Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Mosquito Fleet of Puget Sound

The Gateway featured a new business on October 2, 2012, the Mosquito Fleet Winery in Belfair.  Their grapes are from Walla Walla but their winery is on Hood Canal. Jacy Griffin, one of the owners, is also a history buff and she is the one responsible for the particular boat featured as well as the story that is available when the QR (quick-response) code is scanned by a smart phone app.

Then today while I was shopping for greens at none other than Harbor Greens, I happened to see the bottles on the wine shelf. A woman passing me said that her relatives were part of the Mosquito Fleet and they, the Browns, operated the Otter, what she said was the first grocery store on water in 1909.  Well, in reviewing the book Mosquito Fleet of South Puget Sound by Jean Cammon Findlay and Robin Paterson it states: “The 87-foot, Portland-built Otter first towed barges for Renton Coal Company in 1875 and then ran competition with Zephyr and Messenger. Though badly damaged in a collision with the Hasalo off Des Moines in 1890, she was rebuilt and in 1892 became a Tacoma based floating store, making weekly rounds on the upper Sound. She was moored and abandoned on the Puyallup River in 1897.” So it appears that the boat used by the Browns was a second boat named Otter.

But that is neither here nor there. I will see if I can do more research on that in the future. But, let’s talk a little bit about how the small steamboats became known as Mosquito Fleet. As Findlay & Paterson put it in their book “…a fellow officer overlooking Elliot Bay and remarking as he observed all the boat activity that it looked like ‘a swarm of mosquitoes.’ The name stuck.

Passengers on the way to Arletta

Size, routes, propulsion, fuel, cargo, and jobs did not determine whether or not the boat qualified to be a member. In the beginning, the early steamboats were built with a flat deck, flat bottom, a wooden hull with a sharp bow, and a fine stern. The lower deck contained the engine and space for fuel (cord wood and later for fuel tanks), cargo, and passengers. As the engines gained more power and freight, the construction became more bulky.
Steamboat of the Mosquito Fleet landing at the Head of the Bay
Basically, a Mosquito Fleet boat was a boat of any size which could perform any job required on the Puget Sound. It was this fleet that was responsible for the communities and commerce which grew in the Pacific Northwest.

The Mosquito Fleet era ended when cars and paved highways became more available for the former customers of the steamboats. To survive, the fleet adapted with the larger boats becoming ferries and the smaller ones as tugboats, freighters, or excursion boats. Some didn’t survive; others were abandoned, burned, or scrapped and stripped of any and all salvageable materials.
The "Atalanta" - a Hunt steamboat

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