Whenever I’m in a new city for the first time, I try to visit a local museum. It’s a great place to find out about an area in one location; its early history as well as current. Museums also are wonderful places to bring out-of-town guests to give them an idea of the place we call home. Whatcom Museum’s History Sunset Cruise (HSC) is like a living museum on the water.
The cruise has been in operation for 36 years, rain or shine. And yet I only ventured aboard for the first time recently, during the fourth week of the 2019 season. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve lived in Whatcom County for more than 25 years—more than 2/3 of the time that the HSC has been tooling up and down the Salish Sea, from late June through the beginning of September—and never before took the opportunity.
Since 2016, the Whatcom Museum has partnered with San Juan Cruises to safely take 100+ passengers on every trip, boarding at Fairhaven’s Ferry Terminal. I’ve gone whale watching on San Juan Cruises many times. Any given day for most of the spring through fall, San Juan Cruises hosts tours, sometime in search of whales, sometimes simply to take in views of the many islands that dot the Salish Sea. They also host bird watching cruises, BREWers cruises, wine cruises, and many others.
For my first HSC excursion, 125 of us boarded the 100-foot Victoria Star with Captain Loren at the helm. The clouds held the rain at bay while we were on the boat. I learned a lot about my town, such as the difference between Poe’s Point and Post Point; finally saw Teddy Bear Cove (no skinny dippers were present); and learned the status of the Eldridge home on the ridge overlooking the bay.
For the past 10 or so years, Brian Griffin has been leading these history cruises, taking listeners from the formation of the coastline during glacial periods, to more current events like the creation of Waypoint Park, and stories about former and present residents who call Whatcom County home.
About three years ago, Brian tapped Doug Starcher to partner with him as a summer cruise docent. Since their first meeting more than four decades ago, when Doug was 16, the two men have maintained a friendship that is cemented in Whatcom County history.
Doug is a storyteller and performer at heart (he’s been active at the Bellingham Theater Guild for years, but that’s another article), and knows more random facts about Bellingham than just about anyone you could have the pleasure to meet. Admittedly, both men work off the same script, but each have their favorite stories.
Doug’s favorite stories include the guerrilla art installation of the steel sculpture “Grace,” the Eldridge House restoration, the Georgia-Pacific property, the Bloedel-Donovan wood factory building and Pete Dawson’s ongoing restoration of the Armory building, located on the hill below WWU’s campus. I could tell you all the details, but then I’d be taking away the joy of hearing the stories for yourself.
Insider tip: When you board the boat, weather permitting, scope out a comfortable spot outside on the bow. The sights and smells are lovely up there. And go more than once. Doug admitted he didn’t get to tell all of his stories, and even had to skip over some of the script to fit in the stories he did tell.
The regular season schedule for the HSC is from late June through early September. The final Tuesday evening tour for the 2019 season is September 3. Purchase tickets through Brown Paper Tickets, by calling 800.838.3006 ext. 1, or in person, Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5:00 p.m. at the Whatcom Museum Store located at 250 Flora Street in downtown Bellingham.
Don’t wait until the last minute to make your reservation. As we know, history has a way of repeating itself—and these cruises have a history of being booked to capacity well before they leave the dock.