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Richey/Kramer Cabin on Stuart Island

During the early sixties I made many friends while working in the King County Prosecutor’s office in Seattle. The first time I ever saw Ken Eikenberry, in 1963, he was sitting in his office on the 6th floor of the courthouse with his feet propped on the sill of the open window facing 3rd Avenue. I asked what he was doing. Well, he had this big rubber band and he was trying to shoot paper clips clear across the street and have them land on top of the Morrison Hotel. I liked him.

Another person who became my good friend was an old guy, Vic Kramer. He had retired as Chief of Detectives of the Seattle Police Department and was then working as administrative assistant for Charles 0. Carroll, the long time King County Prosecutor. He was a tall, strong man who had worked as a logger when young. He ate like a horse but never gained weight. Vic had lots of stories about hunting on “Bodie Mountain” in Eastern Washington and the cabin he and his friends had built many years before and still used every fall.

Vic was my partner in putting up large signs for one of Carroll’s re-election campaigns. I was greatly impressed with his perfection in construction projects. The campaign signs we built would have lasted for years. He loved boats for fishing and ever since my graduation from law school I had owned small run-about boats for water skiing. I admired him and he liked me.  Ken and I caught a lot of salmon on a trip to Neah Bay and we took a couple of trips trout fishing to Lake Pearrygin in Okanogan County. We skied together on Mount Bachelor in Oregon when a group of 6 or 7 prosecutors and our wives went down for several days of eating, drinking and skiing.

When I suggested renting a cabin cruiser and taking a vacation trip to the San Juan Islands in 1966, Ken jumped at the chance.  He, his wife Bev and I took the Coast Guard boat-handling course at Lake Union. Ruth, my wife, had to keep care of our two boys, James and Eric, ages 2 and I, but hoped the rest of us would learn how to expertly navigate a big boat through the islands which we had never seen.

The man who checked us out on the “Imayuk”, a 32-foot, single screw, wood cruiser at Bryant’s Marina in Anacortes, didn’t seem at all nervous. Lawyers must appear confident even when they don’t know what they’re doing and I guess we passed the test.  We loaded all our gear, food, fishing poles, etc., and left on the trip, which was to begin a whole new part of my life. It was wonderful! The sun was bright. The scenery was new to me and exciting. The food was delicious. After frying and squishing until it was completely dry and crispy brown, I ate the first oyster in my life! It was good. Ken caught a small salmon.  Scrumptious! At Ladysmith he caught an ugly big-mouthed Ling Cod, so large we had trouble getting it into the boat. We cruised all the islands — Orcas, Lopez, Sucia, Jones, the Canadian San Juans, and Stuart.

We caught big crabs in Prevost Harbor and dug buckets of clams at the head of Reed Harbor. I dove into the water from the top of the boat and told Ken, as I paddled casually, that it was great.  I lied. He dove in and got out almost as fast. Very cold!  As we pulled back to the docks at Anacortes, I knew the islands were for me. I loved them. I read the maps easily, could recognize landmarks and had absolutely no trouble navigating.  There was so much desirable property and the views were fantastic.

When Ken eased the boat into the final dock and while I was pushing the bow of the boat away from a piling, I slipped and fell into the dirty marina water. He fished me out and I got back onto the bow to resume the landing process. It was slippery from all the water dripping off my clothes and I fell in again, this time losing my glasses. Ken got into his wetsuit, strapped on his air tanks and found those glasses under 20 feet of water in the mud at the bottom of Bryant’s Marina.

When I got home I sold my ski boat and bought a used 17-foot wood “Finecraft” with a little cabin and an outboard motor. We painted it blue and white, recovered the seats with Naugahyde and started taking frequent trips to the San Juans. Ken bought a similar but larger wood boat a little later.

I had liked Stuart Island best of all so we went there often, camping in a tent at the state park. We strung a line between trees near the cliff on the Prevost side where we stayed in the rain for a week in May of 1967. That was the “magic spanking line” and the boys couldn’t go beyond that or face a spanking.  The boat motor broke down that trip and I limped into Friday Harbor late one night after a several hour cruise in a storm.  The kids and Ruth were left alone in the rain trying to keep dry in our tent. I had to stay overnight at Friday Harbor while repairs were made on the motor. I met three friendly people in a huge boat who invited me for dinner and drinks aboard. At about midnight, feeling no pain, we looked out the windows into the driving wind and rain and said a little prayer for Ruth and the boys. The next day was bright and sunny. The boat was fixed and I rejoined my family, no worse for wear, at Prevost.

During the same time, in 1967, I started looking seriously for waterfront in the Islands. One realtor flew me up in a seaplane and we landed right off the beach of Lot 29 of Stuart Estates.  We hiked all over that huge lot, exploring the old farm house, looking at the ancient tools and implements in the barn, peering into the rotting smoke house and other sheds. The lot was heavily wooded and had a fine wide gravel beach.

Realtors, Dick and Dennis King, flew Tom Stang and me up in their 1952 private plane. We landed on a field at Roche Harbor and they took us over by motorboat to Stuart to look at available land for sale. On the way back to Seattle the engine started to sputter. Dennis yelled at his dad, “What’s the matter?” Dick yelled back, “How the hell should I know?” Tom and I were nervous and started sweating in the back seat of the four passenger plane. We made an emergency landing on Whidbey Island.  They got another plane and eventually we returned safely home. Years later, Dick, Dennis, and a grandson were all killed in a crash of that very same plane when flying over the Cascades.

I was young, ambitious and wanted to get some of that great waterfront property. Vic would talk with me about it in the Prosecutor’s office and he was almost as excited as I was. I looked at a place on Obstruction Island and later told my friend, Jim Kempton, about it. He bought. Now, years later, he has just finished building a fine new home on that land.

I checked all the ads in the Friday Harbor Journal. I called realtors and walked over acres of land. Somewhere along the way I became aware of Lot 5 of Stuart Estates on the very south end of Stuart Island. It was just what I wanted. There was a semi-protected cove for moorage. There was a nice level pebble beach, as well as a sloping meadow going back several hundred feet. A rocky cliff and point on the east side of the lot, jutted far out into the water. The views were excellent. Mt.  Baker in the distance; the entrance to Reed Harbor with boats going in and out; across the wide expanse of water to the south, Spieden Island, Roche Harbor, San Juan Island, and much more.  At night you could see the lights of Victoria far to the southwest.

A working spring was on the community lot a few feet from our western boundary. One could build up on top of the rock cliff on the east side and see forever, or down below on the meadow close to the cove. There were 400 feet of waterfront point-to-point but if you included the huge rock portion jutting out to a point on the south there were six or seven hundred front feet. It was a large lot and very nice.

The owner was a lawyer in Olympia and I called him as soon as I got his number. He was interested in selling! I immediately invited him to dinner at our home on Mercer Island. Ruth prepared a great meal, complete with homemade apple pie. Fifteen minutes before he was to arrive he called and canceled. I was very upset about not making a deal and Ruth was peeved about his lack of courtesy.

Several months passed and one day in 1968, while in Olympia arguing a case before the Supreme Court, I decided to drop in and see the guy at work. To my surprise he was still interested in selling. I drove back to Seattle, called Vic to see if he wanted to buy it with me, and prepared the papers. I drove back to Olympia before the seller changed his mind. We signed for $4000 cash and Vic and I then owned the most beautiful piece of property in the whole world! The place had once been a farm in the twenties and thirties.  Rusty bedsteads and appliances were lying in the lilac bushes and daffodils where the house had stood on the meadow overlooking Droulard Cove. The name “Droulard” had been carved in some limestone rock at water’s edge. The house had burned years before.

At the back of the property, under a large clump of blackberry bushes, were the remains of an old fallen barn. The one remaining building still standing was the outhouse between the barn and the house site. It was a one holer and had large plank walls and a thick cedar shake roof. It was in good shape and we began using it immediately.

There were 4 or 5 fruit trees but only the yellow plum tree consistently produced fruit. The first year we owned the land a group of kayakers came up from the beach where they had landed their craft. They were on an annual trip to pick plums and were surprised to find inhabitants. We invited them to take all they wanted.

An old road was cut in the bank from the spring and the beach up to the meadow. Madrona and fir trees grew on the meadow up against the rock cliff, which extended from the back of the lot out in the water to the south. It was massive, beautiful and added interesting variety to the lot. We worked on an old path up to the top of the cliff from its base. We widened the walkway and put in handrails.

The lot faced southwest across the water and was exposed to good sunlight all day. During the very early morning, the sun from the east would be partially blocked by the rock cliff but that would just give us a while longer to sleep in the yellow and blue 9 x 16 tent.

The same year we bought the lot, we purchased a new 1968 Fiberform 20 foot cruiser with a trailer. The old Finecraft was a good boat but we needed a larger one in which all four of us could sleep overnight. The Fiberform, with a head, dining table, sink, alcohol stove and room to sleep Eric, James, Ruth and me, was just right. It was my first brand new boat bought during my second year of private practice. With it we could cruise from Anacortes to Droulard Cove on Stuart Island in 1 ½ hours.  James and Eric loved the place. They poked at sea anemones, found starfish and gathered shells on the beach. They learned to eat oysters and clams before they were six years old. They caught fish that they could eat for dinner that same day. They hiked and explored the entire island with us, with Ronnie, Vic’s grandson and even by themselves. They built rafts, which they paddled in the cove and beyond if we didn’t catch them. They climbed the huge rocks of the cliff and would watch sea otters playing in the pools below. Vic made lanterns for the boys from gallon coffee cans and candles. He had used them when he was a kid instead of flashlights. Eric and James carried them to the outhouse and over to see our neighbors at night. They were impressed with how much light the lanterns would reflect and how they could be used even in windy conditions. They rowed the dingy, originally by standing up and pushing on the oars.  Eventually they became experts at handling both the dingy and the big boat.

Vic bought a new Reinell boat and, in 1969, Ken bought a new Fiberform just like mine. We all used the property extensively and would bring our friends and relatives. Vic’s wife, Thelma, made delicious meat loafs and apple cakes which we all liked and soon began to expect.

Neither Vic nor I were very good at just sitting around sipping a drink and watching the water. We needed “projects”. One of the first was to put in a buoy so we could secure our boats in the cove. In the beginning we would simply drop anchor and stretch our boats into the beach on surgical tubing attached to a short anchor line. Once the boat was unloaded the surgical tubing would pull it back out onto the water above the anchor where it would remain until we pulled it back into shore with a line attached to the bow. That worked okay but we wanted a permanent buoy.

At low tide we mixed and poured concrete into a burned out refrigerator casing from the old farmhouse on the property. We had placed the casing right next to the water before we began to pour. We then inserted a large galvanized eyebolt into the middle of the concrete and left it to harden.

The next trip. Vic, Ken, Ken’s dad, Otto, Joel Rindal, and I left Seattle early on a weekday. Vic’s trailer burned out a bearing in Mount Vernon, but that slowed us only an hour before it was replaced.  When we got to Stuart we all started working quickly. We used a pevee to roll two thick 7 or 8 foot long logs next to the refrigerator casing filled with hard concrete. We next spiked three smaller logs on top and perpendicular to the long logs. A short thick rope was tied from the galvanized eyebolt to the middle log just above the bolt, and then we waited.

The tide came in. The logs floated, lifting that large concrete block right off the beach. We cheered and then towed the whole thing out in the cove to the exact spot we wanted. Then Ken, with a double bit axe and while standing on the two big logs, straddling the concrete block, chopped the rope with one swift blow. Down went our anchor. We attached a salvaged buoy to a galvanized chain which had previously been secured to the eyebolt and we were in business. Over the following years the anchor and buoy worked well even though we had to replace the chain two or three times.

The spring had to be cleaned and made easier to use than by dipping buckets of water from the cistern. I cut all the brush from the spring to the beach, a distance of about ten or fifteen feet. We then put a black plastic PCV pipe from the cistern, down along the cleared route and onto a wooden support. We cleaned the concrete cistern thoroughly and from then on we would simply put our buckets under the end of the pipe and wait for them to fill.

Another project was burning brush. Vic taught me how to burn even when it was raining and it was a lesson I’ve used many times over the years. He would start a very small fire with shavings, kindling, or small sticks. When that was burning well we would slowly and carefully add more small pieces of wood until we had a hot core of coals and flames. By then we could add larger sticks and branches. Finally, we could throw any large limbs, logs, slash or brush, whether wet or dry, directly on top of the hot flames. We had fires 15 and 20 feet high. Over a period of several years we cleaned out all the downed trees, slash and unwanted brush. It was a rewarding job since it kept us warm in the winter and cleared our land at the same time.

We started thinking about how we might get materials and baggage from the beach up onto the top of the side cliff. Carrying things up the short road to the meadow was not a problem but Vic wanted a tram all the way to the top of the cliff. We built it.  We sank and braced a large treated post down at the spring. At the top of the trail, on the cliff, we used an extended bit and a hand brace and drilled a hole through a twenty-inch thick fir tree. It took a very long time and I can remember it clearly since the first time we stretched the thick wire cable between the bottom post and the long eye bolt in the tree, the cable hung too low.  Vic was never one to get upset or angry. We just started drilling again, but this time about two feet higher on the tree.

On the tightened cable we suspended a cable car on pulleys. We had made it from treated 2 x 4s and strap steel. At the top of the lift, at the base of the support tree, we mounted a gasoline engine with a clutch and brake assembly. A smaller cable on a reel was attached to the cable car. When it was all finished an operator at the top could start the motor, engage the clutch and pull the car with anything on it to the top of the cliff.  The tram worked very well. The two slight accidents we had were not mechanical but were caused by the operator. The first occurred when Ruth was running the motor and bringing up our groceries for the weekend. I decided to ride along. When the groceries and I got to the top Ruth put in the clutch but was a bit slow at putting on the brake. The tram started back down the cable very fast and stopped just as quickly when the brake went on. I hung on tightly but all the groceries flew out and smashed on the rock cliff.

The second mishap occurred when both James and Eric were riding down and I was working the controls up on top. I’m afraid I was letting them go a little too fast and when I applied the brake at the end of the ride, Eric flew out onto the dirt road, face first. For such a little boy he was awfully mad at his dad and rightfully so.

During camping trips on the property we would pitch our tent either on top or down on the meadow. Both were great spots and it was difficult to decide which we liked better.

Often we would simply pull into Reed Harbor and stay overnight in the boat. There we saw many people we knew from the mainland.  Bill and Carol Bain, our neighbors, came up in a big sailboat.  Joel and Helen Rindal had bought Charles 0. Carroll’s boat, the Shearwater, and spent the evening with us. It was a large, beautifully restored wood cruiser from the thirties. My secretary from the prosecutor’s office, Loretta and her husband, Les Lanksbury, came into the harbor much too fast, rocking all boats anchored around us. We met many other people; some with very large and expensive boats but we always felt a little bit superior because we had “the property”.

On Memorial Day weekend, in 1969, we invited some of our friends to stay with us on Stuart. The cove was filled with boats and several tents were pitched on the meadow. It rained hard the entire 3 days. We kept a huge fire going, sang songs and drank lots of beer in an effort to stay warm, dry and happy. I led a hike through the wet brush up the west side of the island past lot 29, the schoolhouse, the cemetery road and then up to the top of Tip Top, the highest spot on the island. We were soaked to the skin but had a good time.

Bill Kinzel burned the toes out of his brand new grey hush puppies when he tried to dry them too close to the fire. He just kept on drinking beer and eating raw oysters. That night a little stream ran through his tent soaking sleeping bags, clothes and occupants. Tom and Nancy Stang, Bill and Louise Kinzel, Gary and Gwen Galiotti, Jerry and Donna Berg, Ken and Bev, Vic and Thelma, and Ruth and I shared a memorable holiday on Stuart Island.

Another weekend I took my dad and my neighbor, Gary Galiotti, up in the Fiberform. On Saturday afternoon we decided to cruise up the east side of the island near the lighthouse and catch some cod. We towed the wood dingy so we could fish out of it if we wanted. Gary said he wanted to ride in the dingy. No problem.  At first we went slowly but he indicated with his thumb up he wanted the speed increased. We did. And then by shifting his weight he could maneuver the dingy at the end of a 50-foot line back and forth over the wake like a water ski. It looked like a lot of fun but after 5 minutes or so my dad and I tired of watching and concentrated more on where we were going. When I finally turned around the dingy was still there, but Gary was gone!!

My stomach dropped. We turned quickly but couldn’t see him anywhere. Back we raced over our former course and all the time I was thinking about what I would tell his wife, Gwen. Finally, far in the distance, we saw his head bobbing in the waves. He was cold but just fine when we pulled him aboard, he explained that one of the wakes had flipped him out of the boat and all he could do was tread water while he watched us pulling farther away.

Later, in 1971, we invited our entire ten-person gourmet group to the Island. We ferried them from Roche Harbor, and that night our dinner was even better than the usual steak and oysters.

The boys started bringing their friends from grade school, then high school, and eventually even brought up girl friends. I took up my law partners and other friends because I wanted everyone to see and share in that beautiful place.

By late 1971, we started talking seriously about building a cabin. Vic wanted another Bodie Mountain type but I thought we might do something a little bigger. I stopped in Fife and looked at a cabin called the “Alpine”. It cost only $1995, was quite roomy, and had a loft. We invited a sales representative out to Vic’s house in Renton to talk about details.

As well as being very meticulous and careful in everything he did. Vic was a detail person. He believed in “preparing,” and most things I usually did were a little too fast for his carefully organized mind. I believe the representative, after three or four hours and dozens of questions, finally decided it was going to be too much. We didn’t reach a deal.

At one point we had decided to build up on top. Ken, Vic, and I took Vic’s boat near the shore just north of the state park dock on the Prevost side. There, we loaded first in the dingy, and then in the boat, several hundred pounds of rocks that were shaped in nice squares just like commercial pier blocks. Back at Droulard Cove we put the rocks on the tram and hauled them to the top. There we placed them in just the right positions for our then proposed cabin.

It was in 1973 or 1974 that Vic suggested that we tear down an old house on his property in Renton and use the materials from it to build our cabin. He thought we could save the doors, windows, studs, flooring and shiplap. And best of all it wouldn’t cost us anything. Why not? We were off and running.

When we tore down the house we carefully removed all the boards one by one, and then took out all the nails. Since there was no electricity on the island we precut studs to the sizes we needed.  The bad pieces were thrown away but we were able to salvage an amazing amount of good lumber.

Up at the island we brought the pier rocks back down to the meadow and placed them at a new site in the trees next to the cliff. We brought up long logs from the beach and made our block and post supports for the cabin. It would have a close view of our boats tied to the buoy in the cove and a wonderful distant view out over the water towards San Juan Island and Victoria.  Also, it would be more protected from the winds and the storms than on top. I would rather have built on top but Vic was the leader and I was happy to go along.

The next problem was getting all our roll roofing, nails, wood and other building materials from Renton to Stuart. I had a client who agreed to loan to me his big flat bed truck. One of our neighbors on Stuart had a large Bristol Bay open hull he rented to us for hauling the materials from Roche Harbor to the cove. We had to plan to arrive at a high tide but still have time to unload before dark.

Brad Nitsche, an attorney friend who had been to the island with us, said he would help load the truck at Vic’s place and then drive the truck up to Anacortes, take the ferry to Friday Harbor and then drive to Roche. There he would meet Vic and me and we would all unload from the truck into the open Bristol Bay hull.  Vic had all the boards labeled, sorted and stacked in front of his garage. Three of us loaded everything carefully and neatly onto the flatbed one night after work. We tied it down. Brad left with the truck and planned to take a very early morning ferry. I went home to Redmond, got packed and the next day I took off early for Anacortes, launched the boat and cruised to Roche Harbor. Vic and Kevin, another one of my clients, left in his boat at about the same time. It was like a military drill and we all met at the small boat launch the next morning in Roche just as planned.

Brad backed the truck down the ramp to the water’s edge and we pulled the side of the big Bristol Bay hull up against the back of the flatbed. All of us worked transferring the large load from the truck to the boat. When that was completed, with the windows on top. Vic and I tied the hull with two long lines to our two boats and we both towed it out of Roche Harbor and over to our cove.

We had to work quickly to unload. We stacked all the materials above the high water mark on the beach and finally went to bed exhausted. The next morning Vic was pounding nails before anyone else got up. Soon the rest of us were carrying lumber from the beach up the short road to the cabin site. We used the cable car for dropping some of the materials at a halfway spot but most we simply carried up, two or three boards at a time.

Brad and Kevin left that day but I stayed an extra day helping Vic install the narrow board flooring and start the studs for the walls. Finally, I had to go back to work so I left in my boat with Vic staying to work by himself for a few days. He said we would see him soon.

A week passed before Thelma called me. She was concerned. She had not heard from Vic by radiotelephone and was beginning to worry. Could I take her up in my boat? I didn’t have any trials on Tuesday so my secretary, Karon Erickson, Thelma, and I left early on an October morning to see what was wrong with Vic.  There was heavy fog but that was the day we had picked, Thelma was worried and we didn’t have much choice.

As we pulled out of Bryant’s the fog was so thick we couldn’t see more than 40 or 50 feet ahead. Previously, I had written down the compass course all the way from Anacortes to Stuart and that day we had to use it. There was no other way. It was an autumn weekday, no other boats were out and we had no one to follow. With great luck we hit Thatcher Pass perfectly. We turned right on our next compass reading and groped our way through the fog.  Twenty or thirty minutes of slow travel were not reassuring. We thought we should be turning left soon when, about 20 feet in front of us, appeared a huge black form. I thought we were about to be hit by a moving ferry. Instead, it was a sheer rock wall. We turned quickly.  I guess we had deviated slightly from the course. By the time we got to Orcas the sun had burned away the fog and it was a beautiful bright day in the San Juans.

I pushed the throttle forward and we sped straight towards Stuart at about 25 miles per hour. I really wasn’t too worried about self reliant old Vic but you never know. As soon as I cut the engine in the cove I could hear the tap tap tap of the hammer up at the cabin. We got into the Sportyak dingy, rowed ashore, and Thelma rushed up the path.

Vic couldn’t believe we were concerned. He had food, water and was happy as a clam reconstructing the old Bodie mountain cabin.  The subject was closed.

I never saw that old hunting cabin but I think we built its twin brother. It was 12x24 foot single wall construction with roll roofing. We put building paper shiny side out and then nailed on the shiplap boards one at a time. We used no plywood since we had none. It had a covered porch on the west end but no decks.  Vic didn’t believe in decks unless there was a roof over them.  We built two double-sized bunk beds in the back corner. We put in a sink and some lower cabinets taken from the torn-down house in Renton. Above the sink were open shelves on which we stored food, dishes and utensils. We brought up a picnic table, chairs and some used carpet. We bought an old wood burning cook stove and put it next to the cabinets and sink. There was no bathroom, running water or electricity but we loved it.

The total cost for our home on Stuart was between $200 and $300.  Our camping lives were behind us. From 1974 on we stayed in the very comfortable cabin. The boys were then 9 and 10 and thoroughly enjoyed being around Vic and Thelma on our vacations and weekend excursions. They even liked being with their parents as long as we went to the island. Over the next several years we marked their increasing heights on a wall stud next to the bunk beds. I suspect the marks and dates are still there.

Breakfasts were a big event. Vic would usually get up first and start the wood stove to warm the cabin. Thelma and Ruth would then fry bacon, eggs, pancakes and sometimes potatoes left over from the previous night. We also would have coffee, milk and fruit. Only after finishing a big breakfast would we be ready to start our projects, take our hike, go fishing, or go on a boat trip to Sidney or some other destination.

In about 1971 or 1972 we began to get some new neighbors. A young lady, Sarah Smith, and her husband, Reed, moved into a large teepee in the interior of the island. We visited with them and their toddler son, Jessie, on several occasions. Among ourselves we called them “hippies”. The story was that Sarah’s dad, a wealthy man from California, had bought about a hundred wooded acres and Sarah came there to live “close to the land”.

Many of her friends came later and soon there were several different types of little cabins and houses springing up in the woods. Some were solid buildings. Some were shacks built to last for just one season. They kept their boats and barges in a cove that was around our point and on the left side heading into Reed Harbor. “Float City” was a very well protected moorage and after Vic became their friend we could moor our boats there during storms.

By that time Vic had retired and I was working hard in private practice. Ken was getting involved in politics. So Vic, more than the rest of us, had the time and spent many days at Stuart.  He told us how he liked our neighbors and we knew it was true because he would take them food and fruit from home. Remember that Vic was a conservative person whose whole working career had been primarily in the police department.

One day, two or three of the neighbors came to see Vic and brought their pet deer. They took it right into the cabin.  The deer was tame enough but suddenly decided to jump outside through the large picture window. Only a quick grab saved the window and the deer.

Another time. Vic walked out of the woods to visit and found several of the young men and women sun bathing in the nude. He turned around and came back before they saw him. I suspect he was fearful they might ask him to join them.

They built a large wooden hot tub up on the hill above their boat cove and on another day, later on, they did invite Vic to strip down and jump in the tub with them. He said he didn’t but we’ll never know for sure.

One spring they made a large garden on the community lot next to us. The soil was good but they had to hand carry all the water for the plants up from the spring. In addition they built a very high and elaborate pole and net fence surrounding the garden to keep out the deer. They worked very hard for a garden that produced some vegetables but not enough to justify all their efforts.

Many of the young couples had babies and young children, and within a few years the long vacant schoolhouse back up the road from Reed Harbor was once again in use.

Every spring they would all come down to the community lot and dance around a May pole to celebrate the beginning of a new season. After a new schoolhouse was built the neighbors invited Vic to come up and celebrate the fall season with them. Buzz Cook, an old crony from the police department, happened to be at the cabin with Vic for the weekend so he had to go too. He watched with utter amazement as old Vic clapped and thoroughly enjoyed the hippies and their children dancing and depicting falling leaves floating gently to the earth.

For several years they had a herd of 20 or 30 goats and we loved to watch them as they jumped from log to log on the beach or grazed the meadow.

Another neighbor was an insurance man who built a substantial house on the west side of the island. He frequently would leave his boat on our buoy and walk across the island but eventually he installed his own buoy in front of his house. A bad storm broke his boat loose from his buoy and there was nothing he could do but watch while the boat was smashed to bits on the rocks.

Pieces of the boat floated into our cove for weeks afterwards.  During all the years we went to the island my boat broke loose from the buoy only once. It happened at night and we discovered it on our gravel beach where it had been blown by the wind and washed by the waves. The boys and I jumped out of our sleeping bags and pushed the boat off the rocks while dressed in only our shorts and tee shirts. The damage was minor. Lucky.

Little Wolf lived in a small house on the east side of the entrance to Reed Harbor. Vic took all of us over to meet him.  He was an old Indian who told us he had been raised by wolves.  He made copper bracelets for all the kids on Stuart Island and spent most of his time telling stories and entertaining guests.  Eric and James wore their bracelets for months.

Two bothers. Pat and Mike, lived just around the point from us in a little fishing shack with a big sun painted on the front. One was a painter who specialized in painting human bodies with animal heads. One day they left us some chicken eggs as a gift and Ruth sent the boys over with some money. They refused the money. Eric insisted they take it saying, “Mom says you need the money a lot more than we do.” I took Mike water skiing. He simply left on the same pants and shirt he wore every day, skied, and had a pretty good time.

Every year fishermen would come by and set up reef nets alongside our rock point. I would sit up on top of the rock cliff and watch as they would catch dozens of salmon with one lift of the net suspended between two long narrow boats. Observers would stand high on platforms at the end of each boat. When they saw the fish swimming over the submerged net they would yell and the net would be pulled up catching the fish. They gave us a couple and we barbecued them on the beach. Delicious!  In 1976 I sold the Fiberform and bought a new 20-foot Bayliner with a bigger engine. It was an open boat, went faster, and we could use it both for skiing and going to the San Juans. It was bright yellow and a fine boat. It didn’t have a head, sink, or stove like the Fiberform, but we didn’t need those since we had the cabin. The new boat made many, many trips to Stuart.

Over the years we took many hikes to distant points on the island. We would visit the old schoolhouse and the very small one room cabin for the teacher. We would hike to the cemetery and all the way to the lighthouse at Turn Point on the extreme north end of the island. We dug clams and gathered oysters. If we had a diver with us, he could get abalone from the submerged rocks off our point. We climbed Tip Top many times and from there the boats cruising around the island would look like tiny toys. We met many of our neighbors. Bill and Lee Bolles had a place over by Little Wolf. He built her a tennis court and they had a boat so big that it carried an airplane.

During hikes through the woods we would often come upon wild cattle that had been left on the island and then simply fended for themselves. When disturbed they would run, crashing through the brush making a terrible racket. We were always pleased that they never ran at us.

Of course we fished almost every trip. We would stop for herring at the Roche store and then fish for lingcod. More frequently, we caught smaller rock cod, sea bass, or dogfish but we always got something. Fresh fish was a usual part of our diet. One day, while fishing with Eric, I threw back a small rock cod. A bald eagle sitting in a fir tree high up on the cliff swooped down and snatched that little cod before he got his tail working.  It surprised me because it happened so quickly and the cod had been on the water just a few feet from the back of the boat.  After that we watched our small dog, Wimpy, carefully to make sure she never suffered the same fate.

At night in the cabin in the light of two gas lanterns we talked, read, played dominoes, and the boys and I would try to teach Vic how to tie a bowline knot. For whatever reason we could never get him to learn that most useful knot for sailors. We’d make the squirrel hole, take the end through the hole, around the tree, and back into the squirrel hole again, but it was no use. Actually, it was one of the few things the boys could do that Vic couldn’t and they took some pleasure in their teaching efforts.

When we would go to bed I’d tell the boys long stories about monsters coming up out of the deep water and snatching little kids out of boats or some that would crawl along the ground and sneak through open windows into cabins in deserted areas. James and Eric loved the stories and would demand them even after they were teenagers.

If the cabin ever got too crowded Vic and Thelma would pitch their tent just outside or would stay on their boat on calm nights. We never got in each other’s way and spent many years becoming the best of friends.

Our projects continued. We later purchased lot 9 and decided, on one trip, to find the survey stakes and mark the lines of both lots 5 and 9. It took days of brush cutting, sweat and hard work, but we did it. Why? I’m not sure but it seemed like a good plan at the time.

Once in a while one of our boats would break down but somehow we always managed to survive. We would tow each other back to Anacortes. One time Vic made a gasket for the plunger on my alcohol stove from a round piece of leather he cut from the tongue of one of my hiking boots. We bent and broke propellers.  We had broken water pumps. Vic’s boat flooded and the motor cut out from waves going into an exhaust vent mounted facing forward.  We all thought it was funny when careful Vic slipped and fell in the water while getting from the dingy into his boat. Another time a friend of his was fishing out in front of the property in a dingy. While “going to the bathroom” over the side of the boat, he fell out and couldn’t get back in until Vic returned with the big boat in about an hour. But no one ever really got hurt and we never suffered any serious property damage.

If the weather got too rough we just wouldn’t leave. One Easter Sunday I hiked back to Float City where we had tied our boats because of a bad storm. I maneuvered my boat out of Reed Harbor and tried to get into our cove and the buoy. The waves were huge and for once I felt in danger of tipping, so I just pulled back into Reed and we didn’t leave until Monday. Their classmates back home never believed James and Eric about the storm in the San Juans that caused them to miss a day of school.

The kids were growing fast and when they got into high school they didn’t go up to the island quite as much. Often it would be just Vic, Thelma, Ruth, and me.

I started playing tennis two or three times a week at home and then, in 1981, Ruth and I built a new vacation home down on the beach at Ocean Shores, Washington. I did all the finish work using some of the patience and skills I had learned from Vic. It took at least a year and our weekends were busy. Finally we recognized that the family’s interests were changing. We were all doing other things so, in 1984, we sold the property and the cabin. By that time both boys were in college.

I continued to drive to Renton for lunch with Vic and Thelma occasionally. One day I went out to talk with him about a brand new boat he had just bought. He had been excited when he invited me earlier in the week. When I arrived he was in bed and “really not feeling well”. That was not usual for big strong Vic, even though he was well into his eighties. Within a week he died.  There are many friends remaining who will never forget “Vic’s cabin” and the great fun we had there.

In 1990 I sold the yellow boat. In 1992 Eric worked as a deputy district attorney in Bend, Oregon and began building a 20-foot sailboat so he can sail the San Juan Islands. Maybe, someday, he and James will need a little help building a cabin. 

Jack Richey - 


All rights reserved.(C) 2011 by for Jack Richey