Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands

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Another look at yesterday and today…the “Potter”

Today and Tomorrow

The south wall in my apartment has a nautical theme. Thereupon are a crab ring, an oar, a Bennett silk screen of a man rowing on the ocean with a tramp steamer in the background, a three foot model of a peapod dory, a 28 pound solid brass helm wheel with ash handles, and an old chunk of wood with a one foot bolt through it. Everything on the wall is self-explanatory except the last item, and it is the most valuable item there, at least to me.

When attending Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Oregon in 1969 I was walking on the beach looking for a wreck. I had read that the mighty T.J. Potter, the most famous side-wheeler steamboat on the Columbia River had, at the close of its career, been beached on the shore of Young’s Bay in Astoria and burned for its scrap metal. I found the site, amazingly only a block from where I lived, and salvaged the chunk of wood with a spike through it as a physical memento.

Built in 1888, the Potter had a reputation as one of the fastest and most luxurious steamboats in the Pacific Northwest, and while I doubt that during her short time on Puget Sound she ever sailed the San Juan Islands, many of the steamboats of the era did, making use of the water highways which helped establish the heritage we value of a bygone time.

Yesterday I rode on a steel diesel/electric ferry to Anacortes and back. It was a safe and comfortable journey, but there was no class, no luxury, no flamboyance, it was just a bus ride. I don’t even know the name of the vessel I rode. Such a thing would not have happened aboard the Potter. When passengers stepped aboard her, they knew they were aboard a jewell, and fan loyalty was evident in the way they bragged about her speed and cabin ambiance!

One thing that separates humans from the other animals is how we get sentimental about phases of our lives and the objects in them, and as eras end, we add even more significance to that feeling. So it is with the spike and bit of wood from the hull of the Potter on my wall. That object is somewhere in the hull of the Potter in the upper photo, placed there 125 years ago by human hands as the workers toiled day by day to create a functional thing of beauty. No one is alive today from that era.

Stone and concrete structures may survive for centuries, but wooden steamboats don’t last long once their time is up. Our maritime heritage is preserved in stories passed down, and by people who either preserve what remains, or build replicas to stand in the original’s place.

This month (May, 2013) is Heritage month on San Juan Island so in light of my favoring boats and maritime heritage, I salute all the Mosquito Fleet vessels and crews that served the islands in days gone by.

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