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Posted by Ken Campbell December 19, 2010 0 Comment 1019 views

Before Lt. Charles Wilkes came to the Puget Sound region in the early 1840’s, he and his crew took a detour through the South Pacific. While in Fiji, Wilkes took custody of a tribal chief named Vendovi, who had allegedly participated in the murder of a New England whaling crew unfortunate enough to have washed up on his beach eight years earlier. Details are hazy and were obscured by time and language even then, but Vendovi also stood accused of organizing a feast following the slayings that featured Yankee a l’orange as the main course.

Many things are permitted in the Navy, but cannibalism is not among them. Vendovi was first brought on board in irons, but over the months and years of ocean travel that followed, he became more of an honorary crew member than a prisoner and the rest of the crew grew to accept him, more or less. He learned to dance a hornpipe and picked up the language, and when Lt. Wilkes went on his naming spree in the Pacific Northwest – a tactic intended to Americanize what was at the time disputed property, much of it claimed by the British – he stuck Vendovi’s name on one of the eastern San Juan Islands.

The island eventually came to be held in private ownership and was offered at auction this past September, but the highest bid wasn’t enough to induce the sellers to give it up. That all changed last week when the San Juan Preservation Trust, a non-profit land trust based in the San Juan Islands, put up $6.4 million for the 217-acre island, effectively ensuring that the island will remain protected from development.

There is a four-bedroom house on the island already, which some lucky caretaker will get to call home, and the Trust is beginning an inventory of plant and animal life, to see what’s there, what needs to go and how best to manage the area. With almost three miles of shoreline and six perfect gravel/sand beaches, future plans will hopefully include some public access. Until the inventory is completed, however, the island is off-limits to visitors.

I’ve been there before, a quick stop on the way from Cypress Island to Lummi, just to stretch my legs. It’s a pretty little island, a welcome contrast to the developed shoreline of nearby Sinclair Island. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

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