Article

 March 10, 2016   Savannah McKenzie
From the August 1987 issue of 48° North
By Griffith H. Williams

Discovery-boat-photo1“Toss oars!” ordered the man at the tiller. Ten oars each eleven and a half feet long rose above the gunwales.

“Let fall the oars!” The ten sweeps dropped smoothly into position by their thole pins.

“Make way!” Ten eager backs bent, ten blades bit the water and Discovery’s Launch lept forward. As the union jack of England snapped in the breeze the launch’s crew fell into an old shanty:

“Rolling home, rolling home,
Rolling home across the sea…”

Does the above description come from the pages of a seaman’s journal kept in 1792 by a crew member of Captain George Vancouver’s Discovery? Not hardly. These events took place this spring at Whaler Bay Boat Yard, on Galiano Island, BC. The launch, a reconstruction of the boat that Vancouver and Lieutenant Peter Puget used to explore the waters of Puget Sound, was built by Greg Foster for the newly formed Pure Sound Society.

The new Discovery’s Launch is intended to be as much of a work boat as her predecessor. Her owner, the Vashon Island based Pure Sound Society, is an environmental education organization. Discovery’s Launch is their floating classroom. From her thwarts students will receive an intimate view of the Puget Sound estuary. In addition to learning about our marine environment, participants will find their seamanship and teamwork skills enhanced. (If all ten oars don’t work together the launch doesn’t go anywhere.)

Discovery’s Launch is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful classrooms that you will sit in. She is 25 feet overall, with a beam of 7 feet. The launch is a clinker planked with Douglas fir on single sawn cedar frames, copper and bronzed fastened. She proudly wears the traditional verdigris green Discovery-boat-photo2bottom, white topsides and black sheer strake of the Royal Navy. Her insides are finished with pine tar and tongue oil. She is powered by ten oars, double banked. Winds permitting, two 125 square foot sails can be hoisted on standing lug yards. Shipwright Foster points out that Discovery’s Launch is technically a shallop, an open boat that can be rowed or sailed and is rigged with one mast forward and a second mast amidships.

The Pure Sound Society and Discovery’s Launch found inspiration in another beautiful wooden boat belonging to an environmental group. The sloop Clearwater, owned and operated by citizens along New York’s Hudson River, is a replica of a nineteenth century centerboard sloop. The Clearwater was built, to a large degree, thanks to the work of folksinger/social activist Pete Seeger. The sloop takes children or adult groups out onto the river. Ecology and history lessons are designed to enhance the river’s value in the eyes of the day sailors. The whole purpose of the boat is to remind people that the river was, and can again be, something more than an industrial sewer.

Seeger, who wrote “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” was so enthusiastic about the Clearwater idea spreading to the Pacific Northwest that he came to Seattle and took part in a Pure Sound Society fundraising concert on May 20 [1987]. The next day Seeger and other dignitaries, including Kathy Fletcher, chairperson of the Puget Sound Water Authority, rowed Discovery’s Launch across Lake Union to symbolize the inauguration of a new phase of environmental education. Just before stepping into the launch, Seeger said, “We’re at the beginning of a very big revival, not just in wooden boats, but in Puget Sound itself.”Discovery-boat-p-1

There are several reasons why a replica of HMS Discovery’s Launch was chosen to be the vehicle for the Pure Sound Society. To begin, there is symbolism. Discovery was the first European ship to enter Puget Sound. Her launch was the first vessel of European origins to land here. In 1792, Vancouver was searching for the Northwest Passage. His intentions were to sail up the west coast of North America and turn right at each and every opening. In this way, he felt sure, the passage to the Atlantic could not be missed. His confidence must have been somewhat shaken when he found out that the Discovery had failed to locate and investigate the Columbia River. Though frustrated in their search for the Northwest Passage, Vancouver’s crew prepared wonderfully accurate charts of the regions where they had explored. Lieutenant Peter Puget would set out in one of the ship’s launches to gather the data needed by the ship’s cartographer, Lieutenant Joseph Baker. Because the original Discovery’s Launch first charted our waters, the Pure Sound Society felt as if it would be fitting to use a reconstruction of the vessel to chart the environmental status of the same waters.

A second reason for using the launch has to do with her seaworthiness, as provided by Captain William Bligh, of HMS Bounty. The Bounty, whose crew mutinied in 1789, carried ship’s launches nearly identical to those of Vancouver’s Discovery. After the mutiny, Bligh and 18 other men were put into a launch near Tofoa, in the Friendly Islands. Bligh successfully navigated the open boat 3,618 miles to Timor,Discovery-boat-p-2 in the Dutch East Indies. This feat of seamanship conclusively proved that the 25 foot long combination rowing and sailing craft was as stout and seaworthy as any vessel afloat. While the Pure Sound Society does not plan anything as rigorous as a 3,618 mile passage, they are strongly committed to wind and oar power. The intimate relationship that a Pure Sound participate forges with Puget Sound would be dulled by the roar of an engine.

Central to all Pure Sound Society projects are Brad Wetmore and Doug Dolstad, Executive Directors. These two men have the background to successfully meet their goal of enhancing our local population’s understanding of Puget Sound’s environmental status. Both Wetmore and Dolstad grew up in households emphasizing outdoor education. Brad’s father taught at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound Steamship school in Maine. Doug’s parents founded the Student Conservation Association, an organization that takes teenagers into the National Parks for summertime work. Each young man spent four years volunteering with their respective parents’ organizations before moving on to their own projects. After several years of bluewater cruising, Dolstad has earned his skippers license. Wetmore, no land-lubber, served as first mate aboard the 70 foot sloop Ruben de Cloux. Outdoor education and sailing aren’t the only qualification that Wetmore and Dolstad can boast of. Wetmore received his Masters Degree in Environmental Planning from Antioch University, Seattle. Dolstad took his Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science Education from Huxley’s College in Bellingham. In addition, both Brad and Doug have taught high school in Washington State. Recently, the two men underwent training with the Seattle Public Aquarium’s Adopt-a-Beach staff. Just for the record, Brad Wetmore has Red Cross water safety and life saving and live saving certification.

Discovery-boat-cover-1987During the spring and autumn, the Pure Sound Society intends to aim its programs towards adults. In the summer months expeditions are geared towards teenagers. Each expedition will undertake a particular shoreline conservation project. One of the activities scheduled for this year is the mapping of eel grass communities south of Point Defiance. Eel grass is an indicator species; its health or level of contamination suggests the vitality of the surrounding vicinity.

It is uncanny to see such an obviously old, yet sparkling new vessel as Discovery’s Launch. Moving along with her double banked oars or loose footed lugsails, she seems to be the image of a day gone by. But when the launch approaches and the song of her crew tolls across the waters, it becomes evident that she is where she belongs in time and place.