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Shipwreck timbers bring international maritime history to new brewpub

Over Christmas, friends and I were discussing how cool it would be to be a museum curator. Sure, collecting pieces of history would be amazing, right?

Then I got to thinking. In a way, I am like a museum curator, and yes, my job is cool. Although I’m officially the Sales & Marketing Wrangler and Chief Storyteller, it’s the All-Around Octopus title that gives me magical curation powers.

By now, many of you know the story of our namesake ship: the M/V Diamond Knot. The story of the ship and its history, both while in service and on the strait’s floor, captured our founders’ hearts and inspired them to persevere in their quest to create great craft beer.

Following the history of the Diamond Knot gives our efforts to curate pieces relevance. Bob appreciates a great story; the more canadian-exportersteeped in history the better, and he met his match when the team hired me, a lover of history and author of a history book based in the Sierra. Antiquity is a powerful tool. Many people may ponder on the future, but really, when friends get together, it’s mostly those colorful stories from the past that tie us together.

Maritime stories based in the Pacific Northwest are not much different. They are part of our cultural heritage, whether it’s recent history, like the launching of a new ferry, or a tale from the past such as the Diamond Knot.

This all-around octopus was put to the test early in 2013, when we embarked on the Brewery & Alehouse expansion on the Mukilteo waterfront. One of my tasks was to find a bar top since the beautiful laminate bar top was nearing its expiration. I researched reclaimed timber yards and found Pacific Northwest Timbers over in Pt. Townsend. Not only did they have photos of wood stacked in their yards, they also had a host of stories stacked on their Website. “Bingo!” I thought.

I made an appointment, and with the blessing of DK’s owners, headed over to climb up, over and around timbers with all sorts of pasts. One stack was from a bridge in British Columbia, another stack was recently demoed stadium bleachers and so on. On that trip, I was introduced to the world of Forest Stewardship Council certification, where the history of reclaimed wood is documented and traced.

Shipwreck timbers from the Canadian Exporter.

Shipwreck timbers from the Canadian Exporter.

When registered reclaimed wood is removed from one building, say in the case of wood from a Port of Stockton warehouse that was used for the Alehouse bar top, FSC certified wood is tracked. The FSC knows where the wood was harvested from, where it was used and where it now lives.

It was also on that trip that I learned about relic timbers. Unlike reclaimed timbers that were part of another story at one time, relic timbers are pretty much story-free.

Within five minutes of being in the yard at PNWT, I had fallen in love … with shipwreck timbers. People who know me, know that I have an exuberance built into my storytelling. I love listening and sharing, and when Jake Jacobs from PNWT said, “Well, you might be interested in looking at these shipwreck timbers over here,” my heart skipped a few beats. I had no idea why at that moment, but I knew there was some sort of chemistry working.

“Shipwreck timbers?” I spat out. “Did you know that Diamond Knot is based on a story of a wreck right off of Port Angeles? Shipwreck timbers. Wow! Tell me about them.”

Jake was just as excited being a fellow storyteller and seafaring fellow. “No, tell me about the Diamond Knot first,” he said.

So I began my talk-with-my-hands recounting of the fateful August morning in 1947 when the Fenn Victory rammed the Diamond Knot. “Well, there was the Diamond Knot, loaded with 75 percent of Alaska’s haul, about 7 million cans of canned salmon, during a post-war world food shortage …” I rambled.

Jake listened intently then started his foggy night story of the Canadian Exporter. On July, 30, 1921, the S.S. Canadian Exporter

Thanks to minerals and eroding steel cables, the shipwreck timbers present vibrant colors from the sea.

Thanks to minerals and eroding steel cables, the shipwreck timbers present vibrant colors from the sea.

left British Columbia on its way to Portland, Oreg., with 3,250 tons of lumber on board. The 400-foot-long schooner steamed south and reached the mouth of the Willapa River mid-evening on July 31. The problem was that the weather and tides had turned, but Capt. Bradley and First Mate Campbell didn’t adjust their course. With the fog and the inability to get good soundings as to the distance to shore – and also the inability to read the celestial map and determine direction – those navigating were basically sailing blind.

The ship ultimately ran aground July 31 and the crew abandoned the load, not to the pleasure of the British Government, however. By mid-August, almost exactly 26 years (to the day) before the collision of the Diamond Knot, the British government found the master and first mate guilty of unseamanlike care of the ship.

Back then, abandoning a load of timber basically secured the lumber’s demise. With nowhere for the lumber to go, it went down off the southern coast of Washington state where it remained for almost 90 years before breaking loose from its dissolving chains and floating to the surface where they were first discovered by a local oyster fisherman.

Basically brined in salt water, these beams are heavy and still carry some of the ocean’s bottom on their skins. Shells, sand, spots where decayed chain rotted away, colors of iron and bits of rocks defiantly cling to their sides. This, my friends, spells love. Running my hands along the rough surface, I could feel the ocean’s hold.

The timbers take a time out to adjust to the environment at the Brewpub @ MLT.

The timbers take a time out to adjust to the environment at the Brewpub @ MLT.

I shot photos and jammed back to headquarters with info and enthusiasm in hand. Over the next few weeks, we would learn more about these relics. We couldn’t use the Exporter sticks for the Alehouse because, not given enough time to dry and acclimate, no one knew what the wood would do. A twisting bar top was not what we had imagined. With hopes dashed, I moved on to another option, which is visible today at the Alehouse. That Douglas fir piece, sealed with the exterior patina up, is what I like to call “yummy chocolately.” The rest of that stick of Doug fir went into the new table tops on the family side of the Brewery & Alehouse, and is also the top of the coffee bar.

A Second Chance for the Relic

The Brewpub @ MLT was a second chance at love. I didn’t have my hopes up, but a little bit of serendipity changed a relic’s destiny.

I made an appointment to head back to Pacific Northwest Timbers this past summer to shop bar top timbers. As we weren’t going to build the tables from the reclaimed wood – just too many tables to build – I knew we couldn’t look at the shipwreck pieces since PNWT required a purchase of the entire piece, which runs about 20”wide x 20” high x 30+ feet in length. They aren’t small pieces.

Sand is wedged in the grain of the shipwreck timber, showing off a bit of sparkly personality.

Sand is wedged in the grain of the shipwreck timber, showing off a bit of sparkly personality.

When I called Jake and told him I was coming, he asked a favor. The owner of PNWT, Marc Mandel, was up from California, where they own Crossroads Timbers in North Fork. Marc was staying on Whidbey Island and needed a ride to Pt. Townsend. I lived on Whidbey at the time and asked where Marc needed to be picked up. To my surprise, it was at the end of my street at Whidbey Institute.

I picked up Marc the following day and headed to Pt. Townsend. Between Clinton and Coupeville, we shared plenty of stories. Marc loved the connection between Diamond Knot and the Canadian Exporter and decided to let us cut just enough of the timbers to provide wood for the new bar top at DK’s Mountlake Terrace location.

I have to say I was blown away. The power of history and words combined for an ultimate partnership.

I would tell you that the rest of the process was easy, but I can’t. When storytelling passion and a girl’s love a big historic relic mix, no one escapes unscathed. We know we’ll be telling this story for a very long time and we hope you’ll share it, too. There’s nothing like enjoying an exceptional craft beer over a bit of history.

The shipwreck timbers are fastened in place and await many layers of resin.

The shipwreck timbers are fastened in place and await many layers of resin.

I would have included photos of the finished bar top, but I’ll let you come and experience it yourself. We’ll be celebrating the Grand Opening of the Brewpub @ MLT Feb. 8 with a proper ship’s christening.

Come join us and enjoy!

P.S. The sea came with the shipwreck timber. If you ever have a chance to talk with Brian Franey from Edge Design & Build, ask him how 90 years of low tide smells when you cut into a timber. Not so yummy.

Sherry is the Chief Storyteller here at Diamond Knot. She’s also the All-Around Octopus, so her tentacles end up in all sorts of funny places.

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