The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume I, Number 4, Pages 16-18
Fall, 1976

The Equator: A Bit of History in Dry Dock

Helen Follis

Helen Follis is a free lance writer and teaches history at Issaquah Junior High School.

Hull of The Equator

Photo by Frederick Byrd

Sitting high and dry like the remains of some battered whale, the hull of the ship Equator rests ignominiously in dry dock at Everett, Washington. No marker or sign indicates that this bit of wreckage is listed in the National Historical Register.

When questioned, few people who frequent the Fourteenth Street Dock knew much about the ship, but one or two thought it had "something to do with Robert Louis Stevenson." Probably somewhere they had heard or read that the one-time schooner had been chartered by Stevenson for his travels in the South Seas.

Hoping to regain his health which had been failing for ten years, Stevenson set sail on June 28, 1888 for the tropical climate of the South Pacific. He sailed from San Francisco aboard the yacht Casco and planned to be gone for six months. As it turned out, Stevenson's sojourn to the South Seas would last six years, and after the Casco, he would sail on the schooner Equator and the S.S. Janet Nicoll. Stevenson never returned to the United States. He died in Samoa on December 4, 1894, and was buried according to his wishes on Mt. Vaea.

While aboard the Casco and the Equator Stevenson wrote an account of his experiences and observations. These were published in a volume appropriately entitled In the South Seas. At one place in the book Stevenson refers to the Equator as "a pigmy trading schooner." Compared to the seventy-four ton Casco, the Equator was, indeed, a "pigmy" weighing only sixty-two tons.

At other places in Stevenson's writings he refers to the cramped quarters aboard the ship. The Equator was not intended initially to serve as a passenger carrier. In fact, extra berths had to be added for the Stevensons and two other passengers. The ship had been designed by Mathew Turner and built in San Francisco in 1888 as a copra trader. During the Stevenson cruise in 1889, the schooner was involved in trading operations throughout the Gilbert Islands and Samoa.

After the year long cruise, the ship continued in service as a cargo vessel, later being used as a wire-drag ship for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Service. In 1902, the Equator was converted into a steam tug and served as a fish tender in Alaska. Later it was used as a tug boat in the Puget Sound area. Finally in a state of disrepair, the old ship was abandoned on the Everett Jetty in 1953. In 1967 the ship was dredged up and moved to the Fourteenth Street Marina area.

Since that time various people and organizations have expressed an interest in restoring the old schooner. A maritime museum in San Francisco wanted the ship for its collection, and various local groups attempted to raise the capital needed for repairs and storage. Then a group of historical minded Everett citizens formed Equator, Incorporated, which purchased the remains of the old ship with the idea of restoring it and keeping it in the vicinity of Everett.

Due to a lack of ready capital, restoration has been slow. When the ship was added to the National Historical Register on April 14, 1972, it was hoped that matching funds could be obtained; however, there were no funds to be matched until a local group donated $2,500 in June, 1973. A year later matching funds were obtained, and a marine architect was commissioned to develop plans for restoration.

Today the Equator still sits in dry dock, but now an epilogue can be added to the story. Under the auspices of the Everett Historical Commission and the Bicentennial Commission, the ship will be restored and placed in a new bicentennial park to be built in Everett. The high cost of financing the venture is still a problem, but if the old hull can weather the impending financial storm, it may, at last, find a resting place more suitable to its history.