Captain Pete Hanke, Jr. and the MV Red Head were the subject of a nice profile recently in the Port Townsend Jefferson County Leader, written by Jan Halliday. Jan always does a great job of connecting the dots between all of the varied and interesting maritime histories that intersect in Port Townsend, and this article is no exception.
Three huge California sea lions snooze on the deck of the bell buoy off Point Hudson, lifting their heads as Capt. Pete Hanke Jr., at the helm of his passenger boat, the Red Head, circles them. The animals’ powerful shoulder muscles allow them to heft their 1,000 pounds out of the water onto the surface to rest after their exhausting swim from the Pacific Ocean into Puget Sound.
We pick up speed and head for Protection Island, commenting on this winter’s slides that block the beach near Middle Point, and with an eye out for orcas and whatever else might be around. Pete picks up the microphone again to point out a rare pair of puffins, dozens of rhinoceros auklets and bald eagles menacing seagulls sitting on their nests. Passengers, bundled up in coats and sipping coffee on deck, peer over the rail.
We head out in the strait where a solitary minke whale surfaces briefly, its round black back sparkling in the morning sun.
Pete Jr. wasn’t always out on the water. He grew up on a farm near Yakima, where his parents, Sue and Pete Sr., grew apples and alfalfa seed. His dad, also a boat captain here, was born into farming, growing up on a cattle ranch on Salt Springs Island, Canada.
In 1965, when Pete Jr. was in grade school, his dad bought his first boat. It was not a beginner’s boat. It was the Alcyone, an 81-foot, gaff-rigged topmast schooner. Pete Sr. had taken sailing classes at the University of Washington, on Lake Washington, in boats little larger than a canoe. This boat had two masts and seven sails.
Frank Prothero, who built Alcyone in the 1950s in his backyard, taught Pete how to sail her. At that time Frank and his brother, Bob, ran their boat shop, heated with a potbellied stove, aboard an old barge anchored in Seattle’s Lake Union.
“We lived a dual life in those days,” said Pete Jr. One day he’d be sitting next to his dad driving a tractor; the next, he’d be helping his dad raise the sails on the Alcyone or sitting at the feet of Bob and Frank around the stove.
Two other boats familiar to Port Townsend residents, the historic schooners Adventuress and the Martha, were then within spittin’ distance of Alcyone, all of them moored on Dock A at Seattle’s Shilshole Bay Marina.
“The Adventuress was an old derelict then,” said Pete. “Her mast was cut off, her hull painted baby blue and her cabin buttercup yellow.”
Both the Adventuress (built in 1913) and the Martha (built in 1907) have been restored and refitted and continue to haul out here for repairs.
Today the Alcyone, the Martha, and the Redhead are often tied stem to stern at Point Hudson. The Adventuress, when she’s in port, often ties up to the dock in front of the Northwest Maritime Center.
How did these boats end up here? In 1981, Libby Palmer, an educator and administrator, and her partner, Henry Yeaton, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate, moved to town because they’d read about Port Townsend’s Wooden Boat Foundation, formed in 1978 after the first Wooden Boat Festival at Point Hudson.
They lived in their Chevy truck “for quite some time,” while Libby worked as an administrator of WBF.
“Many people had moved here and already had the madness for boats in them,” said Libby.
Libby and Henry approached Bob Prothero, Pete Hanke’s mentor, and an astute businessman as well as a genius at lofting, and together they opened the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. It began modestly in the Boat Haven near Key City Fish and fledgling boat shops, then moved to larger quarters in the industrial park on Otto Street (where Port Townsend Foundry now makes boat hardware). Its current home is on the waterfront at Port Hadlock.
Do you see where I’m going with this? The Port Townsend you see now stems from these beginnings.
Port Townsend is not the City of Dreams, as rumored, where everything fails. It’s the City of Dreams that came to fruition and that keep growing. All that you now enjoy in Port Townsend was someone’s idea, first the scaffolding of buildings and infrastructure built in the 1870s and then, in the 1970s, a second burst of creative energy that created the maritime, retail and arts community.
Those with “the madness in them,” had already seized industrial space at the Boat Haven to work on wooden boats. Carol Hasse opened her now world-renowned Port Townsend Sails in 1978 at Point Hudson. Fabricators, electricians, prop makers, refrigeration experts, boat upholsterers added to the growing list of services.
To complete the circle, students graduating from the Wooden Boat School formed the Shipwright’s Co-op. And some of the boats they still refit and repair include the Southeast Alaskan fishing fleet, including longliners built by Bob and Frank Prothero from 1930-1950 on Seattle’s Lake Union.
Not satisfied with just founding a boat school, Libby Palmer and Judy D’Amore founded the Marine Science Center. Judy’s then-husband, Frank, built the fish tanks and also opened his Bread & Roses bakery which, after a hiatus, morphed into today’s Pane d’Amore, located Uptown.
I have, in my lunch bag stashed on the Red Head, a chunk of bread from Pane d’Amore, and a round of Mt. Townsend Creamery’s Seastack cheese. The cheese is made by young people also “with the madness in them,” this generation for farming and fermenting.
We are heading home after cruising the south end of San Juan Island. And this story I’m telling you is wrapping up, too.
The Red Head was sold in the 1990s to an outfitter in Valdez, and this year came back to the Hankes. Her trip home in January was a rough one, with 8- to 10-foot seas and 45 mph winds north of Icy Straits, the rails frozen and barrels of diesel fuel rumbling about in the stern. Before she was relaunched, she was refitted, repaired and painted at the Port Townsend Shipwright’s Co-op. The magnificent orca whales show up in June. Call Puget Sound Express for a half-day excursion aboard the Red Head to see them.
(Jan Halliday wants to tell you one more thing about Pete’s whale-watch boat. The boatbuilder’s wife was a redhead.)
Puget Sound Express is having a great whale and wildlife watching season so far in 2014. While we wait for the Southern Resident pod of orcas to return to our waters, we’ve been treated to some outstanding shows from transient orcas, sea lions, seals, porpoise, eagles and seabirds.
One of the most impressive displays we’ve seen so far this season was captured by customer Irving Mortensen, who trained his camera on a majestic humpback whale that was breaching near the MV Glacier Spirit. An impressive sight to be sure.
We’re currently running the following tours:
The perfect trip for visitors and travelers with a busy schedule! Departing in the morning, our fast and comfortable 40-seat M.V. Red Head seeks out orcas, minkes, humpbacks, and gray whales to give you a guaranteed whale watching experience in the San Juan Islands.
Our signature tour, this daylong cruise on the M.V. Glacier Spirit combines orca watching with an on-board naturalist, and a tour of the beautiful San Juan Islands. We visit the popular town of Friday Harbor for shopping, island cuisine, and sightseeing. This San Juan Islands trip is also the official passenger ferry route between Port Townsend and San Juan Island, and in addition to seeing killer whales, we often see minke whales, Stellar and California sea lions and Dall’s porpoises.