Captain’s Gig

I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot very interesting people in my lifetime of travel, many of whom have made major contributions to the world virtually without recognition

By Warren Miller

The Inland Passage, north from Seattle to Alaska, passes right in front of our house in the San Juan Islands. Occasionally we will get a phone call from an old friend headed north for as far as their available time lasts. We recently got a phone message from Bill and Minne Isley. They tied up at our dock and joined us that evening in our home at one of Laurie’s spur-of-the-moment potluck dinners. This time she could only round up 18 neighbors who brought all manner of fresh caught seafood.

Bill and Minne are way off the scale of normalcy in my opinion.

Bill began his career out of college as a community planner working for a Honolulu firm to help develop Palau in South Pacific. He has become a world-famous architect from Seattle who together with his partner named David Hewitt, designed and built the Bell St. Marina Complex on Elliott Bay, the only pleasure boat marina in downtown Seattle.

Soon after the completion of such a massive project, Bill dissolved his architectural partnership because he just got fed up with bureaucracy, committee meetings and occasional requests for under-the-counter payoffs.

As his architectural business had grown, he and Minne would take a month off every summer and trailer their 16-foot captain’s gig rowboat halfway up Vancouver Island to Campbell River, where they would launch that rowboat with all of their camping gear and camp on the small beaches in that part of the world.

Laurie and I have traveled extensively in that part of the Inland Passage, originally in a 20-foot boat with a cabin to sleep in and an outboard motor, so we have the utmost respect for anybody who would travel the same passageways in a 16-foot rowboat.

Sometime in between those many rowboat trips they built their first house on Bainbridge Island, located a 30-minute ferryboat ride from downtown Seattle.

Bill put his wide-ranging architectural talents to the task and sunk five very tall telephone poles in the ground roughly 34 feet apart. Then he built a five-story house on the telephone poles. It was a tall thin house and as long as they could keep their health and climb up and down those four stories they left a very small footprint on the land.

Several years after we met the Isleys, we were up visiting them on our boat and Bill had just retired. Minne had gone out to find him out mowing the huge grassy flat area of the property. She caught him totally naked except for work boots, lying on his back with his arms and legs waving in the air laughing uncontrollably … so pleased that he’d retired

Bill made a trip to Costa Rica and wound up buying a trout farm in the mountains. At dinner the other night he told me he kept that trout farm for 15 years, spent a month or two there every year and sold enough fish to pay for his vacations there and make money on the real estate when he recently sold it. He had given part of the property to several families that had helped him with the business over the years. They are good people, Bill and Minne.

Currently, the Isleys live in a trailer park, a short walk from the ferry landing on Bainbridge Island. They moved there to simplify their lives as they wanted to spend more time on their boat and up at the cabin. The owner of the trailer park kept raising the rent so Bill got all of the tenants together, formed a co-op, and bought the trailer park and reduced their monthly payments for their share of the co-op by a substantial amount per month.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot very interesting people in my lifetime of travel, many of whom have made major contributions to the world virtually without recognition. I believe that Bill and Minne in their own creative way have done exactly that. They are more than welcome to tie up at our dock any time so they can tell us about their latest adventure.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.