Portolan News

Amazon SMILE Program

The purpose of the Amazon SMILE program is to allow Northwest Seaport to receive donations from the AmazonSmile Foundation when customers make “qualifying purchases” on the AmazonSmile Site and have selected a Registered Organization to benefit from those Qualifying Purchases.  Check it out and pick Northwest Seaport as your designated non-profit!


Swiftsure and Shipwright Featured in Ballard News Tribune

Brian Johnson Plank horizontal web

Photo by Shane Harms of Ballard News Tribune

‘A boat builds a community, and a community builds a boat’


Heeling in Time: Swiftsure a beacon in maritime history

Two Ballard News Tribune stories share Swiftsure’s stories and the story, passion, experience and vision for the lightship, a beacon of Lake Union.

Ballard shipwright keeping the trade alive after nearly 40 years (reprinted with permission)

By Shane Harms
Stepping aboard Swiftsure, (Lighthouse No. 83), a 109-year-old Coast Guard Lightship, is like stepping into a floating time capsule slowly undergoing a metamorphic rejuvenation.

Onboard a lone figure is at work fitting 500-year-old Doug Fir deck pieces around the huge smokestack. The shipwright listens to Tango music that riots in the bright-lit canopied dome that protects the Swiftsure from the elements while the deck is restored.

Swiftsure Project Shipwright, Brian Johnson, almost 60, is an inquisitive man. He lives in Ballard, and dances the Tango and is a martial artist. But, mostly, Johnson knows boats.
Johnson has been working with boats all his life. He built his first vessel at the age of five. It sank, but the experience spurred a life long love of boats and an ingenuitive passion for the maritime industry.

Northwest Seaport, owner of the Swiftsure, have asked Johnson to use his shipwright expertise in rebuilding the deck — just one piece in an ongoing restoration puzzle.

“I’m a commercial fishermen and a shipwright — you can’t get anymore Norwegian than that. … I’ve been on and off boats for 40 years either on them breaking them or underneath fixing them,” said Johnson.  read more…

Cover June 26 Ballard News-Tribune Shane HarmsBy Shane Harms

Heeling in Time: Swiftsure a beacon in maritime history

Northwest Seaport, a maritime heritage organization, is restoring a 109–year-old Lightship (No. 83) called Swiftsure.

The Swiftsure is to become a floating museum, and in their effort to revive the ship, they hope to discover the rich, nuanced layers of history the ship contains and also share the lore of bygone days with the public by having them actively participate in the project. Swiftsure is open to the public and floats at the Historic Ships Wharf at Lake Union Park.

According to Nathaniel Howe, the Vessel Manager & Nautical Archeologist for Northwest Seaport, 179 lightships were built between 1820 and 1952, and of those, 17 remain, half of which have become floating museums.

Built in 1904, Swiftsure was first forged in the Carnegie steel furnaces in New Jersey. That same year, America gained control of the Panama Canal and engineers started the daunting challenge of opening the earth for naval passage. Indeed, the Swiftsure was fabricated from an era of unprecedented strides in engineering and industry.  Read more…

Northwest Seaport wins Historic Vessel Preservation Award

Historic Seattle Vessel Preservation Award 2014 Swiftsure

Northwest Seaport was honored to received the 2014 Historic Vessel Preservation Award and wish to thank Lake Union Drydock Co. for their support.

The Historic Vessel Preservation Award (presented by Historic Seattle) goes to Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center and its supporting partner for blending maritime history, education and public outreach through the restoration of the heritage vessel and museum, Lightship No. 83.

Historic Vessel Preservation Award (PDF)
Lightship No. 83, “The Swiftsure”
South Lake Union Pier
Supporting Partners: Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center (owner);  Lake Union Drydock Co. (restoration support).
Award was presented May 13, 2014.

(text from program) Lightship No. 83 was one of four original lightships to serve along the Pacific Coast with primary assignments at Blunts Reef, San Francisco and Coast Guard District 13. The vessel relies on a two-boiler steam engine with an indicated horsepower of 325 for propulsion. Originally, the vessel had a centralized stack between two masts with a concentration of oil lamps in each head to serve as lanterns.

Historic Seattle Preservation Award Ceremony Program 2014Lightship No. 83 was constructed in 1904 by the New York Shipbuilding Company in Camden, NJ and delivered to Cape Mendocino, CA, to serve as the first floating lighthouse at the Blunts Reef lightship station, the ship’s namesake from 1905-1930. The primary function of the vessel was to occupy a station a few miles from a point of access to a port center and serve as a floating beacon to incoming and outgoing ships. In 1930 Lightship No. 83 was transferred to and renamed “San Francisco.” It occupied a lightship station beyond the Golden Gate Bridge until 1942 when it was withdrawn and reclassified as a WWII examination vessel after the installation of a coastal defense gun. Following WWII, Lightship No. 83 returned to the San Francisco lightship station. From 1951-1960 Lightship No. 83 was stationed in Coast Guard District 13 and renamed “Relief.” The ship served Umatilla Reef, Swiftsure Banks and Columbia River lightship stations.

Lightship No. 83 was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1961. In 1968, it was purchased by Northwest Seaport (then known as Save Our Ships). It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989 and in 1996, the vessel was given the name of the most proximate lightship station, “Swiftsure.”

After three months of extensive restoration in drydock, the Swiftsure was re-launched in August of 2013 in South Lake Union, where it currently serves as a floating museum showcasing the oldest surviving lightship on the West Coast. Restoration efforts included replacing the wooden deck; restoring the electrical system; rigging; removal of hazardous materials; and removal of the deteriorated wheelhouse, radio house and wood weather deck.

The hull was cleaned, reinforced, and painted with the distinctive Coast Guard Red color. The restoration provided a unique opportunity for distinguished shipwrights, Nautical Archaeologists and volunteers to work hand-in-hand to maintain the ship in a manner that preserves its historic functionality while ensuring its preservation for future generations. Volunteers are afforded the opportunity to learn and continue the practice of the maritime trade that is so pertinent to coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest. The restoration of the Swiftsure is a valuable model for linking the past, present and future in a manner that is both active and educational.

NOTE:  Northwest Seaport was honored to received the 2014 Historic Vessel Preservation Award and wish to thank Lake Union Drydock Co. for their support.  For a full list of awards, visit Historic Seattle.

The Arthur Foss Turns 125

The Arthur Foss at the Historic Ships Wharf on South Lake Union

The Arthur Foss at the Historic Ships Wharf on South Lake Union – (Photo by Joe Mabel)

Foss tugboats are as an iconic part of Puget Sound views as Orcas or Mount Rainier.

The company was founded in 1889 in Tacoma by Andrew and Thea Foss, starting out with a single rowboat painted in the now iconic green and white livery. Eventually, their growing concern expanded to the rest of the Sound, then eventually to the West Coast and Pacific.

(Blog re-posted from Three Sheets Northwest by Scott Wilson on May 21, 2014:  “2014 is a big year for anniversaries in Pacific Northwest maritime history. This summer, we’re doing a series of articles on some of the significant local organizations and vessels celebrating major milestones.”

That same year, the tug Wallowa was built in Portland by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company to tow sailing ships across the Columbia River Bar. The steam-powered tug was built stout for the task, but she wasn’t at it for long when the Klondike gold rush gave her a more glamorous and profitable role, hauling barges and ships full of prospective prospectors and supplies for the same up the Inside Passage.

Wallowa went up as far as St. Michael on the Yukon in the employ of the White Star Line of Alaska. But the rush was short-lived, and by the time it was done in 1900, Wallowa was relegated to the mail run between Haines, Skagway, and Juneau.

(Celebrate National Maritime Day 3-8pm today with Northwest Seaport 3-8pm in Ballard)

Although the age of sail was fading, and the gold rush lost its luster, the age of timber wasn’t going anywhere, and Wallowa found gainful employment towing logs on Puget Sound. There, she caught the eye of Foss Launch and Tug Company, which bought her in 1929. One of her first jobs with the company was an unusual one: she was leased out to MGM to star as the tugNarcissus in the 1934 film “Tugboat Annie,” a movie thought to be loosely based on the life of Thea Foss herself.

After her star turn, Wallowa went into the yard for a rebuild and to be repowered with a 700hp Washington Iron Works diesel (the engine that remains in her today). When she came out, she had not only a new engine, but a new name: Arthur Foss. With the additional horsepower and reliability of the diesel, Arthur Foss was a fast and in-demand coastal tug up and down the Pacific Coast.

In February 1941, Foss chartered her out to Pacific Naval Airbase Contractors, who put her to work hauling military supplies from Hawaii to the isolated American outpost at Wake Island. The morning of December 8, 1941 (Wake being on the far side of the International Date Line) found her a mere twelve hours out from Wake on a return trip to Pearl Harbor, when news of the surprise Japanese attack was received. Painted in the traditional Foss white and green, and well within scouting distance of one of the primary follow-on targets of the Japanese Navy, the tug and her crew were a big bullseye in a lonely ocean.

The Justine Foss, which was left behind at Wake, was not so lucky. Subject to near-constant air attacks from December 8 on, Justine and her crew were still at the island on December 23 when the Japanese landed. Justine was sunk and most of her crew executed.

Like many workboats during the war years, Arthur Foss spent her time in service of the Navy, renamed Dohasan (after a Kiowa chief) and was assigned to the 14th Naval District in Hawaii, working at hundreds of miscellaneous military towing assignments. In 1946, the war won, she was returned to Foss, and put back to her plodding pre-rebuild work of towing logs around the Pacific Northwest.

In 1968, having set a record for the longest uninterrupted log-towing service in the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Arthur Foss had finally outworn her usefulness and was retired.

Most old wooden tugs of that age were broken up or fell to ignominious fates of fire or rot, butArthur Foss caught a break in that Save Our Ships (SOS) — the organization that would later become Northwest Seaport — had been founded only four years earlier (the year Art turned 75).

Though established specifically to preserve the Wawona, the leaders of SOS quickly saw the historical value of Arthur Foss and when that vessel was offered to them in 1970, they snapped it up as well.

On her 100th anniversary, the Arthur Foss was declared a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service (which also makes this year the 25th anniversary of that designation). Today, she is the oldest known wooden-hulled tug still afloat and in operating condition in the United States today.

Although her old Washington Iron Works diesel still turns over intermittently, Arthur is a museum ship now, moored more or less permanently at the Historic Ships Wharf on South Lake Union. Northwest Seaport offers a popular Tugboat Storytime series aboard, bringing children and parents aboard to listen to stories and sing chanteys, and allows just about anyone to spend the night aboard as a part of their Tugboat Sleepovers program.

Recently, the organization received a grant from King County’s 4Culture program to complete the revitalization of the tug’s onboard systems. Provided that Northwest Seaport can match the grant amount, they’ll receive $25,000 to put into her … keeping her in shape to weather the next 125 years.

About Scott Wilson

Scott Wilson lives aboard his Freedom 36 with his doting wife Mandy. He works as a consultant in the information technology industry and occasionally scribbles out an article for Three Sheets Northwest. From time to time, he even goes sailing.

President’s Message April 2014

Andrew Bennett Northwest SeaportApril 25, 2014

Dear Northwest Seaport Supporters and Volunteers,

After serving on the Board of Directors for the past five years, I have been given the chance to lead Northwest Seaport for the next two. In this role, I stand on the shoulders of my predecessors and will continue the process of growing the organization that has been underway since I came aboard.

Northwest Seaport 50 Years

Thanks to Joe Shickich, president when I joined the board, we were able to preserve the memories, history, and construction details of the schooner WAWONA. Thanks to our maritime heritage partners, WAWONA artifacts continue to educate people about the importance of our shipping and fishing industries. In addition, the documentation procedures developed by Northwest Seaport have set the standard for other maritime museums around the world that cannot afford to keep all of their historic vessels afloat.

More recently, we have invested over $1M in grants and matching funds to preserve the hull and abate the lead and asbestos on Lightship 83. We have started installing her new deck and are embarking on a capital campaign to complete her restoration. This success has been due in large part to the commitment of Immediate Past President Shannon Fitzgerald. Shannon made sure we got the most from our money and took on the monumental task of completing all the grant paperwork when we lost our project manager.

125 Years Arthur Foss NWS

Over the last year, we have heard from many segments of the maritime industry that there is a need to encourage more young people to consider maritime careers, both at sea and on shore. To help meet this need, we will be integrating job skills training into our restoration and educational programs and promoting opportunities with our industry and heritage partners. Our vision is to be a centrally located, highly visible gateway to maritime careers and, with our partners, provide opportunities for basic training. Being moored just outside the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in Lake Union Park, we are also in a great location to showcase the importance of the maritime industry to Seattle’s future, as well as its past.

To bring this vision to life, we will be working with shipyards, vessel operators, and labor to promote the industry to high schools, colleges, and the public at large; with social service agencies and vocational organizations to develop effective educational and training programs; and with the heritage and arts communities to preserve our fleet and bring it to life.

Vigor Seattle MARTIME FESTIVAL logo webI am excited to take the helm for the next leg of Northwest Seaport’s journey and look forward to working with our Board of Directors, staff, and the diverse communities of Seattle to create the place where industry, education, and heritage converge, raising all of our boats. I welcome your suggestions and ideas as we plot our course forward and I look forward to seeing you at our May events, including the Stories of the Sea contest on May 8th and the Maritime Festival on May 10th &11th.

Andy Bennett

President, Northwest Seaport
(View signed letter(pdf): Northwest Seaport Presidents Message April 25 2014)

Northwest Seaport LogoNew slate of officers for Northwest Seaport:

Colleen Browne, Treasurer, retired in 2009 from the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, where she was the Pro Parks Levy/Major Maintenance Manager. As a Capital Projects Manager at Seattle Parks, she was the lead on the Historic Ships Wharf, Lake Union Park, Luna Park, and the multi-million dollar Seattle Aquarium makeover project completed in 2007.

Shannon Fitzgerald, Secretary, is the Manager of the Coordinated Seabird Studies Group at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he has been a biologist and scientist for 23 years.

Jim Flies ,Vice President, is the Quality Systems Manager for Harley Marine Services, Inc.  Previously, he served as the Academic Dean and the Dean of Students at Seattle Preparatory School, where he taught for twenty years.


Tugboat Documentary Premier and Tugboat Annie Plaque Re-unveiled

View new Arthur Foss documentary to learn more about its iconic American story.

View, soon, the new Arthur Foss documentary to engage in this iconic American story.

Vaun Raymond Filmmaker Seattle Art Institute

This trailer of the new film Arthur Foss: Iconic Tugboat of the Northwest, provides a taste of the exciting documentary about the 125-year old museum ship.  Full documentary will be released soon.  In collaboration with the Art Institute of Seattle’s Summer Studio Class-2013, Northwest Seaport co-produced this film.

On March 6, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park(PDF) hosted the film’s world premiere, and Watch the Sky musicians, Northwest Seaport chantey singers and representatives from Maritime Folknet entertained the crowd with  music and chanteys, such as “A Hundred Years Ago” (written by Bob Kotta and Mariide Tune). While AIS-student and film director, Victor M. Ramos III, was unavailable, filmmaker and Art Institute of Seattle instructor, Vaun Raymond, introduced the AIS-student documentary and also shared a “the-making-of” film regarding the 2013 class efforts.

Anna Franklin with Memory Book of Captain Franklin webFilm goers enjoyed listing to stories from Franklin family members whose father and siblings captained and crewed aboard Arthur Foss.  Save Our Ships and Northwest Seaport founder, Kay Bullitt spoke briefly about the founding of this organization.  Chuck Fowler, co-author of “Tugboats of Puget Sound” shared with attendees some historical perspective of Arthur Foss and contributions to the Pacific Northwest maritime economy.

Plaque 1 Dedicated to Tugboat Annie 1940 Pioneer Spirit of Puget Sound webNearly 75 year-ago tug Arthur Foss seemed to have starred in another Hollywood sensation event, Northwest Seaport now believes.  On Oct 18, 1940 Tugboat Annie Sails Again actors Ronald Reagan and Marjorie Rambeau with Henry Foss of the Foss Launch and Tug Company presented the City of Tacoma at the city’s Roxy theater (now  Pantages Theater)  with a bronze plaque which includes the words, “Dedicated to Tugboat Annie – 1940 – Pioneer Spirit of Puget Sound.” (pictured).  

Northwest Seaport and Foss Waterway Seaport Crew 2 Foss Waterway Seaport curator, Joseph M. Govednik tracked it down the commemorative plaque at the Broadway Center For the Performing Arts, who kindly loaned it for transport and display at the March 6 event.

NPS ArrowheadThe plaque was unveiled, and the audience seemed to “gasp,” one observer shared.  Viewing the plaque for the first time, Northwest Seaport Nautical Archaeologist, Nathaniel Howe, shared his belief that the plaque’s central-placed tug with “Narcissus” inscribed on its bow was in fact Northwest Seaport’s Arthur Foss tug. 

During the event, the 2014 Arthur Foss Tugboat Campaign was launched, with a donation from Fremont Boat Company.  Additionally, the grandchildren of Thea and Andrew Foss made a significant contribution to the production and distribution efforts of the documentary.  Please watch for Campaign Cards and contribute to help keep Arthur Foss alive for the next generation.

Arthur Foss Documentary World Premiere 3.6.2014 Bruce Sherman photo web
Nearly 70 Attendees at World Premiere at Klondike web Kay Bullitt founder of Save our Ships and Northwest Seaport web

Keep Washington Shining

Keep Washington Shining banner

February 18, 2014, Contact: Nan Devlin, nan@devlinendean.comDevlin Endean Marketing Group

Keep Washington Shining campaign spotlights lighthouse funding, encourages drivers to choose a Washington Lighthouse license plate. 

Since 2009, license plates have funded $125,000 in restoration projects; more support needed to help preserve 13 nonprofit lighthouses open to public

Coupeville, Wash. Feb. 18, 2014 – Lighthouse Environmental Programs (LEP), a Whidbey Island based non-profit organization announced today the launch of the Keep Washington Shining campaign to encourage drivers to choose a Washington Lighthouse specialty license plate for their car, motorcycle, trailer or RV. The campaign is designed to make drivers aware of the direct impact they have on ensuring Washington’s coastal treasures for generations to Continue reading

Lightship Overfalls is Reborn: From a Rust Bucket to a Landmark

Lightship Overfalls WAL539 LV118 Bow Lewes Del

Lightship Overfalls WAL539 LV118 Bow Lewes Del

In 1999 the Lightship Overfalls (LV-118) lay rusting to pieces in a muddy hole in Lewes, Delaware. The community seemingly had lost hope of restoration and attempts to give her away were unsuccessful. Then, a small group of local citizens took ownership of the ailing vessel to save her from the ship breakers. The group put together a comprehensive plan to bring her back from the brink of oblivion. The plan, even with the extensive use of volunteer labor, had a capital budget of $1.2 million and the group had scant resources and no credibility.

The presentation discusses the project’s 13-year history including how the funds were raised and how the group stayed right on budget. Today, the museum ship is an award winning, National Historic Landmark, designated in 2011, and is featured in a park setting worthy of the vessel and the crews who served aboard.

Lightship Overfalls WAL539 LV118 Park Lewes, Del

David Bernheisel, Honorary Board member of the Overfalls Foundation, is a retired Federal employee and a self-proclaimed “life-long river rat.” He has been actively involved in the Overfalls Foundation since 2000, serving on the Board of Directors and in the roles of President, Vice President, and Out-reach Chair. For three years he served as a crew member of Delaware’s tall ship, Kalmar Nyckle, and completed the America’s Great Loop cruise in his own boat. He has also had international assignments with the USAID funded Farmer-to-Farmer program and as an election observer.

The Center for Wooden Boat is co-hosting event and graciously provides their boathouse as the evening’s venue.  Directions

— Lightship Work Party in the afternoon before talk. —

Future USCG Academy Cadet becomes Seaport Member

Megan Rice stands aboard LV83 and in front of a Registered National Historic Place plaque, which states: "Under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of October 16, 1966, this property possesses exceptional value in commemorating or illustrating American history."

Megan Rice stands aboard LV83 and in front of a Registered National Historic Place plaque, which states: “Under the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of October 16, 1966, this property possesses exceptional value in commemorating or illustrating American history.”

Member Spotlight and Guest Blog:
Megan Rice became a Northwest Seaport member before she even stepped aboard the Lightship No. 83 “Swiftsure.”  Seaport staff welcomed her aboard both the lightship and tug Arthur Foss last week to discuss membership and ways to become involved with Northwest Seaport as a young adult.  During the discussion, she agreed to share her story and goal of serving the country as a naval engineering officer and designer of the Coast Guard cutter fleet.  She also writes, “I only wish I’d found out about NWS a lot sooner.”

Washington State can be proud that she will represent the State and her community at the United States Coast Guard Academy with the graduating class of 2018.

“Hello, I’m Megan Rice and I’m 21 years old.  My interest in engineering, the maritime industry, the U.S. military, and the Coast Guard inspired me to attend the United States Coast Guard Academy, where, as a cadet, I’ll get closer to my goal of serving my country as a naval engineering officer and designer of the Coast Guard cutter fleet.

Megan Rice holds her USCGA acceptance letter with images of USCG Barque Eagle.

Megan Rice holds her USCGA acceptance letter with images of USCG Barque Eagle.

Since my early fascination with the Titanic, I’ve immersed myself in studying ships and the art of integrating many complex systems into one functional, buoyant vessel. This passion has led me to pursue a career in naval architecture and marine engineering.

After diligently contacting over 25 local shipyards and engineering firms without any contacts in the maritime world, I became employed at Jensen Maritime Consultants. At this prominent NA&ME firm, I work in both Continue reading

Reconstructing San Salvador talk by Dr. Ray Ashley

Reconstructing San Salvador, Cabrillo’s galleon of 1542 – California’s Origin Story

Salvador Group in San Diego

Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 at 7:00 PM aboard Steamship Virginia V at Lake Union Park

For generations the 1542 voyage of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo – the first incursion of Europeans into the waters off the US West Coast – has served as California’s origin story. This talk will provide a glimpse into the medieval world of Cabrillo, a figure shrouded Continue reading