Repurposing Wawona: Pieces at new exhibit made from ship’s salvaged wood

Jewelry sculpture

Jewelry artists made this piece, titled Travel the Ocean, for an exhibit using wood salvaged from the schooner Wawona.

Earlier this year, I was contacted by Kari Berger of the Seattle Metals Guild, a non-profit arts group with a focus on metalworking. The group was working on an exhibit of jewelry and sculpture made from wood salvaged from the historic schooner Wawona. I published a history of the ship in 2006, three years before she was broken up on Seattle’s Lake Union, 112 years after she was launched in Eureka, Calif.

The Guild will exhibit the pieces at the Northwind Arts Center May 4-29 in Port Townsend, Wash.

I spent several years working on maritime history projects, but none captured my heart quite so much as Wawona. She was launched in 1897 and carried lumber from Puget Sound and Washington coast ports to San Francisco and other California ports until World War I. After the war, fishermen based in Seattle took her to the Bering Sea to fish for cod. Northwest Seaport, the non-profit that once owned Wawona, worked for nearly a half-century to preserve her, but the elements finally won the battle and she was deconstructed in 2009.

Port Townsend’s Northwind Arts Center hosts the exhibit May 4-29, 2017.

Continue reading

Hey, Tacoma. I’m making a rare appearance at Foss Waterway Seaport!

Lighthouse Guide cover image

I’ll be talking about the Fyddeye Guide to America’s Lighthouses and its companion guide Dec. 10, 2016 at Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma.

It’s been years since I’ve made a public appearance, but my friend Wes Wenhardt, the executive director of Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma, asked me to give a talk. I’ll be at FWS 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, December 10. I’ll be speaking about some of my favorite Puget Sound maritime heritage attractions listed in my books.

I’ve published two maritime history guidebooks, The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Maritime History, and The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Lighthouses. I published the books in 2010 and 2012 respectively because no comprehensive, single-volume travel guides existed for U.S. maritime heritage attractions, including maritime museums, tall ships, and lighthouses.

Copies of my books will be available for sale at the presentation. Foss Waterway Seaport’s address is 705 Dock Street in Tacoma. Hope to see you there!

Have you visited Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma?

‘Bet’ now at Seattle Public Library; Poll: Change Joe’s name

Bet: Stowaway Daughter cover

Bet: Stowaway Daughter, my self-published novel, is now available for checkout from the Seattle Public Library.

Getting into the local library is one of the biggest challenges for the self-published author. I’ve leapt that hurdle with my one self-published novel, Bet: Stowaway Daughter, which I released as an e-book in 2009. It’s now available for checkout at the Seattle Public Library and the King County Public Library. Download it to your Kindle! (Oh, yeah, you can buy it on Amazon.) To find it at the libary, simply search the catalog on my last name, Follansbee. Here’s the blurb:

During the Great Depression, Lisbet “Bet” Lindstrom is the 13-year-old daughter of a sea captain convicted of theft and sent to prison. Bet is convinced her father is innocent, but she has no way to prove it. Desperate to free her father, she visits his old fishing boat, and spots a horribly scarred sailor who might know the truth about the crime. Ignoring the warnings of her friends, she secretly jumps aboard the ship, and sails to Alaska. She braves huge storms, performs daring rescues and faces the man who threatens everything she loves.

I’m still hoping an agent will pick up Carbon Run, my first science fiction novel. In case no one bites, the manuscript is ready to be self-published. Lately, I’ve been thinking my author name, “Joe Follansbee,” is a bit weak, and there’s evidence that author names without a gender get more traction for certain subjects or content. (Would you buy a Regency romance novel from someone named “Joe?”) I’m conducting a poll, asking what name you prefer. Help me change my name (or not) by picking one of the options below.

Any other thoughts? Let me know.

Why is it so hard to save our maritime heritage?


1935 ferry Kalakala in Tacoma. Photo by Joe Follansbee.

The news I dreaded for years arrived this week. The 1935 Kalakala, the only art-deco ferry ever built, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is headed for the breakers. Its death was slow, painful, and probably inevitable. It’s passing should not be a surprise. I listed it as endangered in 2011 and 2012 on my old Fyddeye website. The ferry is one of a handful of decaying large historic vessels, which include USS Olympia and SS United States, both in Philadelphia. Our national patrimony is rusting away.

For a generation in Seattle, Kalakala’s sleek design and quirky behavior stood for a city of chance-takers and idea-evangelists long before the Space Needle was built in 1963. I got to know her after the sculptor Peter Bevis rescued her from oblivion on tide flats in Kodiak, Alaska in 1998. That was the beginning of her end. I was at the auction when the 276-foot “silver slug” was taken away from Bevis in 2003. The new owner, Steve Rodrigues, had big dreams, but no money and even less political savvy. He blames her final disposal on a “conspiracy” among the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the State of Washington, and the cities of Tacoma, Seattle and Kodiak. The facts are simpler: He neglected to pay her bills, and ownership fell to Karl Anderson, a Tacoma businessman. He’s had enough of her; she’ll be shards of metal by the end of this month. Continue reading

A New Heritage Area in Washington State?

Maritime Heritage Area announcement

Congressman Derek Kilmer of Washington State discusses a proposal to create a Washington Maritime National Heritage Area on Puget Sound and nearby waters.

I’ve been monitoring efforts to create a maritime heritage area in Washington State that would cover Puget Sound (including Seattle), the Strait of Juan de Fuca between the U.S. and Canada, and the Pacific Coast of Washington State. This week, two Washington State congressmen, Derek Kilmer of the 6th district and Denny Heck of the 10th district, announced their intent to introduce a bill to designate the region’s shoreline as the Washington Maritime National Heritage Area. During an event at the Foss Waterway Seaport museum in Tacoma, Washington State’s historic preservation officer, Allyson Brooks, said Sen. Maria Cantwell would sponsor a version of the bill in the U.S. Senate.

Maritime heritage enthusiasts and scholars have pushed the idea of a national heritage area in western Washington for about 10 years. If enacted, the area would fall under the National Park Service’s Heritage Area program, which oversees 49 similar areas across the U.S., mostly east of the Mississippi River. The areas promote local economic growth and preserve sites and landmarks with cultural and historical significance. Each area is managed by local officials, with no new regulatory authority over management or preservation given to the National Park Service. Washington State supporters see a heritage area as a major tourism draw, especially to rural counties. A small amount of money for promoting the area comes with the designation.

The Kilmer/Heck/Cantwell proposal raises the profile of a heritage area in Washington State, but the legislation’s immediate prospects in Congress are dim. The Republican-controlled House opposes any new law perceived as an extension of federal power, no matter how benign. A heritage area is mostly an honorific, and as Brooks pointed out several times, carries no new regulatory authority.

Opponents have prevailed so far. For example, a proposal to create a similar area around the mouth of the Columbia River failed after conservative local residents used the weak, but effective “slippery slope” argument: If you let the feds declare a heritage area, what’s to stop them from confiscating your land, taking your guns, making you sign up for Obamacare, and similar silliness. The GOP wants to reform the law governing heritage areas, but a bill to do just that is stuck in committee, and the website gives that measure an 11 percent chance of passage. Even state lawmakers are leery of the idea of a heritage area; A measure in the Washington Legislature to designate a state version died in the state senate earlier this year.

Despite the good a maritime heritage area would do for local communities, DC politics will likely keep the idea on the back-burner for a long time. Cantwell might be able to push a bill through the Senate, but the House is another matter entirely. Kilmer and Heck are Democratic newcomers to Congress, and their influence is limited. It’s going to be a case of introducing legislation every year until the Congress moves left or the supporters get lucky enough to find a majority.

Disclosure: I’m communications director for Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, which could benefit from a maritime heritage area. Opinions expressed here are my own.

Remembering the last man of a ship’s final crew

Dave Wright photo

Dave Wright, left, and his brother Frank Wright, on Wawona. The photo was probably taken in 1947.

The Pacific Northwest lost a piece of its irreplaceable history last week, and I lost a friend. Dave Wright, the last surviving fisherman who sailed on the schooner Wawona, died on February 11 in Anacortes at the age of 94. Dave was the single most important source for my book, Shipbuilders, Sea Captains and Fishermen: The Story of the Schooner Wawona. The book told the story of the 1897 lumber and fishing schooner Wawona, which was preserved at South Lake Union in Seattle until 2009, when it was broken up. I dedicated my book to Dave, who sailed on Wawona three times.

Dave Wright

Dave Wright

While I was researching the book, I visited him exactly 10 years ago at his home in Anacortes. He was cheerful and energetic, even though he had just lost his wife, Dolly “Ruth” Wright. He visited with me for nearly two hours, regaling me with stories of his time on Wawona. Born in 1919, he wanted to live a life at sea, and his first trip as a young man was on Wawona in 1940. He sailed on her twice more, in 1941, just before the outbreak of World War II, and in 1947, the last time Wawona sailed.

I dug into my old Wawona notes and found an anecdote. Although the year of the incident is unclear, Dave remembered Capt. Thorsten “Tom” Haugen, a Norwegian immigrant whom Dave described as a “a very kind gentleman.” Dave and the other fishermen caught fish from a power dory, a modified Gloucester dory with an outboard engine.

One time, it was so foggy, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. All I had was a compass and a watch. I couldn’t hear anything. I’d go a little ways and time it against the tide and stop the motor and listen. I heard a loud boom that bounced off the dory. I didn’t know what it was. Well, in the early morning, the fog would lift a bit off the water. I looked around and saw the ship 50 or 60 feet behind me. Someone was firing a gun, and the noise I heard was the sound bouncing off my dory. And Capt. Haugen says to me, “Vat’s da madder? Wouldn’t you rather sleep in your dory all night long?”

When Dave died last week, a chapter in Northwest history closed forever. He was likely the last surviving fisherman who sailed with the last working fleet of sailing vessels flying the U.S. flag. The final trip by one of these vessels took place in 1950, and that boat, C.A. Thayer, is now preserved in San Francisco. I wrote my Wawona book in part to preserve her stories, because I knew the ship itself was in grave danger. My fears were borne out, and I owe Dave a debt of gratitude for sharing his story.

Historic Oregon Fishing Boat Broken Up

Tradewinds Kingfisher

Tradewinds Kingfisher on her maiden voyage in 1941. Photo courtesy Lincoln County Historical Society

The Oregon-based Lincoln County Historical Society has demolished a boat listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 50-foot Tradewinds Kingfisher, a charter fishing boat long associated with Depoe Bay, Ore., was deteriorating quickly and may have posed an environmental hazard, if it had sunk. “It had to be scuttled,” said Historical Society Director Steve Wyatt in a news release. “As a museum professional, my job is the preservation of objects; this was a difficult decision.”

Tradewinds Kingfisher was built in 1941 by Westerlund Boat and Machine Works of Jantzen Beach, Ore. After the Kingfisher owner and skipper, Stan Allyn (1913-1992) took possession of the boat, the U.S. entered World War II. The Kingfisher served as a boarding and patrol craft from Astoria to Coos Bay. At war’s end, the Kingfisher returned to Depoe Bay to serve as Allyn’s flagship charter boat. Many charter boats built in the 1950s copied the Kingfisher’s then innovative styling. The Kingfisher was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991 and retired from service in 2000. Continue reading

2nd Call from Heritage Groups for New Law

Virginia V, Arthur Foss, and Lightship No. 83

Virginia V, Arthur Foss, and Lightship No. 83 in Seattle. These vessels could be part of a new heritage area, if Congress passed HR 445.

Museums, historic ship owners, and preservationists in Washington State have called on the state’s congressional delegation to support a bill that could lead to a special maritime heritage area covering the coast and Puget Sound. Thirty-two members of the House–21 Democrats and 11 Republicans–are co-sponsoring HR 445, the National Heritage Area Act of 2013. The bill would authorize a National Heritage Area Program, which may include a new Maritime Washington National Heritage Area celebrating the maritime history of the state. None of the bill’s co-sponsors are from Washington State.

National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress to highlight the historical importance of specific geographic locations in the U.S. Although 39 National Heritage Areas already exist, HR 445 would formally define heritage areas and set out a formal process for creating one. The areas are administered by the National Park Service; most are located east of the Mississippi River. A similar proposal to create a heritage area near the mouth of the Columbia River died after local property owners argued the law might infringe on their property rights. Continue reading

WWII-era tug Comanche finds new home


The former US Coast Guard tug Comanche has found a new home in Bremerton, Wash. Photo by Joe Follansbee.

Congratulations to the 143-foot, former US Coast Guard tug Comanche, which is settling into a new berth on the waterfront in Bremerton, Wash. The boat is owned by the Tacoma-based Comanche 202 Foundation, a non-profit supported primarily by veterans of her service as a Coast Guard vessel. Launched in 1944 as a U.S. Navy tug with a mission of pulling damaged warships out of the line of fire, she won a Battle Star for action in Okinawa during World War II. Transferred to the Coast Guard after the war, the government retired the vessel in 1980. It worked as a private tug in Puget Sound before it was acquired by the foundation in 2007.

Comanche was a fixture on the Tacoma waterfront until earlier this year, when a dispute over insurance and the lack of a rental agreement with Foss Waterway Seaport, the waterfront museum which controlled the tug’s moorage, forced the ship to find a new home. Soon after the hull work was completed in late August, the Port of Bremerton’s downtown marina welcomed Comanche with open arms, putting it near another historic ship, the destroyer USS Turner Joy, a veteran of the Vietnam War and now a museum ship.

Staffed entirely by volunteers, Comanche is one of the few large historic ships that can visit nearly any port on Puget Sound. It shows up at local maritime festivals, such as Olympia Harbor Days on Labor Day weekend. It also hosts programs for at-risk youth. Back at Bremerton, Comanche opens to the public for tours on Saturdays and Sundays. “It’s all free,” says Joe Peterson, the foundation’s director of operations, “but donations are not refused.”

Seattle Lightship Back Home

Lightship No. 83 - Swiftsure

Lightship No. 83, also known by its last station at Swiftsure Bank, is back at its berth in Seattle.

The 1904 Lightship No. 83, also known as “Swiftsure,” has returned to her berth at Lake Union Park in Seattle, and I finally had a chance to visit and take a few pictures. I love her bright red paint and the “new” feel to her. I bet she has that “new car smell” on the inside. The shroud in the photo is actually her winter cover, meant to keep as much of Seattle’s damp off her as possible. Access to the ship is limited, and she needs another $1 million to complete the restoration project. See my previous blog post for more details.