Stephen Randolph Van Cleve

2/28/1942 – 8/8/2023


Steve Van Cleve passed away on August 8, 2023 surrounded by his family in the home he built for them on the land he called Fiddler’s Green. He had been diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis just two weeks earlier.

Steve was born in Oakland, California to Harvey and Lois (Tucker) Van Cleve before Harvey joined the Army Air Corps to fly bombers in WWII. As a child, Steve spent summers in Eureka, California in the care of his beloved Mimi (grandmother Mary Frances Bending, after whom he named his daughter).

His vocation and profession began with his first tug job as a deck hand for Harbor Tug and Barge Company on the San Francisco Bay in the early 1960’s. During that time, Steve worked on two-man tugboats laying the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) tube under the San Francisco Bay to connect the city to the East Bay. He also worked on tugs towing sugar beet barges in the Sacramento Delta.

In 1970 he sailed 26-foot ketch Zeevalk to Hawaii. In Hawaii he worked for Atlas Tug and Barge on the tugboat Jupiter, for Healy Tibbitts Company running the tug Lokalea installing tanker moorings at Barbers Point, and for Universal Dredging Company running a large anchor scow. In 1972, Steve was on hand in Hilo marina to catch the dock lines of the 50-foot ketch Margaretta after her ocean crossing from California with Marci Fish on board.

Marci and Steve’s courtship was fueled by adventure and pastrami sandwiches from Ron’s of Hawaii, where Marci held a part time job in Honolulu. In 1973, Margaretta owners Sidney and Laila Messer hired Steve as Captain to sail to Sitka, Alaska with Sidney, Laila, Tuuli (9) and Marci as crew. In Sitka, Steve and Marci briefly worked on a fish tender before returning to Hawaii. From Hawaii Steve prepared to depart for the South Pacific on his 37-foot cutter Houhere. Marci had plans to begin her teaching career in Boston, Massachusetts. A week into his journey to Tahiti, Steve turned around and sailed back to Honolulu to pursue an adventure of a different kind. In November of 1974, Steve and Marci were married at Hamilton Air Force Base in Marin County, California.

A suggestion from Hawaii friends Molly and Ed Davis brought Steve and Marci to Marrowstone Island in search of land. The sale of Houhere helped finance 20 acres where they spent the winter of 1975 in a tent. While they built their home and farm they continued tugboat, fish tender, freight barge, and boat delivery work from California to Hawaii to Alaska. Even six-month old Frances Brie joined Steve and Marci on a fish tender in Alaska.

In the early 1980s, the Marine Leasing Corporation of Seattle sent Steve to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to run the Robert W, a 3200 horsepower, twin screw converted Navy class YTM tug, docking Navy ships and submarines, four months on, four months off. In the 1990s, Steve worked for Star Marine of Bainbridge Island to run the Mary S, a 365 horsepower, single screw tug, shifting wood chip scows for the Port Townsend Paper Mill. Steve also ran tugs for General Construction Company and for the Navy around Puget Sound including towing SWOB barges (ship waste offloading barges) between Indian Island and Bremerton Navel Shipyard. Steve ran a tug supporting the laying of submarine detection cable off Neah Bay and delivered various vessels to and from Alaska and one from Panama to Seattle. Later, for Coastal Transportation of Seattle, Steve delivered a former Navy YTB class tug from Norfolk, Virginia to Seattle through the Panama Canal and the 180-foot former Coast Guard buoy tender Conifer from San Pedro, California to Seattle. He remarked often on his good fortune to be paid to do what he loved.

Steve focused intensely on projects and had tremendous energy and vitality. On their farm, Steve and Marci raised sheep, goats, cows, chickens and ducks, a horse and pony, and grew a prolific garden. With a self-taught, keen eye for architecture, he translated his inspiration from A Pattern Language by Alexander, Ishikawa, and Silverstein into an original sailor’s heaven at Fiddler’s Green. Over decades he restored and cultivated a small vintage Mercedes Benz fleet. He played cribbage or dominoes daily with Marci, neighbors, and friends. At the Christmas Day open house, he served Ramos Fizz and he was known to recite The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert W. Service at the smallest provocation. He listened intently and relished sea stories. He loved a bargain and practical jokes. In addition to being a sailor and tugboat operator and a fine boat handler, Steve was artist and tinkerer, a builder and a gardener, a volunteer firefighter, a good neighbor, and a beloved father and husband.

Steve is preceded in death by his parents and his brothers Kevin Coleman and Eric Van Cleve. He is survived by his wife Marci, daughter Frances Brie (husband Tony King), grandchildren Galynn and Maxwell, sister Lauren Van Cleve (husband John Battis) and brothers Mark Van Cleve (wife Tami) and Brian Coleman, as well as son Gregory Van Cleve (wife Janet) from Steve’s previous marriage, niece Valerie Coleman (spouse Krys and children Theo and Hollis) and nephew Jeff Battis (wife Lexi and children Owen and Landon) and many neighbors and long-term friendships that surrounded and animated his life on Fiddler’s Green.