John Wayne, the man and his boats

I don't think there is anyone alive that has not known about John Wayne. But very few know about his love for the sea and connection to Cowichan Bay.

Born Marion Michael Morrison on May 26, 1907. His father was a pharmacist in the small town of Winterset Iowa. His childhood was rather uneventful, but he developed a love for the water in his early years.

In 1925 in hopes of hoping to spend time at sea he applied to the Navy, he was rejected and called it “the biggest disappointment of his life”. He then attended the University of Southern California on a football scholarship. To pay is way he found a job at Fox studios for the sum of $35 per week as a props clerk. Noticed by the director John Ford he put him on screen as an extra in one of his movies. As they say “and the rest is history”. Feeling his name was not in line with his character he assumed the name we all know him as. His nickname Duke came from his childhood when they called him “Big Duke” as he constantly had his dog “Little Duke” with him.

He had fame but the water called. He bought his first boat Partner Sought in 1932. She was in Anacortes Washington and spent her entire life in the area. At 76' she had lots of room for John and his many friends. Of of their favourite fishing places was Cowichan Bay. At that time the bay was the centre of salmon fishing on Vancouver Island. No one ever went to the distant Campbell River, fishing was too good in Cowichan Bay. John's favourite cronies were the big names in Hollywood at the time. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and many others would come here. Spending hours on the water on Partner, and probably as many hours at the Buena Vista Hotel swapping tales.

Partner still survives to this day. She is still moored in Anacortes. All wood she is as good as the day built. Large forward and aft decks and sheltered side decks. She has 3 staterooms, crew accommodation, a huge family area and a galley that can feed an army. Meticulously maintained she is still a beauty on the water.

In the early 60's John purchased the mega yacht Wild Goose from a good friend in Seattle. Lumber tycoon Max Wyman sold the 136' boat for $110,000. A converted mine sweeper it was as large as John and his reputation. By then he had bought a large house on the ocean with a private dock for his passion for the water. John's passion for fishing never ceased. And he gave his fish away to his friends. Does that mean he liked fishing but was not too fond of eating them?

Before John died in 1979 he took his last cruise on the Wild Goose. Two weeks later the cancer he had fought in his later years took over. On June 11 he died and is now buried in Newport Beach. Fitting to his love for the water his grave is on a hill overlooking the ocean.

Thomas Wagner is retired and is a historical researcher, writer and photographer living in Cowichan Bay. He enjoys digging up history and looks forward to hearing any good stories.