By Matthew Durkee

From the pages of the Del Norte Triplicate, July 1937:

Editor’s note: The previous two editions of this column reported on the dubious plans of Perry O. Stoughton, 27 at the time, who was confident he could build a log raft and sail it to San Diego. Billed by the amused editors of the Triplicate as “Modern Crusoe” in headlines, his first attempt got no farther than a mile and a half before his rudder failed. Brief newsreel footage of him sailing out of the harbor can be seen on YouTube in a video titled “California — Crossing Of The Pacific By The Spirit Of Crescent City Aka California Log Raft (1937)”.

In his words

Excerpts from Stoughton’s July 22 dispatch to the Triplicate:

I finally got underway the second time at 4 p.m. last Saturday afternoon. As I passed the rock I thought, “Well, Old Boy, I’ll not be seeing you again soon.”

I was then occupied with getting acquainted with my new rudder. As I got farther offshore and the seas became bigger, it also became more of a job holding on to my course. As soon as I came around out of the quartering seas and headed south this difficulty eased itself considerably.

By then I had time to size up the situation in all its aspects and was quite optimistic about the first lap of my trip. (I also noticed that my feet were very wet.)

When the city lights came on, I was far enough south that the lights of Crescent City seemed just a small cluster of brightness and even that soon lost to vision.

I imagine that it was about midnight when the wind died down as I was soon enveloped in a cloud of heavy fog. The sea was nearly a flat calm, and the sail was banging around against the mast. I dropped the sail and sat down on a piece of the “over-stuffed” suite and waited.

I guess that my “sit-down” strike against the weather lasted for nearly eight hours, when I was aroused from my lethargy by the slow-chugging exhaust of the troller Sea-Wolf. He came close by, and when I asked him where I was, he told me that I was about 10 miles due west of Crescent City. It was then that I really became respectful of the Humboldt Current. The last bearing that I was able to take was on a group of lights to my left that could have been nothing else than the lights of Requa or Klamath, and I had drifted clear back to my starting point.

About ten o’clock Monday morning, the wind came up from the northwest and away I went to the south. I was advised to keep close in shore, as the current was not so strong there. I headed directly for Halls Klamath. I had a light breeze that held me in the same spot for six hours. I did not drift right or left, back or ahead. Finally the wind changed and came up to whistle from the southeast. With the northbound current and the northwest-bound wind, there was nothing else for me except to come about and head for the nearest anchorage, which was in Crescent City.

I came into the bay past the east side of Whaler Island and dropped the hook at about 4 a.m.

I sat there shivering until I was taken off the hook by an angel from the Aili. He took me to his boat where I had about six cups of coffee and then came ashore.

If there had been a boy with a bucket following me down Second Street, he surely could have made a neat sum of money by picking up all the razzberries that were tendered me.

There has been many a home run hit on the third strike, so, as soon as I make a few more refinements on “The Spirit of Crescent City,” I’m off again.

Come on, boys, let’s have a few more bets.

Epilogue

Despite promises otherwise, that was the last entry from the “Diary of the Modern Crusoe” in the Triplicate.

A week later the paper reported that Stoughton had returned from San Francisco with new ideas and a little sponsorship money from a San Francisco paper.

“He’s going to have a Fisher body to protect him from the elements, a crate of carrier pigeons and possibly (but shhhh!) a little motive power,” the Triplicate said.

Stoughton said 18 weeks of Vaudeville gigs were lined up for him in San Francisco and Los Angeles after he completes his raft voyage to San Diego. The new “angle” was to be a Romeo on a raft in search of a Juliet gag.

That, however, was the final word about Stoughton in the 1937 Triplicate. Pages of History’s resident genealogist (my wife) did some digging and discovered that Stoughton did eventually find his Juliet, whose name was in fact Gertrude.

Stoughton, originally from Pennsylvania, married Gertrude near Fresno in 1939. Though they had no children of their own, he helped Gertrude raise two of hers, a boy and a girl, from a previous marriage.

After marrying, Perry worked in construction in various parts of California, including the East Bay and Los Angeles, during the 1940s and 1950s.

His wife left a more detailed paper trail. Gertrude (née Knapp) was born in New York City and came to California by way of Texas, where her children were born 10 months apart in 1932.

She too had the writing bug. While she was in Texas she penned tourism articles for the San Antonio Express and published a history of New Braunfels, Texas. In 1935 she was pursuing a master’s degree in English at Berkeley. And by the end of her life, she had published a half dozen other history books, some about California, including one about San Francisco architecture. Several books by Gertrude K. Stoughton are still available on Amazon.

At one point, in 1944, Gertrude identified her political affiliation as Communist but in 1946 identified as a Democrat.

She and Perry lived a long life together, and Gertrude eventually died in 1975 in Pinellas County, Florida. Stoughton died there five years later and was buried in St. Petersburg, Florida, not far from the sea.

Reach Matthew Durkee at mdurkee@triplicate.com.

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