Bishop’s Wake

athaniel Holmes Bishop III was born in Medford, Massachusetts, on March 23 1827, and died in Glens Falls New York, July 2, 1902. In his time, he was quite well known for books he had written about his travels in small boats. I first heard about him, quite by accident, in the spring of 1982. . . .


I made my first crossing in 1965, when I was 12 years old, and while it didn’t shape history, it shaped me. I had bought a flat-bottomed skiff from a kid who lived a block away from the home in Edmonds, Washington, where I grew up. I paid $15 for it, a few weeks’ worth of my allowance. I don’t know who built the boat, probably some a penny-pinching amateur, because the plywood that made up the hull was textured and meant for house siding. The boat was too heavy for me to cart the half mile from home to the shore of Puget Sound, let alone drag over busy railroad tracks to get to the beach. Dad let me keep the boat at the Edmonds marina alongside his 27’ Tumlaren sloop. He also let me use his 5-½ hp Johnson SeaHorse outboard on one condition: I had to stay close to shore.

What’s in your PFD pocket?

The PFD I’ve been using for the past several years is the Guide model from Kōkatat. It does much more than keep me afloat. It has a top-loading electronics pocket on the right, a side-loading, stretchy mesh pocket on the left, and small top-loading pocket on the inside of the left side; all of the pockets have rings sewn-in to anchor tethers. The two lash tabs on the front of the PFD and one on the back provide places to mount gear on the outside of the PFD. There are retroreflective patches on the front and back for night search visibility.

Standing Water

The shapes moving across the surface could hardly be called waves. There were no discernible patterns, only random mounds and hollows that changed so quickly that the water couldn’t keep pace. Waves heaved upward in tall steep-sided pyramids that turned into ropey fathom-tall columns of silvery water suspended for a moment in midair. Spike waves. When they fell, they slipped downward, intact for a moment, and then disintegrated into white froth.

Testing One’s Metal

It wasn’t until I moved to Washington, D.C. and landed a job at the Smithsonian Institution that I learned I could do more with metal. I was hired by the National Museum of African Art as an exhibits specialist, part of the crew making display cases and installing artifacts. For a few weeks I assisted contract workers brought in to make mounts to support the objects that would be put display. They used brass rod and flat-bar, annealing it to make it pliable and joining pieces with silver solder with an air-acetylene torch. I learned a lot watching them work, and after they left I did much of the mount-making for the museum.

Caring for Tools

Hanging on a pegboard is a 10” steel spring-joint divider, the very first tool I bought in 1977 when I decided to build a boat and needed to tool up for lofting a dory skiff. I bought the divider for $6 in a second-hand tool store. The store occupied a two-story clapboard building that was torn down decades ago and replaced with a welding supply store; that was torn down and replaced with a pumphouse for one of Seattle’s new sewer mains. The divider has a brass ball on the end of the screw and a threaded brass knob for adjusting the span. The knob spins so freely that it’ll travel a full inch along the screw if I give it a good flick with my thumb. Every time I use it I see my 24-year-old self, looking for a direction to take in life, and finding one in boats.

Wagner Education Center

The building has over 9,000 sq ft on its two floors, tripling the space CWB has to work with. The walls are a bit of fir-plywood heaven. Over 700 sheets of it were prefinished by volunteers, edges gently rounded and faces given a clear finish. The floor upstairs is cork; on the main level it is concrete, except for the boatshop. There two layers of 1-1/2″ plywood have been recessed to be flush with the concrete floor. The plywood is kinder to tools accidentally dropped and provides an easily renewed surface when the top layer is worn out. The combined 3″ thickness of plywood is a good base for boatbuilding forms that need to be screwed down.

Phil Thiel’s Workshop

Sitting on ledge near the drafting table is a stack of paper models: a tombstone-transom dory at left and a double ender sitting in a pram. The two at the bottom are for the 5’7″ Skiffcycle, one of the smallest of Phil’s “pedal-powered boats for the flâneur-afloat” and designed for a commercial Sea-Cycle drive. Phil’s graph plotting boat speed and pedal rpm shows the Skiffcycle reaching 5 1/2 mph, though Phil, a flâneur himself, wouldn’t dream of rushing about at such a pace, missing all of the sights, sounds, and scents to be taken in at a more leisurely pace. On at least one occasion, he furrowed his brow when I told him I usually paddled my kayak at 6 mph.


The steam launch E. SCOTT HAMMOND is just one of the many boats John has built. Its lines were inspired by a Karl Stambaugh cruiser that John scaled down to half for an electric launch, then stretched to 18’ for the HAMMOND, launched in 2009, which was initially diesel powered and then converted to steam on 2016. The switch was one John was destined to make; his father worked with a logging crew in the Washington forests and ran a steam donkey, a powerful seething machine with a tall boiler and a powerful winch, all mounted on a pair of hip-high log skids.

The Blind Side

I row and paddle year-round along the city’s ship canal. There’s a 7-knot, no-wake zone all along its 7-1/2-mile length, and during the summer, especially on weekends, the canal sees a lot of pleasure-boat traffic, the majority of it power boats. Most abide by the limit and trail a rolling corrugated fan of waves. If I’m paddling my kayak and taking an oncoming boat’s wake head on, I’m through in a few strokes without breaking cadence.

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