In the late 1980s Evergreen embarked on an additional project, restoring a 44’ Luders Yawl named the Resolute, which along with a sister ship named Flirt was purchased for a dollar in a government auction. They were part of a fleet of a dozen matching boats that served as training vessels at the Annapolis Naval Academy in the years during and following WWII.
Flirt was re-sold and Resolute spent a few years under a shed in the maintenance yard at Evergreen having some frames and decking replaced. For the first time an engine was installed, a 30 horsepower Perkins. The work was supervised by Don Fassett, a cantankerous, retired naval engineer and machinist. Don was full of truisms like “don’t hit it harder get a bigger hammer” or “a little putty and little paint will make the old girl what she ain’t” or more succinctly “it says here” which could serve as justification for anything under the sun. The original Kilroy, Don could fix an aircraft carrier at sea.
Don also owned a 40 foot William Garden designed sloop named Swirl II that he added to the fleet. Swirl II was not certified for commercial use so the number of paying passengers was limited to six
The Resolute, certified to carry 13 paying passengers, was launched and joined the fleet in early 1990. With the addition of the Resolute, the total number students for day trips now stood at 31 — 12 for the Seawulff, 13 for the Resolute and 6 for Swirl II.
Summer excursions were now capable of comfortably carrying 18 paying passengers. By charging each passenger $250 for a week long trip we were able to pay captains and boats more than $100 per day each. Don’s cut including Swirl II came to $1200 per week.
Leisure Education paid the full amount to me, the expectation being that I would then donate half back to the Evergreen Foundation which would disburse payments for the boats’ maintenance. For three consecutive years the donation was enough to put me into the President’s Club and buy me a dinner with Joe Olander, the College President. Then someone noticed that not only did I donate nothing, I took half. Henceforth the school’s half was taken up front.
The Resolute came with an impressive pedigree, things like winning the Bermuda Yacht Race. She had been sailed by at least two presidents, JFK and Jimmy Carter. Rumor had it that Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe spent the night aboard in San Diego where the boat was kept for several years.
We entered the Resolute in a couple of races and kept pace with the fastest modern boats. We also scheduled weekend Leisure Ed classes around boat shows and other events in Seattle and Port Townsend where we handed out flyers for the upcoming summer trips.
Whatever else we were doing, we inevitably ended up teaching sailing as well. Having grown up sailing on my father’s boats I remember little of the learning process and am a terrible sailing instructor. I assume people know things they don’t and have little patience.
Don’s approach was simple: “Keep yourself in the boat. Keep the boat in the water. Keep the water out of the boat.” He was quick to remind people of things like the “left handed rule of thumb”. If you hold a line in your left hand so that it’s coming out from under your thumb and coil it with your right hand it will naturally coil clockwise like it should. If you pull the line to an arm’s length each time, each coil will be six feet in length. Counting the number of coils and multiplying by six gives you the total length. And so on. Hopefully some students learned a thing or two. Some people instinctively have a feel for it. Some people can take the wheel and immediately find the groove. And some people would never find it in a million years.
In 1990-91 Fred Tabbutt put together a year long program called Geology and Chemistry of Pollution. We went out once a week, ultimately collecting over 250 benthic samples and analyzing them for lead, cadmium, copper and some organic compounds. It was advanced work for an undergraduate undertaking. Students learned everything from basic chemistry to the operation of a gas chromatograph.
Fred had a doctorate in chemistry from Harvard University and was teaching chemistry at Reed College prior to coming to Evergreen as one of the initial faculty. While sailing to or from sampling sites Fred would go through work books solving equations. What’s torture for some is meditation for others.
We did day trips for Upward Bound, a non-profit getting inner city kids out of Tacoma into nature. On one trip the wind was flat when we left the dock. We put the sails up and motored out into Budd Inlet. A high school age girl was sitting on the aft cabin next to me. A very slight wind filled the sails and the boat healed half a degree. I noticed her finger nails dig into the teak as she spoke. “Why’s this muthafucka leanin?'”
I replied “This muthafucka’s supposed to lean”. I went on to explain the basic principals and realized I had everyone’s complete attention. We sailed along in the gentle wind and I told stories all afternoon.
We did overnight trips through Olympia Parks and Recreation. On one of these a young man spent the entire weekend on the bow, watching the bow wake. When departing he stated “This has been the best experience of my life”. We taught a little sailing to those interested in learning. The life changing benefits may have been the invisible ones.
During summers we continued to offer Leisure Ed trips in British Columbia for the general public. A few academic programs also ventured north. On one of these trips we were entering the US through Blaine with three boats and 22 students. I picked up a phone at the head of the dock.
“Hi we’d like to enter the US. I’m skippering the Seawulff on an educational trip for The Evergreen State College.”
“Get back aboard the boat. Don’t allow anyone off. We’re watching you. We’ll be down in a minute.”
Three agents soon appeared at the head of the dock, accompanied by a medium sized black dog. First they had everyone line up on the dock with their personal belongings. The dog sniffed her way down the line. The agents pulled everything out of every cupboard, lifted up all the floorboards and made a general mess of all three boats. The dog went through everything. As they headed up the dock one agent could be overheard. “Must have been a false tip”.
In June of 1992 I got wind of a guest faculty hire named Gerardo Chin Leo. Although hired to teach Spanish, Gerardo had a PhD in oceanography., I found him in his office and talked him into doing an August class in Oceanography. We’d study primary production (Desolation Sound), a fjord (Princess Louisa Inlet), and estuary (the Fraser River) and marine environments (Juan de Fuca). We’d practice and learn chemistry, biology and ecology. We cleared it easily with the deans. I would skipper the Seawulff. Swirl II would be skippered by Don Fassett. The Resolute would be skippered by Sean Bethune, an acquaintance who grew up sailing with his parents and sister in the South Pacific.
On August 1st, 1992 we departed Olympia at 9:15 in zero wind under power. At 10:15 we passed Dofelmeyer Point and made our way through Dana’s Passage. We saw Bonepartes Gulls, a Marbled Murlette and seals. At 12:30 they passed Mcniel Island Penitentiary. At 2:30 we cleared the narrows. At 4:00 we were in Colvos Passage. At 6:00 we were sailing in 10 knot winds off Seattle. At 8:15 they rafted up to swirl, anchored off the north end of Bainbridge Island.
We got underway at 6:16 on August 2nd and spent the morning dodging freighters. We passed Point Wilson at noon under power and began the journey across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There was some question about the identity of a bird we were seeing, either an immature common murre or a marbled murrlette. San Juan Island slowly came into view through the haze ahead. Buff colored grassy slopes.
We passed through a pod of orcas. One passed underneath and surfaced with a loud “woosh” 50 feet away. Two black zodiacs and assorted other boats were pursuing them. We also saw Dalls Porpoises and Harbor Porpoises.
Although a seemingly impossible distance, we had learned how to make the run from Bainbridge Island to Bedwell Harbour Canada in one day. We’d ride the outgoing tide past Point Wilson, cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and ride the incoming tide up Haro Strait. We arrived at Haro Strait at 3:00 PM a little later than we had hoped. By 7:00 the tide had changed and we pulled the Seawulff into Ried Harbor and anchored, Swirl and Resolute rafted alongside.
On August 3rd they departed Ried Harbor at 06:30 AM. At 08:30 we cleared Canadian Customs in Bedwell Harbor. At 9:15 we were underway again. Outside Bedwell Harbour we again saw a couple of Harbor Porpoises and numerous seals. At noon we were motoring through Trincomali Passage. At 15:30 we passed tiny Tree Island to port with its small protected beach, picnic table and shade umbrella. At 17:15 we ran through Dodd Narrows with a strong current.
At 7:00 the three boats rafted together at the public dock in Nanaimo. I pitched my tent on the after deck and crawled in and tried to get warm. I had forgotten my sleeping bag. I spent a miserable night trying to sleep rolled up in a single blanket that I borrowed from Don, Sarah, one of the students and I went to a couple of thrift shops, finding bedding and other things.
On August 4th we moved to the fuel dock and took on fuel. At 11:40 we were underway again sailing in winds of 10 to 15 knots from the southwest. The Resolute in the hands of a master jockey like Sean was marching all over the Straight of Georgia. She ran east toward Vancouver then back west across Seawulff’s stern, passing on a broad reach. They then launched the spinnaker and were gone from sight in no time.
At 7:30 we anchored in Blind Bay in a hole behind Fox Island. At 11:00 some of us were still awake talking in the cockpit. We noticed glowing patterns in the water, around the anchor chain and trailing fish. Gerardo joked. “OK. Everyone overboard to explore the naked truth of bioluminescence.” But it turned out to be no joke. We swam in water warmed by granite during the day, diving and swimming around and under the boats. Our hands, arms and legs left glowing phosphorescent tracers in the water. It was an underwater, surrealistic, psychedelic wonderland.
We pulled anchor at 07:45 and at 08:30 they were silting in Malaspina Strait in 15 to 20 knot winds from the south. At 3:00 they passed Lund to starboard. At 4:00 we passed Sarah Point, named after George Vancouver’s daughter Sarah, because of its stunning beauty. Sarah sat on the bow laughing. It was her birthday. At 5:00 the boats rafted to Swirl II, at anchor in Tenidos. All went ashore to Unwin Lake. Sarah and I bathed in pool at the base of a small waterfall near the outfall of the lake.
It rained hard during the night. On August 6th I awoke at 05:00 in a soaking wet bed. Water had soaked in under the foam mat. At 06:00 I emerged to a dismal scene. The crew had stretched the tarp over the cockpit and made some coffee. Windows and hatches, dry from the summer weather, had all leaked. Misery prevailed.
By noon the rain stopped. The sun peeped out here and there, now and then. We hung bedding, towels and other items throughout the rigging of the three boats where everything readily dried. I went ashore, alone, where I bathed at the base of the little waterfall. At 4:00 PM Gerardo called class.
At 7:50 I was alone, holding down the anchor. I moved to a more protected area behind a small island. The other boats had gone off to conduct night plankton tows targeting bioluminescence. The students also dove and swam through the bioluminescence watching tracers spin away from every movement. They observed phosphorescent tracers outlining fish that ran from the bows of the vessels.
At 11:30 the boats were still out exploring the night sea. There was an ominous whirring in the trees overhead. The wind in the bay was blowing in circles. Lightning was flashing but there was no thunder. The boats finally tied up together at 12:45.
The morning of August 6th I rowed ashore with some of the students for a short hike to a blanket of moss overlooking the boats at anchor. At 11:00 AM we were back aboard observing the previous night’s tows under the dissecting scope. Ceratium bucephalum was present along with impressive dinoflagellates. There were ubiquitous copepods. Peridinium claudicans. They also observed samples under the compound scope and found Thalassiora hyalina. Salinity around Desolation Sound ranged around 25-26% or ppt or parts per thousand. The ocean is typically 32% salinity. Turbidity ranged between 10 and 17 Formazin Turbidity Units, FTUs.
The students noticed opaque swirls in the water’s surface near the mouth of the stream. Gerardo explained it as a blending of fresh and salt water, a mixing zone. The beginning of the food web. The preparation of the water for consumption by phytoplankton. The marine environment was looking more and more complex.
At 1:00 we departed Tenidos. At 14:30 they arrived at Prideaux Haven, peaceful coves surrounded by granite, moss and forest, a place of serene beauty, a world class destination with yachts jammed in like sardines.
The place where tides coming in from the north and the south around Vancouver Island meet is Desolation Sound. As a result, there is little tidal flow. Little exchange of water. The tide just goes up and down. The water is warmed by the sun shining on granite surfaces to an ambient near surface temperature of 70 degrees fahrenheit. In protected bays like Prideaux Haven it goes even higher.
Prideaux Haven is worth seeing but we didn’t stay around. Sean led the way past Melanie Cove and through a shallow rocky channel to Laura Cove. The rocky bottom was visible the whole way. Somehow we made it.
At 6;30 we went shopping at the Squirrel Cove store. At 8:00 we moved out and rafted to the Swirl II anchored in inner Squirrel cove.
On August 8th we departed Squirrel Cove. The wind picked up from the south creating a lee shore situation, where the wind will blow you ashore if you lose headway. The Seawulff’s dinghy came untied but we retrieved it with barely enough water under the keel. In Baker passage we encountered gale winds and progressed under reefed main and staysail.
At 2:00 we encountered treacherous conditions off Sutil Point, steady winds of 35 knots and five foot breaking seas, building the entire length of the Strait of Georgia. There was rain coming sideways and spindrift coming off the water. Visibility was about a mile.
Nearing Sutil Point Swirl II lost steerage and drifted toward the rocks. They were in ten feet of water in breaking waves before they got things fixed. Resolute rounding the point ripped her mainsail completely in two. At 7:00 the three boats anchored separately in Gorge Harbor, each setting their own anchor. Everyone gathered below decks for the evening. As the sun set lightning struck several times nearby, followed shortly afterward by rolling thunder. As the evening progressed the time between flash and sound grew shorter. A bright flash and loud boom hit simultaneously. Lightning had struck within Gorge Harbour, the sound bouncing from wall to wall. We prepared a makeshift cake out of some tortillas with one candle to celebrate Sarah’s birthday. The electrical storm continued well into the night, keeping everyone awake.
At 8:30 we departed George Harbor, damp and dreary. A large immature bald eagle watched from a perch on a tree. At 10:00 we rounded Sutil Point in light rain and wind. Somehow, everyone remained in good humor, joking, reading, napping. One couldn’t ask for a better crew. At 7:00 we anchored in Ballet Bay, which is in Blind Bay. In Blind Bay we bought three coho salmon off a neighboring fishing boat.
We pulled anchor at 8:00 on August 10th. We passed an adult oyster catcher apparently feeding a youngster, a seal leaping from the water and three bald eagles perched in trees. At 10:00 we rounded Captain’s Island into Jervis Inlet. Resolute’s crew were busy on deck sewing a long patch in her mainsail. The weather was perfect. Weather on the 8th seemed like a bad dream.
At 1:00 we rounded Prince of Wales Reach, motoring up close to the cliffs, dotted with zones of lichens, moss and small trees. Fir trees grow out of places so steep they appear inverted. In places the cliffs shoot vertically strait up. Twenty feet away from shore the depth is 270 fathoms or 1620 feet. No anchoring here. In valleys in the distance clear cuts and logging roads are visible.
At 4:00 we arrived at Malibu Rapids and drove through with a five knot current and plenty of rocks, white water, whirlpools and Young Christians on shore watching and betting on the chances of a successful passage. One doesn’t often get to see three big boats running rapids. Patty, one of the crew, attended Malibu as a teenager. She claimed it was a “circus of pot-smoking, screwing and carryings-on of all sorts in the name of Jesus”. We saw some sleek gull-like birds scooping fish off the water’s surface in flight. Mew Gulls?
At 4:30 we tied alongside Swirl II, anchored near the base of Chatterbox Falls European style with a stern line tied to a tree ashore. I had by now anchored in the spot four times and was still dumbfounded by so much beauty. A kingfisher dove next to the boat and flew to a nearby limb with a small fish.
That evening the class gathered around a fire ashore. After a meal of barbecued salmon we sat discussing oceanography.
At 10:00 on the 11th the Seawulff cast off from the other boats to perform sampling. Gerardo expected to find oceanographic parameters of a fjord, that is, sharp delineations going down to colder, saltier, heavier depths. The Seawulff’s cable and winch allowed us to take water samples from 700 feet down. It’s on these thermoclines and haloclines that nutrients and critters tend to reside. it wasn’t easy to get samples along these intervals because the depths were so great.
Gerardo talked frequently throughout the day about the marine environment. How much new organic plant material is being produced. How much of this is available to other organisms. Proteins to make tissue. Carbohydrates for energy. Animals need pre-formed organic matter. Plants use light from the sun for fuel. CO2+H20+Carbon = sugar.
That afternoon a student named Cory and I took the dinghy over to a small stream about a quarter of smile toward Malibu on the north side of the inlet. The stream tumbles down steep granite faces collecting in pools, one above another, perhaps fifteen in total. The sun warms the water to a comfortable temperature. Some of the pools are chest deep. Cory walked ahead, up the steep granite face. We’d stop and soak a while then climb to the next pool.
On August 12th at 09:00 we departed Princess Louisa Inlet and ran once again through Malibu Rapids with the full force of the tide. Underway in Jervis Inlet Gerardo talked at length about oceanographic tools and methods. How we measure the amount of O2 in a light bottle and a dark bottle as a measure of photosynthesis…. that most plants are smaller than 100 microns and how life on earth begins and is regulated at a microscopic level. We sampled at depth intervals where activity was detected on the fathometer. We observed the same sleek gulls we’d seen on the way in and were once again unable to determine what they were. They have a light colored head and bands on the ends of their wings.
At 2:30 we rounded Captains Island and entered Agamemnon Channel. At 5:00 we entered Pender Harbor and anchored first in Gerrands Bay, then in Maderia Bay where we went shopping for food and ultimately the three boats ended up in Garden Bay, rafted together on the Seawulff’s anchor.
The Seawulff had a large CQR or plow anchor and 100 feet of heavy chain and a mechanical windlass. Boats that cruise in BC are all set up like this. In a calm, protected place like Garden Bay, we might put out 60 feet of chain in 30 feet of water. Our radius might be as little as 15 or 20 feet. This can be important in anchorages that are crowded by rocks and other boats. Unlike a traditional or danforth type anchor a plow anchor will reset itself. This is important in places where the current changes direction with the tide. A plow anchor on 100 feet of chain will always hold.
Ashore we found the restaurant and store had become expensive and not particularly friendly. The Seattle and Vancouver Yacht Clubs had purchased the docks. Garden Bay had become a rude, ritzy place compared to only a few years before. Some of the crew took over the bar, got stinking drunk and had a pretty good time throwing up all over the bay and the deck of the Resolute. The poor girl was taking a beating. We decided that henceforth we’d anchor in Madiera Bay with the locals and leave beautiful Garden Bay for the yacht clubbers.
At 6:15 AM on August 13th we departed Pender Harbour. By 8:30 we were in Welcome Passage. At 10:00 the three boats raised their spinnakers in fifteen knots of wind from the north and began a memorable day of sailing. It was Saturday and opera played on radio BBC. Students read and talked quietly. The Resolute ran away like a thoroughbred with the Seawulff not far behind and Swirl II off to the east.
At 2:00 we were approaching Porlier Pass. The plan had been to pass through with the tide but we were well ahead of schedule and would have had to buck an impossible current so we continued on, maintaining radio contact between the three boats. We continued on to Active Pass where we passed through, still bucking a 3 knots current, being so far ahead of schedule. At 7:00 we anchored in Bedwell Harbor, well ahead of where we all went ashore for karaoke night at the local tavern.
On August 14th we departed Bedwell Harbor at 9:00 AM. We encountered Harbor Porpoises and diving ducks. Surf Scoters, White Winged Scoters and Western Grebes were plentiful throughout the trip. A few hours later we cleared US Customs in Friday Harbor and moved over by the University of Washington Marine Lab to anchor. Gerardo lectured about the journals ,encouraging students to take a “systems approach”, to think in terms of three distinct ecosystems and the different dominant processes evident in phytoplankton distribution and growth. Does transect data support the model in Desolation Sound? Is O2 higher in enclosed or open areas? Does salinity increase at depth in Princess Louisa? Top to bottom? Were changes abrupt? Why? And what could we expect to find in the San Juans?
That night all paddled ashore to Friday Harbor where we ended up dancing in a bar.
August 15th we departed Friday Harbor after taking on water. Swirl II put her anchor down at Jones Island, first on the south side, then on the north side and everyone got aboard the Resolute and Seawulff. In West Sound, Orcas Island, we dragged the otter trawl. We had a permit to drag in US waters but not Canadian so this was the first try. The net came up full of an assortment of nektonic fish, crabs, shrimps, algae and other things. We bought a 20 pound King Salmon through Thish’s aunt who lives on Orcas Island.
At 6:00 we were back at Jones Island rafted to Swirl II. Everyone rowed ashore where Don cut the fish in half longitudinally, stuffed it with onions, garlic and parsley, wrapped it in tin foil and slow cooked it over a fire for forty minutes, turning it several times. It was delicious.
The last two days, in San Juan Channel, we were repeatedly hit by wakes from large power cruisers that rolled us violently, often by surprise, sending cameras, microscopes and food and utensils flying. There was a lot of cursing. Now the same boats were anchored at Jones Island. On one cruiser two men and their wives and kids were screaming at each other through the afternoon, drinking beer and eating hot links. Boats vying for a spot at the small dock repeatedly cut each other off. As evening descended, a large Seayray was running its generator. The blue light of a TV screen was visible within. Why would a person spend a quarter million dollars on a boat that burns 25 gallons of fuel per hour to come to a crowded anchorage with too many people with a similar disinterest in what was all around them and watch TV? We moved further out and anchored separately in deeper water. In the morning the cruisers in the bay were tangled up in their anchor rodes.
We got underway at 10:00 on August 16th and performed more otter trawls bringing up flounder, rockfish, crabs, shrimp, seaweed and the ever ubiquitous slime gobs and slime balls. South of Cattle Point we caught a beautiful rat fish. We performed drags in water as shallow as 10 feet and as deep as 100 feet and keyed out all the things we could.
We also performed more plankton tows and found mostly diatoms, Ditylum, Thalassiosira and Chaetoceros.
We had now accomplished all the goals of the class. The three boats headed south across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Half way across we encountered a Minke Whale.
The three boats anchored in Port Townsend the evening of the 17th and from there split up and went their separate ways, Resolute taking some students to Seattle, Swirl II heading for Boston Harbor and Seawulff heading back to Olympia. It was an excellent trip but so were many others.
Founding faculty continued to retire and new hires had different ideas. Dean Olsen, a recent hire took an interest in the program. But Dean was an economist and it wasn’t easy finding use for the boats in the study of business and economics. The students didn’t seem to have the same level of interest.
On one occasion I was awakened in the middle of the night by some noise on deck and emerged to find a student in the water. It took all the strength three people to get him aboard. Two empty bottles of vodka on the table, brought aboard in their luggage, told the story.
After unloading the crew in Port Angeles I decided to give the boat a thorough cleaning which is how I came upon a note to the following week’s crew tucked in a pre-arranged spot under a mattress. It read: “Your skipper Harry may seem like a nice guy but if you push him even slightly too far, he’ll turn into the world’s biggest asshole.” I returned the note to its hiding place. The following week’s crew were as timid and cooperative as could be.
The College tried high priced day trips on the Resolute and Leisure Ed classes were terminated. A per day lab fee was added for academic programs. Use of the boats dropped along with funds. There were no regular academic offerings. Science fell off the plate.
From its inception the program had its problems. It was the work of men… a waning societal legacy. There were women available. Sarah Peterson, a librarian at Evergreen, was a licensed captain who would have been perfect for the job. Unfortunately, that job never came to be.
Inquisitive minds recognized shortcomings in academia and saw interdisciplinary studies as a way to address these shortcomings. For some the move to a State College was a step down. But the college was a new blank slate. Now, a few decades later, original faculty hires started retiring. Bob Sluss’s departure in particular left a vacuum.
It’s great being away at sea. There are no bills to pay, no phone calls. But these things continue to exist awaiting your return. Extended field trips can be a strain on families and friendships. It takes commitment. A lot of planning goes into a program like Exploration Discovery and Empire. It’s easier to teach the same class year after year and hand out grades.
Perhaps the biggest cause of the program’s demise was a lack of regulatory structure. There was no boating program per se. There was no inherent protection for the boats. Facilities managers for whom the boats were extra work lobbied from the beginning to get rid of them and when opportunity showed itself the end was quick and dirty. Liquidating the boats was a great loss for the college. Truly understanding natural science requires being out in nature.
A particular event punctuated the ending. On one of our earlier trips Don Fassett insisted we go into Port Ludlow. Port Ludlow is a simple bay surrounded by development on all sides. I doubted if there was even any place to anchor but Don insisted. We followed Swirl II past log booms seemingly heading to the mud when Don suddenly veered left into a beautiful bay full of birds, surrounded by overhanging trees on all sides. A serene perfect anchorage, the place became a frequent stopover.
On this last occasion I followed Don Fassett once again into Port Ludlow. Turning left into our favorite anchorage, we discovered the perimeter of the bay lined with new houses. The trees and birds were gone. The serenity of the place wasn’t even a memory. It was like we had pulled into the wrong bay. Our hearts sank.
The summer of 1995 I accepted a job working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, driving a boat out of Neah Bay. NOAA had established the Sanctuaries and Reserves Division to administer Marine Sanctuaries. The Olympia Coast National Marine Sanctuary was just coming into existence. Marine reserves were the subject of my thesis. I could hardly not take the offer.
But what might have been…