Saying goodbye to the island’s waterman

When a cool breeze ruffles the waters encompassing the San Juan Islands on a hot summer day, locals may be reminded of their beloved free-thinking friend Michael Kramer.

“Dozens of captains relied on him, not just to find whales but to understand what was happening with the weather and currents,” Brian Goodremont, owner of San Juan Safaris where Michael worked as a captain, said. “He was a true waterman.”

Michael passed away in a car accident on March 26. He was 41 years old.

A waterman is comfortable in all water-related activities, Goodremont explained, from surfing and paddleboarding to kayaking or being the captain of a ship. Michael was just as at home paddleboarding as he was being a captain, according to Goodremont. In Hawaii, watermen are celebrated because the region is a water-based community, he continued. The same could be said for the San Juans, the place he called home for the last 15 years, and locals came out in droves to honor Michael during a memorial on April 2.

“It has been such an experience finding out what a key person he was. He loved how tight the community is,” said Michael’s mother, Susan Kramer.

Michael’s journey began early. According to his mother, by the time he was 5, Michael was already an old salt, spending time with his family on their motorboat. At 9, he was so good at driving the boat he would pull his father Skip out of the water to slalom ski, she continued. Later he would take up downhill skiing as well, which he did frequently with his sister Kristen Huthwaite.

It wasn’t just the water he loved, Michael was truly an outdoorsman; an avid skier, hiker and adventurer who traveled the world. His mother called him fearless. One of the first jobs he had, when he moved to Washington state, was a bike courier.

“I remember going out to see how he was doing and realized how awful that job was, but he thought he was fine,” Susan noted. She added that he was having an adventure.

The first time Erin Corra, executive director of Friends of Lime Kiln, met Michael was approximately 12 years ago while checking out Val and Scott Veirs’ Beam Reach program. Beam Reach is a part of the Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories that studies marine mammal acoustics.

“I realized I hadn’t met the dude at the helm,” Corra said. “So I walked over and shook hands with Captain Mike.”

He gave her one of the warm big hugs for which he was famous, and the two became fast friends. Both had graduated from Western Washington University’s Huxley College of the Environment, they both skied and neither one could spend enough time on the water. Over the years, Michael helped her with maintenance on her small Boston Whaler, she said.

“It was as much his boat as it was mine,” she said. “I fully trusted him both driving and working on it.”

During the summer months, although the pair may have been working on the water all day, they would take the Whaler out just to catch up and relax. One of Corra’s favorite memories was one of those moments, just hanging with her friend Michael in the Strait of Juan de Fuca when a humpback whale came by.

“He was a whale whisperer,” Corra said.

He loved animals, his mother noted, telling a story of finding him in the garage as a small child, where he and his friends played. Michael, she said, was trying to listen for the heartbeat of a dead mouse. She told him not to touch it, Susan said, because it has germs. His response was, “It’s OK, Mom, I have my glubbs on.”

With a contagious laugh, Michael had a knack for attracting the right kind of adventure, Corra explained.

“We would get laughing so hard sometimes it hurt,” she said.

“I think this comment a good friend of his said really personifies him: ‘Mike had the ability to make everyone he met feel valued, important and gave them freedom to be their self. His heart was so big and his love contagious,’” Susan said.