By Morgan Willie
Up until the late 1950s, Olympia was operated by a blue-collar culture. A little bit of elbow grease and fortitude could get you working in a jiffy. Olympia was and still is a vital element to trade and commerce around the area. Its waterfront companies and easily accessible marinas have created the perfect setup for booming boating business.
One of our Capitol’s greatest seafaring treasures is actually located off of 4th Avenue in the West Bay Marina. Constructed in 1910, the Sand Man tugboat was used to haul gravel and sand to many neighboring places that required such material for construction. It was rebuilt after sinking in 1998 by the Sand Man Foundation, which was created by Robert Powell, the boat’s last private owner.
Today, the Sand Man is kept intact by a team of resident volunteers who have a passion for the vintage vessel. Doug Eklund, a local project engineer, is a Sand Man volunteer. When he’s not at work, you’ll likely find Eklund servicing the Sand Man, giving tours of the boat, or undertaking general maintenance.
Eklund has grown fond of the Sand Man’s historic charms over the years. He is highly knowledgeable about its background and most recent refurbishments.
“I have a little bit of a different view than many might have,” Eklund said. “I understand what Olympia is now, and I understand what it was in the past. I think about all the people that have worked on board this boat, many of them we would consider unskilled by today’s standards. However, many of the things those folks were doing are things we have a tough time doing today. You had to have your wits about you and have a pretty good amount of common sense.”
For Eklund, volunteering on the Sand Man has provided a chance to connect with his father’s past. His father moved to Olympia in 1928 and grew up around downtown. Like most kids at the time, Eklund’s father and his friends spent a great deal of time by the waterfront, watching boats arrive and depart. The Sand Man was no exception.
“They made kind of a game of it, trying to keep an eye on the Sand Man. The Sand Man was very, very busy all over Olympia, taking little loads here and there,” Eklund noted. “Now that I have a chance to work and volunteer on it, well, it’s important to me. It helps to make a link to me between my past and the history of Olympia.”
Doug appreciates the durability and rich antiquity of the vessel. To think that his dad kept an eye on the same tugboat on which Eklund now works is quite nostalgic.
With help from several different volunteers, the Sand Man can make necessary adjustments and upgrades to suit modern water travel. After the boat started sinking in 1998, its kerosene lanterns were replaced with electrical lighting and better floorboards were installed as well.
In the future, Eklund would like the Sand Man to be capable of handling a tow. He also mentioned that the boat will be out on the water more often so that more volunteers can become familiar with its operation.
“We’re going to start, very soon, doing a series of Wednesday night cruises just so we can train up and we can do a better job of running the boat,” he said. “There is particular talent in handling the boat. If we go to dock, it takes a real hand to do a good job.”
Eklund and the Sand Man Foundation are always looking for others interested in keeping up with the craft. If this interests you, you can visit the Sand Man’s website to make a donation or learn more about the Olympia’s historic tug.
“I’m eager to try to get other people involved with working on the boat,” Eklund expressed. “I want the Sand Man to keep right on going long after I check out.”