Terry Buzzard grew up on the northwest shore of Lake Whatcom, not far from the home of Jack Swanson. They were close in age and were the only children in their families, so they played together a lot, often on the lake with their small boats with outboard motors.
“We hung out a lot until we were old enough to get out of the house and have a boat,” Swanson recalled.
While Swanson became a lawyer, Buzzard pursued a lifetime of boating, reflecting his grandfather’s and father’s love of power boats. Buzzard became a fisherman, a nautical postal carrier delivering mail to the San Juan Islands, and, for more than 50 years, the owner and operator of Island Mariner Cruises, offering whale-watching tours, history cruises and chartered trips out of Squalicum Harbor.
Buzzard died Dec. 18, 2015, at the age of 73, having spent a lifetime doing what he enjoyed most.
Terry Buzzard and historian Galen Biery started History Sunset Cruises to benefit Whatcom Museum.
“Boating was absolutely his love,” said Dick Montag of Bellingham, a friend of Buzzard’s ever since they were kindergartners at Campus School at Western Washington University.
Buzzard’s grandfather started the Lake Whatcom Motor Boat Club in 1904, hosting boat races on the lake, Montag said. The club still meets, with members restoring and operating classic wooden boats. Buzzard’s father, who ran a foundry in Bellingham, also enjoyed boat racing, and Terry became a boater while a young child.
As a Boy Scout, Buzzard worked at Black Mountain Scout Camp hauling camp kids by boat across Silver Lake. After graduating from Bellingham High School in 1960, he became a commercial fisherman, then earned his captain’s license and delivered mail by boat to people in the San Juans.
When state ferries and airplanes took over the task of delivering mail, Buzzard bought the mail boat and used it for a foot ferry to the islands and for group charters. He also visited the islands as the “Christmas Ship” a handful of times, took on towing and salvage jobs, ran charter trips up the B.C. coast and into Alaska, and helped clean up oil after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
In 1978, Buzzard started offering whale-watch tours; he said his was the first business to offer that service in the region. Buzzard’s vessel, most recently the 110-foot Island Caper, also has been used for History Sunset Cruises that benefit Whatcom Museum, cruises that Buzzard and historian Galen Biery started some three decades ago.
If you shook his hand, it was a binding contract. He would stand by it, no matter what.
Dick Montag, lifelong friend of Terry Buzzard
Through his decades on the water, Buzzard was accompanied by a series of Airedale terriers, seven in all and each named “Rusty.”
Montag said Buzzard made plans for his charter business to keep operating after his death.
“He wanted it to continue,” Montag said.
Befitting his life outdoors, Buzzard’s arms and hands were deeply tanned. With his gravelly voice and his artificial leg, the result of a fishing accident in his 20s, he once joked that he could resemble a pirate.
Friends described Buzzard as funny and smart, with a penchant for quietly helping people and groups in the community, and a reputation for trustworthiness.
“If you shook his hand, it was a binding contract,” Montag said. “He would stand by it, no matter what.”
Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291