DAVID G. SELLARS ON THE WATERFRONT: Classic yacht stirs memories for Sequim man
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The Northwind in the yard at Platypus Marine Inc. in Port Angeles on Saturday. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
The Northwind at Port Angeles Boat Haven in 2010.
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David G. Sellars/for Peninsula Daily News
Manson Construction’s floating derrick Scandia on the final day of its Port Angeles job at the MV Coho ferry landing.

By David G. Sellars
PDN Maritime Columnist

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It was a reunion of sorts for John Coulson of Sequim.

He drove by Platypus Marine's yard on Marine Drive in Port Angeles and saw the Northwind sitting on the hard.

It was the yacht he worked aboard as a chef for about five months in 1990.

Northwind is a 130-foot, steel-riveted yacht that was built in 1930 by the Monitowoc Shipping Corp. for Charles Martin Clark Jr., a wealthy American industrialist.

For 80 years, the classic fantail yacht traveled the world and hosted her share of celebrities, from the notorious to the rich and famous.

Notable guests included John Profumo, the British diplomat who was forced to resign his cabinet position after becoming entangled with Christine Keeler, the reputed mistress of a Russian spy.

John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy spent time aboard the yacht, and I understand Sir Winston Churchill spent many hours on Northwind's fantail honing his skills as a painter.

During World War II, Northwind was owned by the British government and served as a torpedo-net tender and personnel transport.

She also participated in the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, from May 26 to June 4, 1940, when hundreds of boats of all sizes and description ferried more than 338,000 Allied troops from the harbor and beaches of Dunkirk to waiting naval and merchant ships.

John told me that he grew up on the west side of Bellevue and became a chef.

During his career, he has owned and managed a number of establishments and also worked aboard a couple of yachts.

In late the spring of 1990 — a little more than a year after the Exxon Valdez oil spill — John was plying his trade in Jackson Hole, Wyo., when he received a call offering him the opportunity to go aboard Northwind as the chef.

The University of Alaska had chartered the yacht to do oil-spill research around Kodiak Island and Katmai National Park, and the yacht's agent was looking to fill the crew.

To say that John jumped at the chance would be a bit of a soft sell because within 24 hours of speaking with the agent, he had flown to Seward, Alaska, via Seattle and Anchorage, and was onboard Northwind setting up the galley and ordering in stores.

The University of Alaska had 17 scientists aboard who were tasked with determining the effects of the oil spill on the ecology.

John said their methodology was to go into a bay that was free of oil and take samples of the water and surrounding tidal areas. The yacht would then move on to a contaminated bay or inlet, where samples would be drawn for comparison and conclusions drawn.

During the five months the Northwind was chartered to the university, John and the crew circumnavigated Kodiak Island three times.

John said that some of the seas they encountered were pretty rough and that, in his opinion, the yacht was out of her element.

He added that in addition to an uncomfortable snap-roll, there was an occasion in Shelikof Strait when the seas were particularly rough, and he saw the bow twist to port and the stern twist to starboard.

John shared his trepidation with the captain and was told that had Northwind been welded steel, she could have come apart.

But because she was riveted, there was enough flex available for the vessel to absorb the stress.

John added that while the scientists were doing their work, he would often spend time with the one archaeologist on the voyage who spent a fair amount of time hiking in Katmai National Park.

John said it was like walking through the pages of a National Geographic magazine, and that occasionally he reaches back into the recesses of his mind to thumb through that chapter of his life.

Job completed

Manson Construction's floating derrick Scandia left Port Angeles on Friday headed for the company's facilities in Seattle.

The 160-ton crane was used to demolish the timeworn western portion of the dock used by the motor vehicle and passenger ferry MV Coho.

Scandia also was used to drive new pilings for the replacement dock and was hoisting new decking in place as recently as Thursday afternoon.

Although Scandia typically can be found working in the Puget Sound area, she also has seen duty in Canada, along the Oregon and California coasts, and as far away as Hawaii.

Returning this week

Speaking of the Coho, the venerable ferry is due back in service Thursday morning at 8:20 a.m.

The 54-year-old symbol of the Port Angeles-Victoria route has been in Anacortes to undergo annual maintenance since
Jan. 21, as we outlined in a previous column [see http://tinyurl.com/waterfront20.]

As before, cars, passengers and the Customs and Border Protection inspectors are temporarily using the east side of the landing while the west side is rebuilt.

Membership drive

The Dungeness branch of the Fleet Reserve Association is again working to expand its reach by conducting a membership drive.

The FRA is the leading voice of enlisted sea-service personnel on Capitol Hill since 1924.

The association's membership comprises current and former enlisted members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

In addition to its legislative-advocacy efforts, FRA assists its members with career problems by maintaining close liaison with the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and other government agencies.

According to Martin Arnold, secretary of the Dungeness FRA branch, new members will have their annual dues for the first year paid by the local chapter.

Informal lunch meetings are held the first Saturday of each month at 11 a.m. at the appropriately named Mariner Cafe, 707 E. Washington St., Sequim.

For more information about membership, phone Martin at 360-460-7940 or send him an email at kc7equ@arrl.net.

Port Angeles Harbor filler-up

Tesoro Petroleum's refueling barge was busy in Port Angeles Harbor last week fueling the big ships that come calling.

On Monday, Tesoro bunkered Lord, a 620-foot bulk-cargo carrier that is flagged in Panama.

The refueling barge Tuesday was alongside American Progress, a 600-foot oil tanker that is due in Valdez, Alaska, today in plenty of time for the crew to watch the San Francisco 49ers win their sixth Super Bowl game.

Tesoro on Wednesday provided bunkers to Kriti Ruby, a 600-foot petroleum tanker that is now under way to Rosarito, Mexico.

On Saturday, Tesoro was scheduled to refuel British Beech, a 787-foot oil tanker that is on her way from Panama to Valdez for a load of crude.

Today, harbor-watchers can see Tesoro's scheduled bunkering of Nord Independence, a 590-foot petroleum-products carrier that made the journey to Port Angeles from the Marsden Point oil refinery near Whangarei, New Zealand.


David G. Sellars is a Port Angeles resident and former Navy boatswain's mate who enjoys boats and strolling the waterfront.

Items involving boating, port activities and the North Olympic Peninsula waterfronts are always welcome.

Email dgsellars@hotmail.com or phone him at 360-808-3202.

His column, On the Waterfront, appears Sundays.

Last modified: February 02. 2013 6:47PM
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