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Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Don't Rain On My Parade

Saturday was "Opening Day", which in these parts denotes the official beginning of Boating Season. Sponsored by The Seattle Yacht Club and this year celebrating it's 90th Anniversary, this is considered one the not-to-miss events in boating circles.

Last year I took "Tigers Eye" out to the log boom east of the Montlake Cut for the first time. I've seen the crew races and boat parade from the shore a number of times in the past, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to view it up-close from the water. After a series of unimitigated disasters I eventually limped back to my slip late Sunday afternoon, having endured a weekend of mechanical breakdowns, snagged anchor lines, desperate cellphone calls to boat-towing companies, a knuckle-biting return to Lake Union and the final insult of running out of gas in Portage bay. Needless to say, this year I was less than enthusiastic about the prospects of taking the girl out for another weekend of abuse.

Fortunately, another option presented itself. I'd done a bit of volunteer work for the Maritime Heritage Foundation last summer for Tall Ships Seattle events (remember all those big sailing ships that were here last year?), and got a surprise invite to board the Virginia V as part of the official boat procession.

If you've never been on board this beauty, or are one of the six people in Seattle who haven't at least heard the blast from her two-ton steam whistle, then truly you do not know what you've been missing. The last of a venerable line of Puget Sound cruisers collectively known as "The Mosquito Fleet" , the Virginia V (as in Roman Numeral "V") is a direct link to our past. This is how your grandparents and great-grandparents traversed Puget Sound, from Olympia to Bellingham, and from Bremerton to Seattle, in the days before cross lake bridges or even a decent highway system existed. There were literally scores of these boats (hence the comparison to the ubiquitous insect from which the fleet derived its name), criss-crossing the sound, carrying mail, cargo and passengers to all points within reach of shore. In the early 50's the Puget Sound Navigation Co. (or "The Black Ball Line" as the company was more commonly known) was bought out by the State of Washington, and the fleet was incorporated into the new State Ferry System. Most of the ships from that period are long gone, and the Virginia V very easily could have followed in their wake, if not for the vision and hard work of a community of people dedicated to preserving this last link with a venerable maritime heritage. She is literally, the last of her kind, both as the only surviving member of the Mosquito Fleet, as well as being one of only two remaining steam-powered, wooden-hulled passenger ships still operating in the United States.

So, getting an invitation to embark on an Opening Day Cruise as part of the Procession is no small matter to a boater. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance!

We left the South Lake Union dock (only a 5 minute walk from my slip -- tres convenient!), at around 11:00 a.m., and proceeded to take a leisurely cruise uplake to Portage Bay, where we joined the procession fleet, which included the usual complement of mega-expensive "stinkpotters" (as sail boaters derisively call them; they in turn have an equally derisive word for us, "rag baggers"), gorgeously restored wooden launches, cruising sail boats, aqua-cars!, kayaks, dinghys, skullers ("Opening Day" also being held in conjunction with the U of WA's "Windermere Cup" crew races), and pretty much anything else that floats. We then assembled behind the SYC Commodore's "gig" and proceeded through the cut, waving at the crowds on shore, blowing off the mighty steam whistle, and getting umpteen bazillion pictures taken of us. Even as we speak, thousands of Seattleites are picking up prints or downloading digital images that include me standing at the bow, waving and smiling like all get-out.

And that's probably the closest I'll ever get to being the King of the Parade!

Posted byCOMTE on 3:12 PM

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