"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 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.

01 November 2019

❖ COOKE, KECK, and THEIR GAL CIRCE ❖ (updated)

with the setting sun, in the year of her birth
5 June 1932.

Low res scan of an original photo from the
Saltwater People Historical Society©
"CIRCE in Homer’s Odyssey was an enchantress that turned men into swine. In this modern-day tale, Stanton Keck is the sorcerer saving Circe from dry rot and turning the aging vessel into a sea goddess. Circe, a grand old racing yacht built in [1932], is being revived by Keck; a miraculous rescue for a once-proud beauty that has been living a life of ignominy for the past 15 years, more than once sinking at a Lake Union moorage.
      The 62-ft wooden sailboat, built by Ben Seaborn, is one of several splendid yachts that raced for more than 30 years on the west coast. A former crew member, Stanton Keck of Bellevue, is restoring the classic vessel, “mostly for nostalgic reasons, I guess.”
      “I sailed on Circe in the mid 1960s for a couple of years, then one day in 1972 I went to lunch at Franco’s (on Lake Union) and was going to show her to a friend. I’ve never seen such a mess in my life. She looked like a ghost ship.”
      Keck ended up buying 50 percent interest in the boat and moved Circe to Lake Washington in front of his Enetai home. He has stayed with his objective through two years of litigation involving disputes with Ben Seaborn’s twin brother, Jack who lives in Portland, OR., who owns the other 50 percent. Keck, a communications systems contractor, estimates the total cost of restoration at about $75,000.
      Ben Seaborn was only 16 when he designed the Circe. It was the start of a brilliant, sometimes controversial and short-lived career for a Seattle naval architect. According to one story, Seaborn received a slide rule for his ninth birthday, and a few years later had recorded on paper his first design concept of a big sailboat. The design reportedly was sent off to a prominent eastern yacht designer, who offered a great deal of encouragement to the youngster. One contemporary recalls that Ben Seaborn ‘was as close to a genius as anybody I’ve known.’ 

      Circe was built by Seaborn’s stepfather, Ray Cooke, and the boat raced by Cooke until his death in 1964. Seaborn was a regular member of the crew for almost 30 years. He passed away in 1960, age 45. 
      Circe weighs 42 tons, 14 in the keel. The beam measures 14-ft, 7-inches, and she draws 10-ft, 8-inches. Built originally as a cutter, the vessel was lengthened after several years to 65-ft and rigged as a yawl because it will be easier to steer and more comfortable on long charter runs.
      'One of the cotton head sails is as long as the boat, and the wood mast is 60-ft tall. It used to be 75-ft, but Cooke cut off 15-ft because it affected his handicap, having too much sail on top.'
      As one of the premier yachts on the Pacific Coast, Circe was the scratch boat for the Seattle Yacht Club for many years and sailed in half a dozen Transpacs and numerous Swiftsure races.

Racing Yacht Circe
Owned by Ray Cooke, SYC.
Photo 1934
Opening Day Regatta, on Lake Washington.

Click to enlarge.
Low res scan of an original photo from the
archives of the Saltwater People Log©

      On Circe’s first Transpac (Los Angeles to Honolulu) in 1933, the crew included Ben Seaborn as tactician, Jack Graham Jr., mate, John Dore Jr., (son of Seattle mayor), Jim Hastings, Jack Seaborn, and Bob Lampson. On the same race in 1936, the crew ran out of water a few days out of Honolulu. For awhile the men laughed about using beer to drink and to brush their teeth instead of water, but soon it became a matter of concern, a close call long remembered.
      'As a result,” explains Churchill Griffith, who joined the crew for the 1939 race, “we couldn’t get any water for anything except drinking. I think we only used about 20 gallons on the entire trip.'
      Griffith recalls Ben Seaborn’s pride in his navigational skills, in estimating and recording several days ahead the precise time, day, and minute the boat would arrive at a certain point. “On three different occasions I remember his coming within a minute or so of his estimate,” Griffiths says.
      Seaborn’s genius was utilized during WW II when he became deeply involved in the logistics of the Kaiser ship-a-day effort and the development of the B-17 production line at Boeing. He later designed the Thunderbird, a 26-ft sloop, at the request of the Douglas Fir Plywood Association. The plywood manufacturers wanted a kit design for a home-built boat; they got that, plus a boat which 20 years later still remained fiercely competitive. Some 2,000 Thunderbirds have been built, and they were sailed worldwide.
      Cooke, Circe’s builder, lived on the boat about 26 years. Since his death in [1963] 'not a drop of work had been done,' says Keck. 'The boat has been sitting in fresh water all those years.'
      In Circe’s teak salon, the bulkheads are papered with plaques—a reminder of a fine racing record when the yacht was riding high. The ups and downs of the classic seem strangely similar to those in the turbulent life of its designer, Ben Seaborn, but for Circe there’s now a second chance."
Words by Liz Schensted for Argus 1 May 1981.

Inscribed: Owner, Ray Cooke
9 May 1930.
This was the first year of
the Swiftsure Lightship Cup Race.
(see note below.)

Original photo from the archives of
the Saltwater People Historical Society©
"The Swiftsure Lightship Cup Race was born with the intent to 'sponsor ocean or offshore racing amongst clubs of PIYA for yachts of wholesome type, 27-ft 0-inches to 40-ft 0-inches waterline length, to comply with NAYRU Rules.'
      Four boats were entered in the first Swiftsure. A group of Canadians came down with an idea for a race around Vancouver Island. 
      'I suggested we sail out around the Swiftsure Lightship. We could get just as seasick and it wouldn't take as long,' said Ray Cooke.
      For that inaugural Swiftsure Lightship Cup Race of 1930, the trophy provided by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club was named the 'Swiftsure Lightship Cup.' It was ordered from London, England, and featured an engraving of Johnson's Westward Ho. The deed of gift specified, 'The race this year will be from Victoria, B.C. to Swiftsure Lightship and return.'
      Almost as if by gentleman's agreement, the race co-founders, Commodore Barney Johnson and Ray Cooke, shared the trophy equally during the 1930s. As it turned out, two of the contests were essentially match races between Westward Ho (sometimes with alternate skipper Capt. St. Claire Jellett) and Cooke (in Claribel and Circe.)"

Swiftsure Trophy Winner: 
1930, Claribel, 42-ft Staysail Schooner, Ray Cooke, SYC.
1934, Circe, 63-ft Cutter, Ray Cooke, SYC.                                                    
Humphrey Golby and Shirley Hewett.
Swiftsure, The First Fifty Years 1930-1980
Yacht Circe
Dated 13 October 1935.
At home anchorage, Seattle, WA.,
with photographer in the foreground.

Original photo from the James A. Turner collection
archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society©
1932, 17 April: 
Broadway Yell Booms out for Builder Benny
"The sloop Circe of Seattle splashed into the waters of Lake Union Thursday afternoon to the accompaniment of a Broadway High School yell. That, my hearties, is decidedly something new again––launching a vessel, with scholastic trimmings.
      The class of '33, Broadway High, were fellow 'Tigers' of Ben Seaborn, terribly proud of him! And hadn't they a right to give the 'steam engine yell.'
      For two years––ever since he became a freshman at Broadway ––Ben Seaborn's spare time in school and out had been devoted to designing a sailing vessel on a major scale, and his hopes and ambitions had been followed step by step by his schoolmates as Ben approached his ideal––the Circe––which became the scratch boat of the Seattle Yacht Club.
      Four designs eventually took model form. Each time Ben came nearer to his big idea. Then, last July he took three weeks of intensive work on designing the Circe––and finished it.
      'Let's go!' said Ben. 'Skyrocket yell!' retorted his school pals. And they gave Ben the 'Siss-boom-bah.'
      As the sloop sank gracefully into the water and finally came to a float, the graybeards of the launching gallery broke into a cheer and rushed to congratulate the young designer, for the Circe had 'hit the line.'
      The vessel settled accurately on her waterline. Allowance was made for the four tons of inside ballast, the filling of the gasoline tanks for the auxiliary and the placing of the mast.
      The contract was let to the Lake Union Dry Dock and Machine Works. It was from the ways of this building that the Circe slipped into the waters, a boat ready to assume the handicap of scratch boat in this year's sailing races of the SYC.
      The Circe of Seattle is not a 'copy'; it is a new, original design.
      Measurements: Overall length, 58-feet; waterline length 46-feet; beam width 14-feet; with a draft of 9.5-ft and 2,000 sq feet of working sail.
      Ten tons of iron ballast are in her keel, and the stick is an eighty-five-foot high, hollow mast of spruce. Her canvas consists of mainsail, topsail, staysail, and working jib, marconi-rigged––in effect a cutter type; but sloop is a better fitting description.
      The very low construction, with her 14 tons of ballast, and the use of big timbers and heavy planking make the Circe very heavy, and the other lines referred to make her speedy, so that architect Seaborn has combined speed, comfort, and seaworthiness in his first big sail boat.
      Circe's debut will be in the opening regatta of the SYC on Lake Washington on 7 May 1932."
John H. Dreher. Seattle Times. April 1932.

1956; Circe was converted to a yawl for ocean racing.

1963, July 23; Ray Welcome Cooke, 78, a widely known Seattle yachtsman, died on board his boat, Circe, after suffering a heart attack. Cooke, was a veteran yachtsman who competed in sailing races along the Pacific Coast more than 40 years. His first race was in 1918.  He sailed five races in the California to Honolulu event, later called the TransPac and several Swiftsure Cup races. "I am really never ready for Swiftsure, we just shove off." 

2014, September: Charlotte Austin writes for 48º North. Varnish gleaming at her dock on Lake Union, Seattle. In 1994 Circe started working with Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) students at the U of WA., under the Circe Foundation. Circe herself no longer acts as a training vessel, but the Sea Cadet and Sea Scout programs have enjoyed racing to practice their seamanship.

Recommended reading:
Norman C. Blanchard & Stephen Wilen. Knee-Deep in Shavings. Victoria, B.C., Horsdal & Schubart Publishers Ltd. 1999. pp 95-98.

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