Visiting with Dave at Orcas Island

Passengers aboard the David B meet some local color in the San Juan Islands.

September 25, 2012

Lieber Haven, Orcas Island

Christine Smith

The San Juan Islands are filled with characters, and in the fourteen years that we have owned the David B, we’ve come to know a fair number of unique personalities who live there. For whatever reason, we seem drawn to the residents, or maybe they are drawn to us. Either way, we always have a good time introducing our guests to some of the local color.

Last week we pulled into an old-time resort called Lieber Haven in Obstruction Pass Bay on Orcas Island. The resort’s owner, Dave, had heard us coming and stood on his dock waiting to catch lines. His muted Hawaiian shirt, Greek captain’s hat, Amish beard, and faded tattoos gave our guests their first glimpse of a true island personality. As we neared the old dock, Dave clutched at his heart with a big smile on his face as he always does when he hears the David B‘s three-cylinder antique Washington Iron Works engine. Dave has a reverence for old technology.

After helping tie the David B to his dock, Dave took the opportunity to spend a little time with Jeffrey in our engine room. He owns a similar boat, an old tug called Kitty B. A faded sign on shore says that Kitty B, originally named Nadine, was built in 1926 and is powered with an Atlas Imperial from 1913. While I ate lunch with our guests, the muffled voices of Jeffrey and Dave carried up from the engine room scuttle.


Dave is a storyteller. I prefaced our guests with a few of the tales that Dave’s entertained us with over the years. He claims to have captained boats for Hollywood movies stars whose names my grandparents would recognize and he’s talked about sailing around the world. I’m never sure how big the tales are, but I choose to believe. They are always worth a listen.

Dave left us to finish lunch while he cleaned up one of his rental cabins. One thing I’ve learned about Dave is that he likes to keep busy and his work seems to keep him healthy. He once told Jeffrey about a recent by-pass surgery, claiming it gave him new life and the energy of a twenty-year-old.

After lunch we went ashore and found Dave coming out of one of his rental cabins, a stack of hand towels tucked under his arm. He began our tour by fielding questions about his a 68-foot schooner, the Lieber Schwan, which sits up on a railway with its bowsprit pushing though the boughs of a Western red cedar. In the warm September sun he told us how he built boat himself in 1966 using Apitong wood for frames and mahogany for planking. A sign next to the boat says it’s fastened with bronze and Monel. In his soft-spoken voice he talked about how he and his wife raised a family of four for fourteen years aboard the Lieber Schwan.


I looked over at the Lieber Schwan while Dave talked of upcoming projects, thinking, he must find time in the winter months to do his bigger projects (there wasn’t any sign of new work going on). It’s summer and if his schedule of cleaning cabins and entertaining guests is anything like mine, there’s never any extra time for projects.

As a group we moved around Dave’s property. He entertained us with small glimpses into his life. He showed us a Model-T Ford that a U.S. Senator had ridden in a parade. He also showed us a Model-A that he calls his “going to town car,” and a Ford Indianapolis racecar from 1914. The racecar still runs, but Dave no longer drives it. At the end of the tour he brought us into a room that housed a model of a Tall Ship, which he hopes will one day find a home in a Seattle museum. It is built to 1/10th scale with precise details. If Dave does ever finish the project, it will be a beautiful addition to any maritime museum.

Dave told us a few more engaging stories while we stood at the top of the dock. As I listened, I thought about Dave’s life since the Lieber Schwan came to roost at Orcas Island. His sleepy island resort has the feeling of a place out of step with time, especially when compared to the big houses that have sprung up all around Obstruction Pass, squeezing Lieber Haven from both sides. Dave doesn’t seem to notice. He has a living museum of boats, cars, and stories that feel like a fortification around the resort.


As soon as we were underway again, our guests eagerly asked me more about Dave and his stories. I answered most of their questions with a simple, “I don’t know.” If I did know, wouldn’t it just spoil the stories and the fun?


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