched cry not unlike that of an owl.
      "You have to feel it, they say. You have to be in tune with the fish. It's almost a spiritual thing."
      Traditionally, the first salmon caught is accorded special respect.
      "In days long ago," Charles says, "our people believed that the salmon had come to feed the people with their own flesh. So the first sockeye of the season (sockeye being the most powerful of all fish) received the special rite."
      Charles and Marge recall that no one would ever step across the first fish caught and that as the fish was cut, people would give thanks for the survival of the fish and the related survival of the people.
      Marge's father, Bill Chevalier, who is 81 and still living on San Juan Island, followed another custom which may have been unique to the area. He always took his first salmon of the season and laid it out for the yellow jackets, knowing that when there were lots of yellow jackets, there were also good salmon runs.
      Although Marge and Charles, being three-eighths and one-fourth Indian, respectively, no longer follow many of the ceremonies of their Indian ancestors, they say that descendants of the tribe on San Juan Island would like to get together and teach their children the traditions they've learned.
      But it was time to go back to work.
      Chugging down Speiden Channel was the 50' fish packer PRIMO, skippered by Clarence Meads. Clarence is the fish buyer for Whitney-Fidalgo at Anacortes, and it is he who makes the rounds of the reefnet positions daily during sockeye season.
      He maneuvered the PRIMO close to the rafts and the crew put off the salmon, using dip nets called 'brailers' to throw them aboard the fish packer for weighing.
      Clarence passed down a fish ticket indicating how much money would be credited to Charles for his day's catch.
      Is reefnetting a profitable venture? Both Marge and Charles laughed.
      "It varies," they agreed.
      "I remember one year," Marge said, "when I made $25 total. It was during WW II when all the boys were in the service. Grandpa asked me to come on up to Stuart and help him fish.
      Financially, no, it wasn't rewarding, but I love these islands and I love being here."
      Marge was born on Waldron Island, lived on John's Island and went to school on Stuart, rowing across the bay and walking three miles through the woods to the little one-room schoolhouse. She played on Henry Island and visited her grandmother often on Speiden Island, which the family owned.
      In the late afternoon sunshine, rocking gently on the reefnet raft, the two cousins reminisced.
      They remembered their grandmother's cousin Sara who used to fish from a canoe with a three-pronged spear.
      They repeated tales told to them of their great-great-grandmother who was from the Songish tribe and lived to be almost 100 years old in a little cedar-shake shed on the north end of Speiden Island. She always sat on a little box by her fire in the shed, never wore shoes and never learned to speak English.
      Their great-grandfather, Robert Smith, was a British marine stationed at English Camp on San Juan Island during the Pig War. He bought his way out of the Marines for $20 and married the old Granny's daughter, Lucy, establishing a homestead there that would be occupied by the family for many years.
      The Smith's daughter, Mary, (Charles and Marge's grandmother) was a beautiful woman who married Ed Chevalier, and together they 'ruled' for many years what became known as their 'island kingdom.'
      According to the book, Pig War Islands, Ed and Mary Chevalier were as widely known and loved as anyone in the San Juans. With their family of five children, they raised turkeys for market, tended a fruit orchard, grew all their own produce, kept sheep and horses, milked two cows, logged and cut wood. In addition, Ed built boats and held down a full-time job at Roche Harbor, rowing the two miles or so to work and back each day in fair weather or storm.
      He also fished commercially, and did so well at developing the technique that 'islanders looked on him as the local father of reefnet fishing.'
      "Grandmother," Marge says, passed down many of the Indian ways to our generation.
      She had regal bearing and a very gracious manner. I remember Sam Buck, Sr.. saying that he would like to take her to WA, DC, to present her to the President. She knew so much about the history of these islands."
      A maternal great-uncle of Marge's, Prosper Graignic, was "reputedly the most successful rum-runner on the Puget Sound." His father was a French sailor who jumped ship in Victoria in the 18870s, marrying an Indian girl from LaConner and settling on Waldron. "The large family they reared on Waldron grew up, it would seem, with sea water instead of blood in their veins. One of Prosper's brothers is said to have sailed the family sloop to Victoria and back at the age of 7. Another, although deaf, earned his way as a fisherman. His knowledge of local tides and currents is described by island people as uncanny. Even the girls in the family learned, early on, to be as much at home afloat as on dry land."
      While they were talking, Charles had pulled the reefnet out of the water and stowed it away, tying it down, and securing the lines.
      Their day's work was over now, in their ancestors' "gentle way to fish."
Above text was written by Patricia Latourette Lucas
For The Seattle-Times, 1978.

Charles R. Chevalier (1930-2015)

28 April 2018


The Greeter Ship

Vancouver, BC.

Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Public Library

"A miserable old sailing bark known as the ROBERT KERR that ended her days in ignominy as a coaling barge on the Vancouver, BC waterfront, once won a humanitarian reprieve. But let us go back to the start. 
      The ROBERT KERR was built in Quebec City in 1866. Unfortunately, her sailing days ended prematurely. On 6 September 1885, in a heavy fog, she hit the outcroppings of San Juan Island, seriously damaging her forefoot on the rocks, ending a troublesome ocean voyage that started in Liverpool, 30 Sept 1884. Pummeled by one storm after another, sickness, plague and quarrelsome, almost mutinous hands, the vessel was jinxed from the start of that voyage. Her rigging and hull badly damaged by the heavy seas that constantly swept her decks. Much of her canvas was ripped to shreds and then to make matters worse, her master, Capt. Edward Edwards died at sea after the ship had rounded the Horn en route to British Columbia.
      First officer John Richardson then took command, and with his responsibilities inherited the crew troubles. The most unsavory crewman was William Anderson who was involved in arguments or fights with nearly every man aboard. For these assaults, he was marked in the log-book almost as much as the weather. Once he stuck a cotton hook deep in the cheek of his shipmate Seraphim Fortes. (Fortes was a genial colored man who later became one of Vancouver, BC's most beloved personalities as the lifeguard of English Bay.) Till his death, he always said he was glad when the KERR struck San Juan Island for he felt the vessel was jinxed.
      Getting back to that last voyage; the slow-to-anger Richardson finally had all he could take and must have barged into the troublesome AB with a vengeance, as the log lists Anderson as being confined to Sick Bay for an indefinite period.
      The ill-fated ROBERT KERR after her stranding was towed to Vancouver Harbor and was at anchor there when the great Vancouver fire of June 1886 broke out. "Joe" Seraphim Fortes, the deep scar still in his cheek and still attached to the vessel, emerged as a hero, alone responsible for saving scores of lives in that disaster by directing people to the ship.
      When Fortes died in 1922 he was highly honored, and a drinking fountain stands in his memory today in the park at English Bay.
      Shortly after the fire, Captain William Soule purchased and beached the KERR alongside the Hastings Mill and there careened and repaired her. Having lost his family home in the fire, the Soules took up residence on the ship until a time when a charter could be secured and the vessel sent back to sea.
      When Vancouver was incorporated as a city, the old bark, then a waterfront landmark, was gayly decorated with all of her flags flying. Her role in the great fire had gained her a place of prominence in the hearts of the local citizenry.
      Canadian history writer B.A. McKelvie further relates the vessel's role in the great fire.
      "When the residents of Vancouver fled from the red holocaust that was sweeping down upon them that Sunday in June of 1886, many of them turned towards a battered old sailing ship that was anchored off the burning community. It was the ROBERT KERR, damaged on the rocks of San Juan Island, brought to Vancouver and sold by the underwriters to Captain William Soule, who superintended the loading of ships at Hastings Mill.
      The ROBERT KERR was invaded by men and women in rowboats, in Indian canoes and on rafts and logs, seeking sanctuary from the flames. At first, the watchman hesitated to allow them aboard, but all objections were overcome and some 15 to 200 persons found safety on the decks."
      Captain Soule and his family took refuge on the German bark VON MOLTKE loading at Hastings Mill during the fire. After the ROBERT KERR became the Soule's home, the joy of living aboard a sailing vessel never diminished for the two children. But Mrs. Soule had to call upon her reserve many times to keep her floating home 'Shipshape and Bristol fashion.' One dark, stormy night while she and her children were left alone on the vessel, it began to drag anchor and was in grave danger of slamming into other vessels at the Mill. She and her children, in a herculean effort, readied the second anchor and managed to get it over the side, which was just the grip needed to prevent a collision.
      The ROBERT KERR became known as the 'greeter ship' in the harbor and the skippers and officers of vessels calling at the mill often came aboard to dine or to take afternoon tea much to the credit of the gracious Mrs. Soule.
      When the Soules decided that shoreside living might be more convenient, Capt. Soule decided to get rid of his charge in a unique way. He sold chances on her at $100 each in the local saloons and waterfront establishments. Tickets were printed and circulated with the words, 'Grand Raffle of the good ship ROBERT KERR.' The response was amazing. He sold 80 shares, but whether by law or by chance, the raffle failed to come off. Instead, the ship was sold to Canadian Pacific Steamship Co, then in dire need of a coal tender to supply its great Empress liner fleet in Transpacific service. The Kerr was the only hull around large enough and strong enough to meet their needs. She measured 190.5' and was rated at 1,123 tons. Her holds were spacious and she could more than pack her weight in coal. Thus the vessel was purchased for $7,000 on 3 October 1888 and reduce to the role of a coal hulk. She, however, played a vital role in supplying the celebrated liners that put Vancouver Harbour on world maps everywhere.
      After hard usage, the ROBERT KERR was placed in drydock to tighten up the seams in her wooden hull, and in 1891 was sold by CPS to Canadian Pacific Railroad. For 20 years she carried coal between Ladysmith and Burrard Inlet, at the far end of a towline.
      It was a sad day for the maritime community of Vancouver, BC when word reached the city that the familiar grubby humanitarian ship would no longer be seen traveling through Canadian waters. In a heavy fog, under tow of the tug COUTLI, the KERR slammed into Danger Reef off Thetis Island on 4 March 1911, with 1,800 tons of coal and there stuck fast.
      She died hard, however, and for years, her bones lay bleached in dismal disarray for all to see. Termed by man a 'black drudge' she nevertheless had kept company with Empresses. As late as 1927, the KERR's bell was presented to the Vancouver City Museum and still tolls the memories of the past.
Gibbs, Jim. Pacific Square Riggers, Pictorial History of the Great Windships of Yesteryear. 1987. Revised edition by Shiffer Publishing.

The wreck of the Robert Kerr is listed as a dive site HERE

15 April 2018


Washington State Ferry CHELAN (643291)
Washington State Ferry TILLIKUM (D278437)
Harney Channel, San Juan Archipelago
On this day fifteen April 2018
Looking west down Harney Channel
one week previous; April 2018.
Both images were taken from Blakely Island, WA.
Courtesy of photographer Lance Douglas©

09 April 2018

❖ POINT ROBERTS COUNTRY ❖ with June Burn 1930

Copyright of Thos. C. Metsker
"Metsker the Map Man."

This map is for convenience not for navigation.
Click image to enlarge for viewing Pt. Roberts.

"The village of Point Roberts is called West Point Roberts. It stands down in the lower lefthand corner of the peninsula. Here are two or three stores, gas stations, a big fish cannery. Behind one of the new stores, there stands a thirty or forty-year-old building with "Bureau Salon" in big letters across its false front. There are several houses, of course, one little hotel called the Green Lantern, another restaurant, a schoolhouse and nameless relics of houses whose uses I do not know.
      Jutting out into Georgia Strait from the beach is the long dock. The daily boat, TULIP, from Bellingham, stands off here to discharge mail and freight. Beyond the beach a mile or so, fishtraps look like centipedes floating on the water. The high derrick affair up northward is one of the boundary monuments set there to let fishermen know when they are on their side of the fence.
      It stands over a mile from shore, I believe; 5,500-ft to be exact. I suppose there is a light atop as there is on the one ashore. The international boundary makes a sharp bend two or three miles out from Pt. Roberts and turns southeasterly down Georgia to Haro Strait when it bends again through Haro to Juan de Fuca and so on out to sea. It really is too bad that it doesn't turn southwesterly from Boundary Bay and so avoid this bit of peninsula altogether. It must be a great bother keeping up customs and boundary patrol for six square miles or less of country. Though it does add interest to our map to see Pt. Roberts away up there at our northwesternmost corner separated from us by both land and sea. It is more than an island, surrounded as it is on three sides by water, and on the fourth by an alien country.
      Summer people, week-ending visitors, are already trickling down to all the long, sandy beaches of the Point. They look very carefree, walking like Pippa on her one holiday of the year. Very jaunty and satisfied they look, as if they had achieved some private victory of their own.
      At the village, I found Mr. Culp just ready to go home. He brought me back to the cottage in the woods, and this evening after supper all of us crowded into the coupe.
      Down to Boundary Bay, we went past Baker's new charming log cabin, past the Russell place, along the narrow graveled road with shrubs pressing in from both sides, past the Ellis Johnson place. Honeysuckle in bloom in the woods. Mrs. Culp told of the effort that their local Grange made to stop the vandalism of wildflowers and shrubs in the summertime. They wrote Olympia about it, learned that tree stealing could be prosecuted, but apparently not other forms of the ruthless gathering of wildflowers.

      Leghorn Heights on our left, and the Solomon ranch. Crystal Waters beach. Is it not a lovely name? Thorstenson Ranch and the Goodman place deep in the woods. Down to White Lily Point, which is a high bluff overlooking the bay. Here, in March, the little white six-petaled Easter lily droops her sweet head under every salal shrub, every frond of Oregon
grape. In bloom now are vetch, wild roses, Indian Paintbrush, honeysuckle, fritillaria or rice-root, and many little things whose names I do not know.
Eight photographs from the archives of the
Saltwater People Historical Society©
      Across Boundary Bay the lights of Blaine, below the bluff fifteen fishtraps with long curved leads. Far down across the Strait, Lummi Island, and Orcas. The big P.A.F. fish cannery at the foot of the high bluff has not run for years. Mr. Arni Myrdal is in charge of fishing operations down there. Wise in Icelandic lore he is, they say. But I did not meet him on this trip. See you tomorrow. June."
Above text by June Burn. Puget Soundings. May 1930.

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