A boat is a dream on the water - Salish Current
April 4, 2024
A boat is a dream on the water
Kari Koski

With weathered brightwork and a coat of lichen among its more minor issues, the Metaphor is among derelict boats that are best bid farewell — and recycled. (Courtesy Kari Koski)

April 4, 2024
A boat is a dream on the water
Kari Koski


The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

Commentary: Unfortunately there is no fairy who can magically breathe new life into derelict boats and lead them out to sea to forever explore the ocean swell.

Maybe we will miss the Metaphor. 

For some, it was an eyesore; for others, a reminder of halcyon days or unfulfilled dreams. For the few with rose-colored glasses, it still had “real potential.” Most of us have a one-that-got-away-from-us story about something cherished that we meant to get around to restoring and enjoying, but never found the time. 

How many of us right now have a fixer-upper or a sweet, old boat moldering on an unregistered trailer in the backyard? Or worse, left at anchor while the hull slowly becomes a reef of seaweed and crustaceans. 

Maybe we keep paying monthly moorage just to keep the dream alive, but the boat has long been an otter cantina tucked away in a slip at an island marina. Maybe we had a life-changing event like an illness or the loss of a loved one that prevented us from getting around to it. Maybe it was a career change, or we had kids with other interests. 

For many good reasons, and some shameful neglectful ones, we abandoned a boat that we once loved and that was a part of our identity as an islander and a Northwesterner. It is reminiscent of the children’s story, the “Velveteen Rabbit,” by Margery Williams. A stuffed rabbit sewn from velveteen becomes a beloved friend to a little boy. Overtime and many adventures together, the rabbit becomes a bit ragged. Another older toy tells the stuffed rabbit “… by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

This is true of our boats as well: some folks just can’t see the realness beyond the weathered brightwork and a little lichen on the deck of a well-used but still well-cared-for vessel. Sometimes though, the shabbiness isn’t just because the vessel is real and well-loved; sometimes it is because it is truly worn out or neglected beyond repair. 

Over time, the little boy in the story grows up, and after he contracts scarlet fever, a doctor orders the rabbit and other old toys be thrown out and burned. While the rabbit is laying on the rubbish pile waiting to be destroyed, he sheds a real tear from which a beautiful flower blossoms and a magic fairy steps out. The fairy takes the rabbit into the forest where he is made real and is left to live in the wild, nibbling grass in the sunshine with the other rabbits. 

Sadly, there isn’t a boat fairy who materializes out of the fuel tanks of old boats while they lay awkwardly on the hard, waiting to be crushed. There is no fairy who can magically breathe new life into derelict boats and lead them out to sea to forever explore the ocean swell. 

In my role as the San Juan County Derelict Vessel Coordinator, I am more Grim Reaper than Boat Fairy. I can only help to gingerly remove the rose-colored glasses from old mariners and dreamers so they can clearly see the reality of their old boat, as they truly are, so that they can turn and look me in the in the eye and say, “YES, it’s finally time, I’ll let my old boat go!” 

That’s when the amazing, though not magical, voluntary turn-in program run by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can assist vessel owners to responsibly dispose of their boat with funds paid by the fees attached to annual boat registrations.

This April, a vessel turn-in event has helped 14 boat owners remove vessels from San Juan County waters before they caused environmental harm and financial distress. In partnership with the Northwest Straits Commission, the San Juan County Marine Resources Committee, the Port of Friday Harbor, and the San Juan County Environmental Stewardship Department, DNR held a mass vessel recycling round up for the entire county for Earth Month. Contracting with large off-island recycling and hazardous material removal companies not only keeps vessel debris and toxic materials out of the marine environment but also out of the landfill.

While we may celebrate the removal of these old boats, we should shed a tear, raise a glass, sing a sea shanty or two, and not forget that each boat was special to someone with stories of adventure and exploration, and dreams of adventures yet to come.

[The pilot project on April 4 demonstrated at Albert Jensen & Sons Shipyard in Friday Harbor the process of staging, hauling, and crushing derelict vessels for recycling. For more information about this project, visit the San Juan County Department of Environmental Stewardship Derelict Vessel Program. ]

— Contributed by Kari Koski

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