Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands




Are you as confused as I am? We hear that ferries and submarines are called “boats” while similar sized vessels are called ships. What’s up with that?

Well, we could get technical: Among sailing vessels, the distinction between ships and boats is that a SHIP is a square-rigged craft with at least three masts, and a BOAT isn’t. With regard to motorized craft, a ship is a large vessel intended for oceangoing or at least deep-water transport, and a boat is anything else.

But that’s too much to remember. Try this: ships have to be big enough to carry boats, and boats have to be small enough to be carried by ships.

There are exceptions, of course. Many commercial fishing craft, for example, are sizable oceangoing vessels, yet they’re almost invariably called boats. Similarly for submarines, built by General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division, also Washington’s ferries, the world’s biggest fleet of car carrying “boats.”

This photo presents a visual example. Every vessel here is a boat, even though the biggest could easily carry all the others and many more besides. And frankly, it’s only a problem if you’re around those who think of themselves as mariners who will quickly correct your utterance, or at least cringe when you utter it, should you break some unwritten rule of maritime etiquette. The rest of us are happy in our ignorance.

Here on the island, as we motor on a quiet lane into Friday Harbor in the summer, a thought prominent on our minds is, “Hope the boat’s left, I don’t want to get stuck in traffic!” “The boat” is our beloved ferry which carries us to Costco and doctor’s appointments, and brings our lumber, groceries, and beloved relatives to us.

Part of living on an island is relishing the isolation. It’s satisfying being different, knowing that you can’t drive to our town from the mainland. See all that wet stuff? That’s what creates our unique, insular world.

I once heard in a local church: “Thank you God for making water to separate us, and ‘boats’ to bind us!” To that I add…Amen.

Photo location: Friday Harbor, Brown Island looking south.


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