Monday, October 26, 2009

Chapter 11: Welcome back to the U.S. of A. Roche Harbour

That beautiful dawn over Ganges Harbour gave way to a brisk norwesterly breeze and with our visit to the market wrapped up the sailing vessel AQUILA hauled the anchor and set sail for the United States, more specifically the Customs & Immigration dock in Roche Harbour on San Juan Island. It was a delightful, if rollicky, downwind sail out of Canada. From AQUILA'S boat journal: "1144:hours, Saturday 09.26.09; 60* in the sunshine; winds NW 10 to 12 knots; tracking 128* out of Ganges Hbr. toward Channel Islands. Love the sound of wind waves lapping the hull & the play of sunlight as the vessel pitches & yaws to wind & wave. Tis a fine way to depart the nautical island village of Ganges."
We'll pick it up on this map format again; back in the San Juans'. Given we are in-bound from Canada, we are not allowed to anchor or have contact with other vessels in United States waters until clearing customs, thus our destination Roche Harbor. But given that we have to visit Roche the plan is to take in a sight neither Cathy or I have seen - the "Colors Ceremony"

From the Roche Harbor brochure:

"Each evening at Roche Harbor, a very special ceremony takes place just before sunset. "The Colors Ceremony" is a nightly tradition throughout the summer season is highly revered by all who work at — and visit — Roche Harbor.
The Retirement of the Colors can be viewed and heard from almost anywhere in the harbor. The ceremony is taken very seriously by our employees and has been a tradition at Roche Harbor since the summer of 1957. It is a non-military ceremony formulated by the late Reuben J. Tarte who bought the property in 1956."
Here is an aerial view of Roche Harbor from a stock photo I found on-line. The harbor is on San Juan Island. Orcas Island is in the background and if one looks closely Mount Baker is visible in this image in the distance.

For my good friend Wheeler (boat builder & boat follower) whose family built a cabin on the west side of Pearl Island, I've included this chart copy. As can be seen on this chart, Pearl is one of the primary islands guarding Roche Harbor from wind, waves and tidal currents.
I placed the red X on the chart to illustrate the location of the Rocha Harbor Marina. AQUILA anchored off a bit to the west of the X.

Catherine caught this image (and some video) of the Colors Ceremony.

A little history here:

Haro Strait, the body of water dividing the United States from the Canadian, Vancouver Island, derives its name from this Spanish explorer, Captain de Haro, who led one of the first European explorations of the San Juan Islands in 1787. Fast forward to 1845, four years before the California Gold Rush, the Canadian based Hudson's Bay Company posted a notice of possession on San Juan Island, and built a log trading post at the head of Roche Harbor on the northwest shoulder of the island. This didn't necessarily sit well with the American traders & settlers moving west. By 1857, three years before the first shots of the Civil War, both the government of the United States & that of Canada, were claiming the San Juan Islands as property. A little known 13 year dispute arose over the western end of the boundary between British and American territory. Fortunately the dispute lay dormant during the Civil War, but by 1871 the United States and Great Britain selected Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm to arbitrate the dispute. In 1872, Wilhelm awarded possession of the San Juan Islands to the United States. The dispute is commonly referred to as THE PIG WAR. For more info go to:

Okay, back to the now (or a bit closer to it)... Catherine in the gardens of the marina with Hotel de Haro as the backdrop. We were hanging out awaiting the 'Colors Ceremony".

The old lime kilns of Roche Harbor: Photo by Catherine Brown:

These great, continuous feed kilns which look so rustic now were "state of the art" in their time and replaced older far less efficient beehive style kilns. Following the destruction by the San Francisco 1906 earthquake and resulting fires; much of the city was rebuilt using mortar and concrete produced from Roche Harbor lime. The kilns are built of layers of masonry brick work, native stone, and massive logs. Backed by a tall cliff these great furnaces were loaded from the top, eventually spilling out the refined lime from metal hoppers which can still be seen inside the lower vaulted chambers.

Here's a complete view of one of the two large, standing kilns.
Producing lime was no easy task in the early 1900s. Additionally the industry had a profound effect on San Juan Island and it's environment. The kilns were wood fired hot enough to evaporate off the water from the raw, crushed lime. Some workers of the time described the kilns as "hotter than the fires of hell" as the temperatures reached nearly 2,000 degrees, day & night, for 11 months of the year. Cutting kiln fire wood resulted in vast sections of the forested islands being clearcut. The resulting erosion stripped soils from the uplands, the wetlands filled, and productive shellfisheries lost. Fortunately nature has a way of healing her wounds and today the forests are returning, some bays have abundant shellfish, and the uplands support vital plant environs.
Gardens, gardens everywhere and quite enjoyable to stroll through.
Catherine in the gardens of Hotel de Haro.

One of the walks we took this trip was new to us both. Catherine guided us to the Westcott Bay Reserve Sculpture Park. Which is where I caught this image of the sea otters playing before the pond.

Cathy Lou on a carved bench in the Westcott Reserve Sculpture Park. From their website: "The Sculpture Park at Westcott Bay Reserve is a nineteen-acre microcosm of the San Juan ecology: forests, meadows, freshwater wetlands, saltwater wetlands, and rocky outcroppings. The trails throughout the Reserve are interspersed with interpretative displays about nature and a rotating exhibit of over 100 sculptures, creating an outdoor museum for all ages. Sculptures include works in bronze, stone, wood, metal, glass and ceramic by noted artists from the Pacific Northwest."

I have to say, while our photos are good they don't come close to doing justice to these amazing works of art. This 'Otter with Frogs" is over four feet in length, three feet tall and a fantastic piece of work. If ever you visit Roche Harbor I certainly suggest setting aside a couple of hours for a walk in this most interesting park.

I'll close with this image by Catherine Brown...
The next chapter or 12th installment will be the last of this 2009 AQUILA Cruise. Even in looking forward to bringing this phase of the FIREWATER blog to a close I'll admit it has been a fun project to undertake. So...
Keep a weather eye peeled for that last & final piece of the tale...

Westcott Bay Reserve Sculpture Park:

If you'd like to know more about this general area go to:
Roche Harbor Marina:

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