The weather finally broke the other day in Western Washington, bringing cool, overcast skies and a smattering of rain. With Harvey and Irma in the news it may be hard to grasp the fact that there’s a serious drought on the west coast. Even worse, the dry conditions (with human “help”) spawned a tough wildfire season, bringing destruction and death, and a haze of sickening smoke and ash. So a wet forecast is a sweet relief these days, and it didn’t deter us from heading north to Fidalgo Island on Saturday. Our plan was to explore a small peninsula that overlooks the San Juan Islands.
We’re less familiar with this part of the state and we are ever curious, so we kept sharp eyes out for anything unusual as we drove across the island. On the way to the park I glimpsed a vision that was beyond unusual. Only briefly visible from the road, the strange sight appeared, then quickly disappeared. I flashed on some elaborate Hollywood film set. Did I really see a huge, dark hulk of a wooden ship on the shore with a cargo that appeared to be a forest?
Yes, it was an old wooden ship topped with a forest, growing like big hair gone completely wild.
We continued to the park and agreed to check out the strange apparition later – I was pretty sure it wasn’t going anywhere. I was soaked through after wandering along the shore, but the rain felt good, like renewal after two months of dry heat.
The sky was still spitting a thin drizzle when we traced our route back along the shoreline, past the ferries to Canada and the San Juan islands, searching for a way to get closer to the mysterious specter.
We found it – a narrow, gravel road leading down a hill to a shipyard. We knew we might be kicked out at any minute but we drove on anyway. With growing excitement, we parked next to a couple of junked trucks and jumped out. A narrow, overgrown isthmus led straight to the ship, which loomed silently overhead.
By that time we had figured out that this wasn’t a shipwreck, but it was an unorthodox breakwater for the shipyard and marina.
La Merced looks old because it is – it was built one hundred years ago in California. A four-masted schooner with auxiliary power, it sailed up, down and across the Pacific, delivering case oil for Standard Oil and other companies. Just four years into service, the ship was rammed by another boat while at anchor near Alcatraz. It was repaired though, and sailed the Pacific for a few more years before it became a floating fish cannery, working the salmon catch in Alaska. (The link is to an old photo showing La Merced’s four masts behind some cannery buildings).
Meanwhile, an enterprising man from Croatia named Anton Lovric was repairing boats in Anacortes, Washington, 1,572 nautical miles away. Tony Lovric had a colorful life. Born in 1924, he was captured by the Germans during WWII and spent 14 long months in hard labor at Dachau. After he was released, he studied naval architecture and worked in a Croatian shipyard. According to his obituary, he left for Italy in 1958, fearing punishment for his outspoken political views. From Italy he emigrated to the US, eventually arriving in Anacortes, a small northwest port town where he had friends. The place suited him. He married, had five children, and with much hard work and resourcefulness, turned a former seafood processing business into Lovric’s Sea-Craft, a ship repair yard and marina.
Repurposing was second nature to Tony Lovric. In 1966 he bought the 232-foot ship La Merced, to use as a breakwater for his marina. Stripped of its masts, engines, bowsprit and other accouterments, the old ship was brought to Anacortes to begin another chapter in its long life. Set in place, filled with sand and surrounded with rocks, it remains there today. La Merced has now spent half its life out of the water. Not quite on land, but not floating either, she’s like a great beached whale, her skin rough with peeling paint instead of barnacles, her rusted hawse holes keeping watch over the shipyard.
I doubt this old pulley was used for Lovric’s breakwater project, but who knows what it lifted into place over the years? Lovric’s shipyard is still in the family. About ninety percent of their work is done on working boats, not pleasure craft. I like that. On that Saturday afternoon the bottom of a barge was being steam cleaned. Two rather handsome old wooden buildings are used for storage and machining. Boats of every size and shape are docked here, and at least one appears to be lived in.
A tangle of rope, an old winch engine, trucks in various states of disrepair, wild blackberries running through it all…a ladder, a toilet bowl and a volleyball net propped against a metal wall with a dark opening into the overgrown hillside…there is “stuff” everywhere. It makes you drool, to think of all the things you could do with that stuff! Not to mention all the history that might be pried out of this site.
We wondered about the lumber used to build La Merced. Maybe loggers felled those timbers back in the early 1900’s in the mountains just east of Fidalgo Island, mountains visible from the shipyard on a clear day. The logs could have been shipped to California and milled into the long boards needed for La Merced. The boards would have been nailed into place, caulked and pitched and painted, and finally, La Merced would float. She would sail the Pacific, awash in the waters of Australia, Hawaii, Alaska…and finally she would come to rest on Fidalgo Island, where her hull full of sand would support little plants grown from seeds blown in and dropped by birds…and slowly the little plants would become another forest, in an endless round of life.
This post isn’t about a classically scenic place like Mount Rainier, and the photos may leave something to be desired, given the rain that day. But what a sight that massive, century-old ship is! Where once four tall masts held sails that caught distant ocean winds, trees sway in channel breezes. The wood used to build the ship may be slowly rotting, but it’s helping to keep a boat business afloat, it supports an ecosystem that adds to the local flora and fauna, and catches the eyes and imaginations of curious passers by, like me.
Some of these photos are homages of sorts to blogging friends whose work I am always studying. A few people who might be inspirations for these photos are: Al at burnt embers. He often works in film and inspires me to try film effects/colors, like those in the marina shot and the aqua-shuttered building photo. Also Linda at Romancing Reality, who takes masterful photos of dumpster surfaces – she surely inspired the rusty, scratched metal surface photo. Louis, who is accomplished at graphic work and often shoots in maritime locations, inspired the rope photo. Adrian nudges me to make an occasional darker, gutsier image (like the ladder) and experiment with film effects. Otto, whose Instagrams also push me to experiment with effects, probably inspired the silhouetted, smudgy pulley photo. Many others I haven’t named this time (Lisa, “Chill” Adrian, Alan, Hedy, Denise, Ken, Jane, Gunta, Uli, Joshi, Pierre, 125tel, Patti, Dina, etc!) are pushing boundaries and perfecting their visions, inspiring me to do the same. And Linda at The Task at Hand, a far better storyteller than I am, inspires me to try weaving a written tale through my photographs, at least once in a while.