“At the time the most important place to many seaman … was the Seaman's Church Institute, a place where one could pick up mail, and where they had a game room, a small reading room and library, and places where one could shower, shave and clean up generally. They also had a dormitory where clean beds were available. I've forgotten the price, [but] I rarely had [it]…. They had three or four hundred books if I recall correctly, varied as to quality but all interesting. Perhaps a third of them were non-fiction. Finding work was almost out of the question with so many skilled seamen standing by and ready to work, yet occasionally there was something.“

After a time Louis and some others combined their money and rented a shack on a hillside, they collected additional money by renting out the floor space to anyone who needed a place for the night. That shack and the Seaman’s Institute are both locations in the story “Old Doc Yak,” the nickname Louis and his buddies gave to an odd waterfront character they ran into occasionally. Old Doc Yak was actually a character in a newspaper comic strip of the time.

The FIRST Old Doc Yak Comic

"The Seaman's Institute was an education in itself. Another story of mine grew out of the checker games that were a regular feature of the place. There was an old longshoreman who came nearly every night to play. He was a thorough student of the game and had memorized all the plays in the books. He played using bottle tops for his 'men' and disdained any but a few who had proved themselves able to give him a contest. One of these was Oriental Slim, a particular friend of mine and another was a marine engineer. Either of these might beat him on occasion, but the occasions were rare.

Then came Sleeth, a slim, dark man with a fantastic head for figures. I've seen him stand beside the tracks and memorize the numbers on the box-cars as they rolled by, and be able to repeat them in order. They always checked out. Sleeth was ignored at first when he suggested a game with the old man, but he beat Oriental Slim and so was considered a likely candidate. What followed was cruel, although not intentionally so. Checkers was more than a game to the old longshoreman. It was his life, his very reason for being, and he was proud of his skill. Each move was studied with care and made only after much thought. Sleeth would carry on a conversation with bystanders and as soon as the old man had made his move he would, with scarcely' a glance at the board, make his move. And he would win every time. Perhaps the sudden moves shook the old man's confidence, perhaps the conversation did. After a few such games the old man did not come back to the Seaman's Institute. Sleeth, like most of us was a bird of passage, and soon he was gone, too. . . .

“It’s Your Move” was a story about the checker tournaments with it’s final act nearly being played out in blood during the dangerous business of loading cargo into a freighter.

The final act that the Seaman’s Institute was to play in Louis’s life occurred very late one night when a stranger came in and began asking for directions to Wilmington, a separate port, though connected to San Pedro. When he mentioned that he had just heard from the Marine Service Bureau and had to catch a ship Louis offered to take him where he needed to go.

The Seaman's Church Institute Today

"I remember stumbling along a road with another seaman when we headed for the waterfront to meet the incoming ship from the east coast which was bound out to the Far East, and the long wait on the dock in the fog, to see the ship at last, slowly steaming up the dark channel, a blacker spot in a world of gray dampness."

Louis took what they called a “pier-head jump,” joining a ship’s crew just by showing up and hoping that they had a job available. He said that he signed on under a bare bulb in the First Mate’s cabin about 3 a.m.

"Even now, after the years I can close my eyes and feel that old E.K. Wood Lumber dock where the steam schooners lay in their slips, waiting to discharge their cargo of timber from Grays Harbor or somewhere to the north. I can feel the dampness of fog on my face, see the lights of loading ships across the channel on the old Luckenbach dock, and hear the deep-throated blast of a whistle on a steamer outward bound for the far places."

And now he too was outward bound on a voyage that would change his life …

Next Page

The Way West

  • Death Westbound

On The Beach at
San Pedro

  • Old Doc Yak
  • It's Your Move
  • And Proudly Die
  • Survival
  • Show Me The Way To Go Home

S. S. Steel Worker

  • Thicker Than Blood
  • The Admiral


  • Shanghai, Not Without Gestures
  • The Man Who Stole Shakespeare

Dutch East Indies

  • The Dancing Kate
  • Off the Mangrove Coast

North Africa

  • Glorious Glorious!
  • By The Ruins of El Walarieh

Europe and WWII

  • The Cross and the Candle
  • A Friend of the General

Home Again

  • Author's Tea


The Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour
Volume IV
The Adventure Stories










Copyright © 2006-2007 Louis L'Amour Enterprises Inc.
Your browser doesn't support EMBED, but you can still listen to the background sound of this page by<a href="audio/NauticleMysteryTheme.mp3"> clicking here.</a>