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Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Tenas Chuck

In the old Chinook trading dialect this was the name for the body of water that today we call Lake Union, and which just happens to be my backyard.

One nice thing about living on a lake is that whenever there is something going on here, you have instant access. No trolling for parking spaces on the 4th Of July, no being left on the sidelines during tall ships visits, no having to haul the kayak to some body of water, it's all right there.

With the warmer spring weather, the main event that goes on here is The Duck Dodge, a weekly "beer can regatta" -- that is with minimal rules -- race that can involve 70 or more separate vessels of every size, ranging from little laser sailboards up to 40 ft. racing yachts. It's a traditional part of the Seattle boating scene that's been around for nearly 30 years, and a must-do if you enjoy sailing, racing or you're just needing an excuse to get out on the water.

This year I've been volunteering on the Committee Boat, which is where the "officials" assign boats to the various race categories, determine the course, and set the start/finish line. It's a great way to get to know people who sail locally (particularly if one is interested in crewing on a boat or finding crew for your own), as well as providing an excuse to get involved in a big social event in the middle of the week. It's sort of the waterborne equivalent of a weekend block party, except that it happens on a Tuesday, and again it's right in my own backyard, so it's not like I have to travel anywhere to take advantage of it. If you've never seen a Duck Dodge from the water, you really have to experience it just once; scores of boats covering the lake with a carpet of sails spread in the sunshine. Even if boating isn't your bag, it's still a pretty amazing sight.

Due to a previous engagement, I was late getting back in time to board the Committee Boat last night, however, that represents only a slight inconvenience to the determined Duck Dodger. Grabbing some Nachos & beer on my way down CapHill (tonight's dinner theme being Mexican), I simply dumped everything in my inflatable dinghy, shoved off and motored out to the middle of the lake. Takes about ten minutes at a moderately slow speed, mainly due to taking extra precautions because, well because there are a whole bunch of really big boats racing up and down the lake, and I'm not one of them.

Last night's Committee Boat was a 40 foot ketch (a two masted ship with the aftmast or "mizzen" slightly shorter than the main mast and set afore of the rudder post) built in the early '20's and still in remarkably good condition. Lot's of folks on-board, chowing down on burritos and all having a general good time. They'd pretty well cleaned out the provisions by the time I arrived, so my extra contribution was descended upon like Biblical locusts on a field of grain, and quickly reduced to a few paltry crumbs.

The best part about the whole deal is that at the end of the races a number of the larger vessels will "raft up" to the Committee Boat, and commence what is essentially a big party. Imagine 15 or more large sailboats (and maybe a big power cruiser thrown in for variety's sake), floating side-by-side with more than 100 people sidling back-and-forth between them, chatting, drinking, dancing, and who knows what all, and you've got a pretty good image of what it's like. Every other week is a "theme night", so the general atmosphere of festivity can also be punctuated by what is essentially a big old watery costume party (last week for example was "Pirate Night"). Like I said, pretty unique -- even for Seattle!

About 10:00 the party began to bust up, and so it was back into the little rubber dinghy for the trip home. In the lingering twilight, the lake took on a very quiet tone; there was a soft sort of white-noise buzz from the freeway that actually helped drown out the sound of the other boat motors. The entire lake was dotted with little pinpoints of white, red and green, like fireflys in their Christmas finery, coming from the running lights of many, boats heading for their home docks. Next week weather permitting, it'll look just the same, except there will be a lot of people dressed as dead celebrities on-board.

And this one of the reasons I love living where I do, because you just will not see this sort of thing in your backyard!

Posted byCOMTE on 12:23 PM

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