DAVID G. SELLARS ON THE WATERFRONT: Log loading to recall earlier times

LOOK FOR THE Koombana Bay will moor to the Port of Port Angeles’ Terminal 1 North pier on March 6 or 7.

She is a 554-foot bulk cargo ship that is specifically designed to transport two types of cargo — logs and bulk grain.

She will be taking on a load of logs harvested from private lands owned by Merrill & Ring, the privately owned forestry and land management company based in Port Angeles.

The loading of logs onto the Koombana Bay will remind many locals (and inform newcomers) of a bygone era when exporting logs to Korea, China and Japan was a mainstay of the North Olympic Peninsula economy.

Merrill & Ring was formed in 1888 with the purchase of the Pysht Tree Farm, which is now the oldest tree farm in Washington state still operated by its original owners.

M&R owns about 35,000 acres of sustainable timberland in Western Washington, and an additional 40,000 acres or so in British Columbia and New Zealand.

Stockpiling for months

According to Paul Stutesman, vice president of sales, the Koombana Bay will be in port for three or four days to load approximately 2 million board feet of lumber for export to Korea and China.

This volume of lumber is equivalent to about 450 to 500 log truck loads.

Merrill & Ring has been stockpiling logs at the Port of Port Angeles’ log yard on Marine Drive for the past couple of months.

When it is time to load the ship, personnel from the log yard will use Le ­Tour ­neau log stackers to move the logs to the waters edge, where they will be placed onto steel rails and slide into the water.

As the logs accumulate in the water, port personnel using log broncs — small, powerful tugs — will form the logs into pocket booms that they will then tow to the side of the ship.

Shipboard personnel, using the vessel’s four onboard cranes, will hoist the logs out of the water and stow them aboard.

The Port of Port Angeles first began exporting logs to the Asian market in 1961 when a log ship bound for Japan was loaded.

For the next 40 years, the waterfront was a constant flurry of activity with a seemingly endless number of cargo ships thirsting for their share of logs to supply growing economies.

According to a Port of Port Angeles newsletter dated in 1984, the port had shipped out enough logs in the previous decade to “lay a boardwalk to the moon and back”.

When the Port began loading log ships, the system used was similar to how Koombana Bay will be loaded.

Back in the day, longshoremen worked in 12-member crews called gangs and loaded about 150,000 board feet of waterborne logs per shift.

However, there was fierce competition among Puget Sound ports for not only the log business but finished lumber products.

In the mid-1980s, the port and the longshoremen’s union local collaborated on streamlining the process and created efficiencies by developing methods that shifted the loading process out of the water and onto land.

By January 1986, a gang was able to load 180,000 board feet per shift, and within six months that figure had swelled to an average of nearly 274,000 board feet for an eight-hour shift.

That led to a reduction in the size of the gang to eight longshoremen.

These changes kept the Port competitive to such a degree that ITT Rayonier and Weyerhaeuser, which owned their own dock facilities elsewhere, chose to use Port Angeles for their shipping needs.

For 35 years, hardly a day would go by that there wasn’t a ship tied up to a port pier to be loaded with logs or lumber products.

Eight to 10 ships or more a month were not at all uncommon, and the port longshoremen had the ability to load as many as five vessels at a time.

The number of board feet of lumber and logs that were exported varied from year to year depending upon fluctuations in the market and the vagaries of the importing countries economy.

In 1967, a little more than 100 million board feet of logs were exported.

In 1976, 14 million-plus board feet of lumber were loaded at the port as well as 503 million board feet of logs on a total of 132 ships.

Not to get bogged down in statistics, but by the mid-1980s, the number of board feet of logs and lumber products averaged about 300 million.

It has been about 10 years since the last ship was pierside, taking on a load of logs.

If you’re down on the waterfront when the Koombana Bay is being loaded and happen across a fellow or two gazing at the process, you may want to ask if they recall when what is going on was commonplace.

You just might get a story or two from someone who remembers when . . .

(A special thanks and a tip of the bosun’s cap to Tanya Johansen, who works at the Port of Port Angeles, for providing the historical information.)

Harbor watch

Tesoro Petroleum on Wednesday bunkered Alaskan Legend, a double-hull crude oil tanker that is now under way for Valdez, Alaska.

Tesoro on the next day refueled Overseas Long Beach, a 576-foot petroleum products carrier.

The company also provided bunkers to Laura Bulker, a 577-foot bulk cargo ship that is now under way for Singapore.


David G. Sellars is a Port Angeles resident and former Navy boatswain’s mate who enjoys boats and strolling the waterfront.

Items involving boating, port activities and the North Olympic Peninsula waterfronts are always welcome.

E-mail [email protected] or phone him at 360-417-3736.

His column, On the Waterfront, appears every Sunday.

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