Opinion

Bainbridge liveaboards deserve a better fate | Guest Column | Dec. 10

It has long been said that history repeats itself.

Recently, when our region was assaulted by the first freezing storm and boats were set dragging in Eagle Harbor, Dave Ullin, reluctant island icon, rescued a young mother and her baby from drifting into the shipping lanes after her boat broke loose from its mooring.

He somehow managed to lasso the ungainly, 30-plus-foot vessel and secure it to his tug in the midst of a freezing, howling gale under oar power alone.

I thought it heroic enough of me to get up and lash the halyards frapping against Old Hand’s mast.

Here’s a story told by Jo (Monk) Helman, daughter of Bainbridge’s most influential boat designer, Ed Monk Sr., of an event in the 1920s aboard the Ann Saunders. It was recorded by Bet Oliver in her biography “Ed Monk and the Tradition of Classic Boats.”

“We were anchored in Winslow ...my father commuted to work on the passenger steamer, in fact he stayed in Seattle overnight. The wind came up one night and we were adrift in the dark. I wonder what my mother was thinking, alone in the boat with two small girls? In the harbor was an old sailing boat, The Conqueror, and living aboard was Captain Hershey... He became aware of our troubles and tied us to his ship. ”

Though separated by some 80 years, these tales of heroism occurred in the same harbor. Perhaps, the same fierce northwesterly raged with a similar intensity and broke loose boats that even experienced sailors thought securely moored. Nature has a say in this drama, and no one knew better than Captain Hershey the imperious dictates of a northwesterly gale to set, even a consummate mariner like Ed Monk, adrift.

Captain Hershey was one of the more colorful characters in our island’s celebrated maritime history. He went on to become consultant with MGM in the production of Hollywood sea epics such as “Captain’s Courageous” and “Mutiny on the Bounty.”

Sometimes, in its bewildering interweaving of past/present, heroes/villains, fact and fiction, life resembles a vast Hollywood production. It’s difficult to know what to believe or how to interpret “hard facts”.

These two tales of heroism are true.

But I wonder at our collective grasp of reality when it can be so distorted that Dave must live under threat of eviction for “trespass” simply because he chooses, like our venerable Hershey and Monk, to live on the water.

I am told to accept that we live in different times. That may be, but is it progress when Dave’s heroic and selfless actions are met with the threat of banishment?

This is an example of the absurdity at which we arrive by a stolid adherence to the letter of the law, and when the arcane convolutions of our legal system become so ponderous as to threaten those very citizens it claims to protect.

To force unseaworthy boats out of one of our few safe anchorages during the harsh winter season is the height of irresponsibility.

Whether these boats ought to be seaworthy is another matter. That fact remains that many are not. And I would think few would like to have on their conscience the responsibility for the bad end that would result: a hefty bill for salvage, rescue, or, God forbid, death.

Living on Eagle Harbor has always been a part of Bainbridge Island’s heritage. Its preservation is still part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan and is supported by a majority of islanders.

Why can’t COBI arrive at a workable arrangement with DNR? Both seem to wish to avoid taking responsibility for this unseasonable eviction of our historic community and we are caught in a bewildering web of contradictions.

Imagine what might have happened if Monk’s family had no safe anchorage, no Captain Hersey, no Conqeror. The world might be quite different.

It may have had a devastating impact on Monk’s career, and the world would never had known the boats Ed designed for the builder of modest means, and the vessels built expressly for that colorful, sometimes unseemly class of citizen, the liveaboard.

Craig Spencer is an artist who has lived in Eagle Harbor since 1997 and works as a landscaper.

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