March 26, 2016–Betty Lowman Carey, Rowboat Adventurer
In 1931 the United States Coast Guard found a traditional Alaska native dugout canoe adrift in the waters off the San Juan Islands. They brought it to shore and when no owners stepped forward to claim it, Ray Lowman bought it. With his four sons helping him, he painted it red, strengthened it with oak ribs, fitted it with oar locks then presented it to his daughter, Betty on her 18th birthday.
Betty Lowman Carey was a tomboy. She took to the canoe instantly and named it Bijaboji, an acronym of her brother’s names, Bill, Jack, Bob and Jimmy. She spent hours rowing the waters around Anacortes, Wa. It wasn’t long before she hatched a plan to row the boat to Alaska under her solo power.
Her father strictly forbade it. She persisted.
Thinking to deter her from a dangerous journey, her father devised a test for her, telling her that once she had completed it, he would give her his permission to set forth. The test was a 10 mile swim between Guemes and Cypress Islands, a channel known for its strong currents. Perhaps he thought she would give up in the face of such an impossible task. Or perhaps he really knew his daughter–that she never gave up–and he wanted to make sure she was an accomplished swimmer, in case her boat overturned.
Needless to say, she passed the test.
In June of 1937, Carey graduated from the University of Washington and four days later set off in her canoe to row the inside passage. Sixty six days and 1500 miles later she reached her goal when she landed in Ketchikan, becoming the first woman to row the Inside Passage solo.
I expected hardships and I looked forward to them as a chance to find myself out.
–Betty Lowman Carey, 1937
Twenty six years later she repeated the feat, this time rowing from Ketchikan to Anacortes. She has written a book about her adventure: Bijaboji: North to Alaska by Oar.
For many years after her first adventure, she traveled the country giving lectures about her trip. This was during the same era that Amelia Earhart embarked on her famous journey into history and our imaginations. She met and married Neil Carey and the couple homesteaded on Queen Charlotte Island, a body of land accessible only by boat or helicopter. As of 2009, Bijaboji is on display in the W.T. Preston Heritage Center at Cap Sante Harbor in Anacortes.