1-17-18 PART 1:
NORTHWEST BOATING HISTORY
Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge, Island. A favorite destination in the ’80’s. Seattle in the background,
Boats and the sea are embedded in Jake Winston’s genes. He first stepped aboard a vessel in 1946, right after WW II when pleasure boating was for the affluent. The pristine bays and harbors were mostly deserted even in the summers. There were few docks, moorages, or fueling stations. The rich and famous rendezvoused and partied in places like Roche Harbor, Rosario, or Deer Harbor in the San Juan Islands in their expensive wooden and steel hulled yachts.
Yachts tied up side by side to a log boom before there were a dock and mooring buoys at Roche Harbor. If a boat left, the vessels on either side had to re-secure their lines.
The 110-foot Olympus wood yacht built in the ’20’s was one of the grand old ladies of that era.
The mid-fifties and sixties saw the decline of those old wooden boats like the Olympus and the rise of a short-lived era of modern, wide beam, fast wood boats. Chris Craft led the way with its forty-five-foot Commander.
There were other boat builders like Higgins Industries, the manufacturer of WW II PT boats, who built a few smaller versions of their wooden PT boats, which Edgar Kaiser and Doc Winston bought and traded parts for over the years. These were unique fast cruisers with three big Chrysler engines.
When Uniflite and Bayliner introduced mass-produced fiberglass boats to the Northwest, they were a hit. First came the small runabouts, followed by mid-sized cruisers. They were inexpensive, sleek, and required much less maintenance than the wood and steel hulls. boats up to 32 feet were trailerable, and that was huge. You could take them anywhere and launch them on a boat ramp. There was no expensive moorage costs and annual unpleasant hull scraping and repainting. It wasn’t long before having a boat was nearly as common as owning a second car. The marine service sector expanded rapidly, and the post-war boating families crowded into the formerly pristine Island destinations. The old-guard yachting crowd gravitated to the Canadian San Juan’s to escape the influx of the inexperienced new boaters.
I was attending the University of Washington in the early sixties. The UW campus fronted on both Lake Washington and Portage Bay. My three roommates and I rented one of a dozen houseboats tied to a rickety floating walkway on Lake Union just around the point and south of the University. We split the twenty-five dollars a month rent three ways. It was hardly a house or a boat. It was a two-room, fishing cabin mounted on a dozen cedar logs strapped together with cable. We had power, telephone and water service, but no sewer. The toilet, tub, and sink emptied directly into the lake. Things were a little primitive, and an eclectic collection of beatniks and free spirits populated our poor, but happy, vibrant neighborhood. The houseboat was on Lake Union to the left of the 5.
I had repaired and re-fitted a sixteen-foot sailboat, the Wild Goose II, which I bought for a hundred-eighty dollars. It was tied up to a couple of fir logs at my back door. When the weather was decent, we often headed out into Lake union after classes with a couple of girls and a case or Rainier beer.
I’ll never forget the afternoon we climbed aboard the Wild Goose II and set sail. There was enough wind to zip along comfortably in and out of the boat and seaplane traffic. I knew that the wind would typically die down in the late afternoon so I would need to be back before that occurred. That day, the wind just quit when we were about a quarter of a mile from home. Undaunted, we continued to party, and toss our empties overboard, knowing some good-hearted boater would eventually come along and give us a tow. That’s how it was back in the day.
I was surprised when the wail of a siren interrupted our happy little sail. It was the Harbor Patrol in their new inflatable thirty-four-footer. A very young officer raised his bullhorn and ordered us to heave-to. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that since we were becalmed and just drifting. Never the less, just to go along with the officer, I hollered, “Aye, aye, Skipper, Sir!”
Despite the fact we were only a few yards apart, he continued to address us through his bullhorn. He inquired if the trail of empty beer bottles he followed came from our vessel. In his sternest voice, he bellowed at no one in particular, “You have created a threat to navigation, and that is a serious matter.” My roommate, Johnny Be Good, who was a little tipsy, rose to his feet and denied the bottles were ours. He belligerently demanded to see the officer’s identification. Just then, the wake of a passing boat rocked us, and Johnny fell overboard. Parker and I quickly dragged him, sputtering and coughing, back aboard.
The officer looked puzzled, and demanded, “Who is the skipper of this vessel? Identify yourself immediately!” I cheerfully raised my hand and announced with a big smile, “That would be me, Captain.” Elizabeth giggled. I overheard the first mate, an older sailor, tell the officer, “This stop is a little overzealous. If you charge these kids with creating an obstruction to navigation, your report will make you look ridiculous and possibly influence your career.” A moment passed and the officer nodded and ordered his coxswain to move on. I brazenly asked for a tow as they were backing away. I was surprised when the first mate grinned and tossed me a line. When he cut us loose close to the house, I gave the first mate my best John Wayne salute, which he returned.