Escargot Build 21

Excargot Builders log – Skagit River Year Two

We awoke to a misty morning, grey and unseasonably cold. The forecasters were wrong again. Here in the Northwest the weather forecasters seem to have about the same “batting average” as a pretty good ball player. I recall reading an ariticle about a local tv weather forecaster who said he came to the Northwest for the sheer challenge our weather presented. I’m glad that at my work I bat higher than .333 or so. At least I would like to think I do.

Despite the rain that was running just ahead of the intermittent wipers Alex was excited. Our last trip had been a wonderful success, and this new river seemed to offer even more.

The Skagit River splits into two major forks, the North Skagit and the South, although there is a sizeable central river as well. There are no major cities anywhere on the river, but there are three smaller cities clustered together at what amounted to the end of the navigable portion of the river, for steamboats of any size anyway.

Mount Vernon, Burlington, and Sedro Wooley are all near the launch point for our trip.

Sedro Wolley has the wildest reputation for me, although I have my doubts that this is still so. My mother taught at the old Clear Lake School. There was one teacher for each grade for first thru 8th. All the teachers were older women, my mother was in her early 20’s. She had a war emergency certificate, going back to get her 4th and 5th year in after the war. The principal was very strict. The boys at times could get a little boistrous and he would call them in. The principal was a farmer and used to discipline. He had a paddle hanging on the wall behind the door. He wasn’t shy about using it. Schools were more rigid and strict in those days. Mr. Johnson had the respect and appreciation of the teachers. The school was a two story building, the tallest in the area, white with a pergola with a bell on top. The kids were polite but some of the kids were getting pretty well on in years by the time the had repeated a few grades and made it to the eigth grade. Many were getting pretty well whiskered by the end of their stay at Clear Lake School.

Sedro Wolley couldn’t escape many of the problems the big cities were having just a few years after the great depression. There were still many homeless men. Some were loggers burned out of work by a fire from a steam donkey. Others were casualties of the harsh working conditions of the loggers. If you were injured you were out of work. Those that could afford it spent their nights in a run down boarding house. Most slept in the back corner of a barn or tool shed, or perhaps in the mounds of hay in the good weather. In the morning as Mr. Johnson and his teachers arrived for school they found one of the homeless men prostrate against the fence in front of the school sleeping off a rough night. Alcohol was the only escape for many of these men so his presence in front of the school was not common, but it wasn’t unexpected. Eventually, trying to wake the man in tattered clothes on the schools front fence became good fun for the kids. Each recess they yelled and tossed pebbles at him, but he didn’t show any signs of being ready to meet the day. As school ended one of the older kids, on a dare, gave the man a nudge as he walked by. As he fell over his tattered jacket fell open and his hat fell off. He was a bloody mess. He wasn’t just dead to the world, he was dead. While the cause of death was clear the reason for his stabbing was never determined, not that the sheriff tried to hard. <

Sedro Wooley was also home to the states mental hospital. In those days there wasn’t much to be done for the sorry souls who inhabited it. Most who left were carried out on stretchers under white sheets. Death was their ticket out.


We launched in a small town called Conway… just south of Mount Vernon. Kids don’t need to relax.. and they don’t enjoy scenery… so how do they do on a four day boat trip? Well, my son is great at entertaining himself.. so all I had to do was give him total access to all lines, tools, books and the like and stop OFTEN! At the stops he would explore and tie the innertube to the boat and float about in mock battles with aliens or the like. At first his CONSTANT movement bothered me… but I reflected on what EYE was like as a kid and thought about HIS needs versus mine… and mellowed out and let him get my lines all dirty wet and tangled. Small price to pay for four days of river bliss that we could share.. each in our own way. Here we stopped for lunch. Alex wanted to plant the flag… AND it helped mark the water level so we could be aware of tides!

Lunch on a small island in the middle of the south fork of the Skagit, just south of Mount Vernon. We took our time and Alex made the “gilhooley” sandwiches. These are cooked in a Coleman sandwich press.

If you have read this boat site you know that I like to think aloud sometimes.. basically talk too much! Forgive me.. but…

To be honest… I enjoyed building my boat so much that sometimes this “project” WAS about building the boat. But mostly through our boats arent we trying to connect with something, find meaning, or perhaps open our eyes to the beauty around us? I think we are all looking for something in these boats we dream about.

It might be important to think about what it is we are looking for.

We spent our first night anchored here. Again, a stick marked the water line. The river looks so calm in this shot.. and it was.. but it was not a small stream at that point!

It was really very wide and moving pretty fast. My 6hp 4 stroke motor had no problem…but when the tide was going out we were basically only moving upstream at a fast walk!

I have no doubt every one of us can find something wonderful through a trip on the river like this… be it in a canal like boat such as mine, or in something closer to a shantyboat. If you can’t afford your dream… or don’t have the health or time to build it.. I would encourage all to go on a trip in SOMETHING! A small river like the Skagit or the Snohomish CAN be done in even a tiny “house boat” like Harmonica and Shanteuse. With some care these can be towed behind virtually any car to virtually any medium sized river.




At 13 I see my years with my son beginning to slip away from me. I have been thinking about how to maxmize our limited time together…. thinking how to build our relationship and his relationship with the beauty around us… in spite of my needing to lower the boom on homework and teenage behavior. I WILL do more boat trips.. just an overnighter on a weekend is fine too!

How will it be to explore the rivers when he starts to build a life seperate from me? I will miss his inquisitive mind, his interest, and his enthusiasm. I don’t want to be on a river trip spending my entire time looking back… or wishing I could go back in time. When I look at my mother I can see her angst about her age is caused in great part by a lack of sense of purpose.

When driving my boat I like to stand on one of the rear seats.¬†Perhaps I could maintain mine through service to others. Becoming a big brother or volunteer grandpa. Taking city kids out on the river. Cleaning up river trash. Or perhaps through writing a book (an online book would be fine!), or painting… or…..? Or are their water samples I can take for a researcher? Wildlife inventories for the state?

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