Weigh Hey, Blow Your Boat Up!

Posted by admin on June 17, 2013 in Growing Up |
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My life as a pirate began at the tender age of 24. But the call of the sea came many years earlier and it continues to hold me in various ways, even though I have hit the infamous double nickels age.

Unlike some landlubbers I know who were called to the sea or even piracy by a Jack Sparrow movie, I came upon it far more honestly. It started in the summers of my youth, piloting my uncle’s boat up in the San Juans. It would have been a perfect undertaking too, if the boat had had a sail. It didn’t. It was one of those power thingies. Still, I took to the rigors of life out on the open water with abandon, learning all the finer points of navigation, docking and getting trapped in the middle of a giant seining net, delicately searching for the way I came in so that our only source of mobility — the engine — didn’t become fouled.

These were great times. It was shortly after my brother had died, and to soothe the savages of grief, my uncle and aunt would take me to summer with them on Guemes Island.

It was then that I learned to love the sea. Over the years I have taken my turn at the helm of many legendary craft — the Mallory Todd, the Adventuress, the Schooner WOLF — and many smaller sailing vessels owned by friends and acquaintances.

While these memories will be with me for a lifetime, there’s something about owning your own boat that offers a different experience, one that not only connects you to the sea, but to those brave adventurers who sailed off into the unknown, brave lads with salt in their veins.

My first boat was orange and blue. It wasn’t a very large ship by any measure, but it was all mine. I would spend long days in the summer on the waters of Lake Washington. Just me, my trusty craft, some basic provisions and that all important emergency patch kit.

Patch kit? Yes, my boat was a rubber one. Well, not exactly rubber. Vinyl to be exact. Big enough for two, but far more comfortable with one. And she was all mine.

I had quickly learned to get rid of the included plastic oars. They were for casual mariners, not a professional. I instead modified a couple of paddles, shaving off their wide ends to fit into the two oar locks.

Each day I would go down to the lake. I would unload all my gear from the back of my mom’s Mustang and then watch her drive away. Dutifully I would inflate the various chambers of the boat — the inner and out chambers of the craft itself, then the two alternating chambers that added buoyancy to the deck.

When finished, I would lug the boat over the dock and put her at sea. The initial leg of the journey was a perilous one. The dock was a busy place to be, with four or five boats unloading at a time.

It was a fairly turbulent waterway, as boats arrived and departed, sending wakes in every direction as they went under power. Thankfully, calmer waters awaited on the other side, just past the dock.

Being a seasoned captain, I would time this crossing to coincide with a brief break in the boating comings and goings. Locking in the oars I would quickly and briskly row across the boat ramp area and round the horn of the fishing dock, taking great care not to be a victim of mindless castings of little children, who would have taken delight in hooking a big one, even if it’s one transporting a teenager who didn’t know how to swim.

As I made my way past this imminent and continual danger, I would find the calmer waters just off the swimming area of Lake Washington Beach Park. Oh, I know that newbies call it Gene Coulan Park. But it will always be Lake Washington Beach Park to me, the same way that I still call Marin Luther King Jr. Way by its original name, Empire Way. Never been a big fan of renaming places after they’ve already been named. And while I’m at it, King County was named after Vice President William Rufus King, not Martin Luther.

But I digress.

Though it may seem tame to stay relatively close to shore – say within 300 yards of it – it did have its extreme dangers. Even today, I’m not a huge fan of being able to see the bottom of any body of water, whether it’s a large expanse of ocean or a hot tub.

In an inflatable, you never want to see the bottom, at least on Lake Washington. At the south end of the lake is a veritable minefield, filled with debris from volcanic eruptions and ensuing mud flows of long ago. Stands of trees still reside beneath the water there, along with the requisite snags.

These present little to no navigation problem for a standard boat, but spell doom and gloom for an inflatable. As I mentioned, I always had a patch kit aboard, along with a Mae West life preserver. I never wanted to have to resort to either of them, the lake being in the high 50s to low 60s at the height of summer. I still find the Caribbean to be on the cold side, so you can imagine my lack of enthusiasm for having to abandon ship, not yet knowing how to swim and facing the prospect of hypothermia.

Yes, a little melodramatic. But I was a kid.

Those heady days of summer at the beach would fade away just two years later. Doing all that work inflating and deflating my boat didn’t seem as romantic as it once did. The journey itself seemed somewhat pedestrian in the eyes of an older man who had redefined the very of idea of what constitutes an adventure in 1974.

True adventure now came with a set of wheels. And keys. Best of all, you didn’t have to inflate the damned thing or worry about hitting a snag, the only snag being which girl would have the honor of riding shotgun on the way to the park to sunbathe and neck.

In the Emerald City, feeling the call of the sea once again,

– Robb

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