The Summer I Learned to Sail

Or — The Singular Voyage of the “Burlap Maid”

It was 1946. The Pacific war ended in 1945 and the US Army Q Launch Mardo was returned to the Stroud family of Seattle.  I was fourteen years old.

It was spring in Seattle when my sister Lois returned one Sunday after church with a young man attired in a US Marine uniform in tow. He claimed he noticed her in church because she had this jaunty pink hat on, and after leaving the service, strictly by chance; they arrived at the same bus stop and boarded the same bus to Ballard. They talked during the ride and she invited him to Sunday dinner. Barrie Stroud was 19, four years older than my sister. A mutual infatuation went on throughout the summer but faded as the ex- marine started collage. There was mutual good will between our families and Barrie Stroud continued to stop by and visit with my family for a number of years and both mothers kept in touch at Christmas for even longer.

Mardo Today

Tide Out

Tide In    Left top is the M V Mardo as she appears today!

The two shore views are at high and low tide from the North

looking to the South West and Shelton.




Looking North over the Mill complex and harbor of the city of Shelton, Washington. The tall prominent smokestacks that that could be seen from miles down the inlet are long gone!


However this was a wonderful summer for me as I was to be Lois’s  ‘chaperone’ on a series of educational events. I was invited to ride along with Barrie and a brother to a Duwamish river marine shop where the Stroud family yacht ‘Mardo’ still wearing grey Navy paint, was being refurbished and repainted. {On a later occasion my older brother Eric and I visited the Stroud machine shop there and saw the manufacturing of a variety of diesel engine parts and devices} Also along with Lois I visited the family residence where we met Mr. and Mrs. Stroud and several more sons. Eventually a visit to their summer house near Shelton developed and again I was to accompany my sister.

I travelled by car in the back seat with a Stroud son Wendy, about my age, over nameless roads and through masses of trees until we turned into a property where a new road was being bulldozed and the responsible “D7 Cat” was pushing dirt into a gulley to create a dam to provide an increased water supply for the property. Many acres of giant Douglas firs as big as six feet across lay scattered about having been felled the previous week by a logging crew. The family had gathered to move the trees into the ‘saltchuk’ and boom them up into rafts to sell to the nearby Shelton lumber mill. Lucky was Sister Lois to have travelled aboard the Mardo while I only got to visit aboard while she was moored in front of the beach front property on Hammersley Inlet that connects Shelton Mills to Puget Sound.

The Stroud summer home close to the beach was comfortable and fitted together as various modifications of a long standing small house well suited to summer weather. Breezes blew through screen doors and on awaking in the morning was a chilly shock when uncovering in the small alcove off the hall we younger boys were assigned. For meals we gathered all at a big table with plenty of room for adding my sister and me although I don’t remember sitting next to her. Barrie was on one side of Lois, with his mother on the other. Mr. and Mrs. Stroud were pleasant and sociable and I remember some questions about our family history being asked.  I think Lois helped to cushion Mrs. Stroud’s son surplus. There was a good bit of banter between father and sons teasing and challenging and a real discussion about what was to be the work for this day. Two sons were dispatched on Mardo to gather up some boom logs and make sure there were boom chains available.The rest of the males would drive the Caterpillar, set choker cables around the logs and haul the log to the tidal beach below the house. When the Cat couldn’t go any closer the cable was taken off and the Cat turned the log and it rolled into the water. The boom was already in place to keep the logs together. As the tide came in, the logs were mover farther out and new boom logs added. I learned that the boom logs all had six inch holes through each end fixed with a big heavy ‘boom’ chain to join the log ends together making a square raft and were stamped with an ownership brand. I also was shown how each log the Stroud’s brought to the beach was stamped with their registered branding hammer on each end. Later I was told about log stealing and shown a thin slice of a branded log that had floated up on the beach indicating log poachers were at work.

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A close look at the design of the Boom Chain!                      Piles of tangled chains! Lots of weight here!

In the torn up forest area of cut timber I watched as the big D8Cat backed up to each downed log and was hooked to a big steel choker cable that had been worked under the log and back over the top and made into a noose around the log. The Cat would start forward and the choker would slide then bite into the bark as the noose tightened. I had experienced being in the woods before where trees were cut into logs but I had never been as close to the action as this work was putting me. I even tried riding on top of the tail of a slow moving log as it was drawn out of the ’slash’ lying over what had been a forest now lying open to the sky. Staying on top proved hazardous and needless to say when that log changed direction so did I to wind up tossed into the battered under growth. Years later while attempting to do the same thing an 18 year old cousin, Ken, was killed on his first week working in the woods in Canada.

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That Boom Chain ring wasn’t just a handle!
Floating Logs
Big Logs float to a plywood future!

New Boom Logs

Logs piled on the beach await the incoming tide to rearrange them into the floating boom.

Back in 1946 my Uncle Henry was actively participating in chopping and sawing competitions and so I had been to a number of logging shows in Washington and British Columbia where area loggers still rode the ‘Crummies’ into the woods daily.

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                                                 These days the logging shows have gone into the world of entertainment and girls with light dancing feet are making old guys easily fall off. On a smooth, fast rolling log the two suspendered guys are tested to beating each other to the fall.

There were similar hazards in the log booming operation as I was only acquiring the rudimentary logger’s skill on bare feet and as easy as it was to get any of those floating logs rolling no matter the size, staying on top was a very much learned technique. The smaller logs bounce as they spin with not a lot of effort and dunks into the salt water got less frequent with each ride. The huge’ butt’ logs were the greater challenge as they were very heavy and to get one to roll completely over took much rocking back and forth before it ponderously began to rotate in what was not the quick dance of its lesser parts. Instead the monster produced action upon its neighbor which also began to rock back and forth as well and the two began a tango as the rotation speed slowly increased unfortunately to the point where my bare toes lost their magic ballet and I plunged into the space between the massive logs. I was lucky to plunge deep when I went down because I had just started my turn to rise to the surface when through the water vibrated the deep bell sound of the logs striking each other as they closed the space I had fallen through. Those logs continued to rock and bounce for many minutes and I had to swim to a boom log to climb out. I have often in my senior years though of this fall between the logs and what other sort of ending it could have had, but 1946 was not my time. Eventually the logs were all in the water and a tug boat came by and the log raft was taken way to the west and the Simpson mill.

One of the final mornings had little to offer as new entertainment as the Cat was piling the slash to burn in the fall so Wendy and I were messing with the two rowboats and found the old, heavy red one had provisions to ‘step’ a mast. We imagined how if we could find a pole the right size to fit it into the hole in the seat and down into the hole in the short board mounted under the seat. I’m not sure but I think we shaved and chopped a bit to get the pole we chose to fit and become a MAST! But now that we had a mast alas we had no sail. There was no canvas or cloth of adequate size in the garage or sheds sufficient to reach the top of our six foot mast but we did find an ample supply of gunny sacks which had a loose enough stitching that we were able to undo them and eventually laid 3 flat on the ground and both cogitated a bit on how to turn them into a sail. It was nails, salvaged from old boards that did the job as we pinned the burlap together in the approximate shape. The old nails worked better than new because they were rough and stayed in place.

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The Red rowboat was cedar planked and a combination of these two simple flats!

SAIL cloth!  Gunny sacks!

Down to the shore we went again taking along all the short rope we could round up and with these bits tied the point of the sail to the top of the mast. The same went for the bottom and maybe a point in between. We didn’t even consider that a boom was necessary and simply gathered the lower corner in a knot and tied a longer bit of rope around it tightly. One of the oars became our rudder as we tried sailing away from the shore and only made lazy moves in a southward direction across the breadth of Hammersley Inlet; but nearing the center of the 1/4 mile wide inlet we found the breeze and turned west to enjoy the sound of water boiling under the boat. The wind from the east was steady and kept the burlap sail filled as we made sailing history helped by the five knot tide that flows in and out Hammersley Inlet twice each day. Sooner then we could have imagined we were approaching the tall chimney that marked the Simpson Mill in Shelton. I don’t remember if it was the rumble in our tummies or we got a time signal from a mill whistle but suddenly we realized that we were three miles from the house and the evening meal. We turned the boat around and each took an oar and began to row. And row we did as it took far longer to return to the starting beach just beyond the lighthouse point with the wind from the east and the tidal current still flowing into the inlet at its usual speed of 5 miles an hour. It is needless to say we were late for dinner. And then instead of the expected desert, the family joined with a will to advise and council these errant lads with timely advice deemed necessary prevent possible future lapses in common sense as to; boating safety, maturity, responsibility and self-improvement with a lecture titled “What were you thinking?”

Hammersley Inlet Map Ribbon 2

In the dawn of the next day there was no evidence that the Burlap Maid had ever made her voyage as the two cadets had found nothing but the plain red rowboat, no carefully crafted sailing gear could be found. The word might have been passed that the always ruthless log poachers had been at work.

I remember if there ever was a day marked with multiple lessons this was it. First was that Hammersley Inlet is the home of tides to be reckoned with, even by the big power boats, especially when going against the flow. Another lesson is the extent to which parents get pissed off when the younger boys, even aspiring sailors, are late for dinner. Last but not least is that just about any type of sail, even one made of burlap sacks, will make a boat move at boil producing speeds as long as you are pointed down wind and going with the flow but such a rigging is totally inadequate to make any headway upwind on the return trip. Because of these lessons any boat I have sailed since has had a proper rudder, a boom at the bottom of the sail and motive power with fuel and spark plug.

Even 67 years later this looks much like house of 1946 and behind the house the path the logs were hauled to the beach.

Old Roy

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