Correction: A previous version of this article stated the cabinets were made of Burma Teak. The wood was actually used to build the cabin of the vessel, not the cabinets.
Underneath a foot of wet snow, the old roof structure of the Port of Friday Harbor’s Jensen Marina gave way. At approximately 2 p.m. on Feb. 14, one of the three roofed sheds covering moored boats collapsed. The wreckage landed on eight boats that were moored below and immediately in danger of sinking.
As the roof began to crumble, San Juan Superior Court Judge Don Eaton was standing at the bow of his 95-year-old classic yacht named Hanna.
“I was in the shed when the collapse started,” Eaton said. “I could hear it.”
Eaton recalled how he had gone down into the boat a few minutes earlier to inspect the lines and then come back out to the bow of the boat.
“I’m thinking about how fortunate I was standing where I was so I was able to get out,” Eaton said.
As of Feb. 19, it remained to be seen how fortunate the vessels under the collapsed roof will be once the Port of Friday Harbor gets underway to repair the damage and recover the property.
Port of Friday Harbor’s Executive Director Todd Nicholson explained that the weight of the snow caused the timber to split in one boathouse and the roof structure collapsed from the strain. When the first one collapsed, it created a domino effect, and one after the other roof fell into the boats below, causing them to sink down into the water. Nicholson verified that in total, all 10 boatsheds were affected, and eight boats remained under the collapsed roofs.
The port immediately assembled a crew of staff, the Islands’ Oil Spill Association and Vessel Assist Friday Harbor to begin assessing the dangers related to the collapse and potential boats sinking. , we assembled a crew of staff, Island Oil Spillage Association and Vessel Assist Friday Harbor to assess that there was no more danger of any structures collapsing.
“The team set about to evaluate to be sure there was no oil or gas spilling, and to address the snow load and see if there was any imminent danger of succumbing to the weight,” Nicholson stated. “By 4 p.m. we determined that it was not safe to get in and inspect so we had to monitor it overnight.”
According to Nicholson, enough snow had melted by the following morning the floats had resurfaced and none of the boats were being pushed to the point of sinking.
“The plan is to move all boats out so that we can clear a construction and restoration site,” Nicholson stated. “It may be several weeks before we are completely restored. … In the meantime, the site is not accessible.”
Port of Friday Harbor Commissioner Greg Hertel explained the boathouse structure is too badly damaged to rebuild.
Hertel noted the sheds were slated for rebuild removal or repair in the next few years prior to the collapse.
“Now it’s pushed up,” Hertel said. “We are allowed to rebuild with emergency funds as long as they have the same footprint.”
The Port of Friday Harbor is under tight restrictions with structures that cover the seafloor not to kill eelgrass or other sea life, so keeping the shape the same is important, Hertel explained. He added that staff had already begun working to rebuild the floats and fingers.
“It’s unfortunate that we are going to have to fast track the demolition, and we will work with the greatest possible haste to restore the boathouses,” Nicholson said.
Hertel noted one of the major underlying issues that face the Port of Friday Harbor is the age of the vessels housed there.
“Some of the older boats are wooden, kind of classics,” Hertel said. “Those boats are history we want to preserve. A connection to our past.”
This sentiment was echoed by Eaton, who explained his biggest concern is the loss, or potential damage, to Hanna.
“The potential for structural damage is high and we won’t know until we get it out,” Eaton said.
When Eaton and his wife Shyrl Eaton first moved to San Juan Island in 1996, they bought Hanna from owners in Bellingham who sold the vessel on the caveat it’s kept under cover.
“We are the guardians of the boat and we take it seriously. It’s part of a disappearing American heritage,” Eaton said. “My wife and I spent the last 25 years keeping it in pristine condition.”
Eaton explained Hanna’s cabin is made of Burma Teak, which is not able to be replaced.
“You can’t even buy the kind of wood many of these classics are made of,” he continued.
Hanna was built in 1927 by Schertzer Brothers yard on Lake Union, Seattle, Eaton noted.
“We think of [Hanna] as a pretty stout girl,” he said.
Eaton said he predicts it’s going to be difficult to get debris off the boats, with the sharp metal, the broken beams, nails and the weight, without further damage.
“For my wife and I, it feels like we have a child in the hospital and we can’t go see her,” Eaton said. “We have worked tirelessly to care for her and now we are not able to get her out of there.”
Another big issue for Eaton is what will happen to Hanna after the collapsed roof is removed, and then she will have to be moved somewhere without covered moorage.
“If she is not under cover, she has the kind of varnish that deteriorates,” he added.
Shyrl Eaton added, ”When you go down to Jensen’s, you see the people and they’re all working on their boats. … This shipyard is really a tight-knit community down here. We share a lot of the same passion of wood boat owners.”
The Port will post updates regarding the clean-up on its website. For more information, visit portfridayharbor.org.
“The attraction to the Jensen shipyard was that it was well-known for understanding wooden boats’ need for cover,” stated Eaton, “Long term, I hope the port will restore covered moorage.”