RoCkInG The Boat!

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Monday, August 09, 2004

Getting My Sea Legs Back

After spending the better part of the past 10 days on-shore, my first full evening back on the boat last night was a bit disconcerting. For one thing, it was just enough time for my body to forget the fact that everything beneath my feet is in a constant, if at times almost imperceptible state of motion -- and usually along at least two of the three X,Y,Z axes at once.

Last night also saw the last gasp of Seattle's venerable annual paean to all things that make loud noises, on the land, on the water or in the air, SeaFair. Judging from the number of people, and the strewn plastic beer cups around my marina, evidentally quite a few of my neighbors spent the weekend at the hydroplane races on Lake Washington, and were intent on extending the floating party for as long as possible. My slip neighbor implored me to help myself to one of the three kegs of beer on his boat, but somehow the idea of drinking warm Bud Light at 10:00 at night just wasn't all that appealing to me.

For those not in the know, SeaFair is an old-school annual community celebration that began around 1950, and was itself an offshoot of an even older event known as "Potlatch Days", which itself was a sort of Anglicized rip-off of a traditional Native Northwest Indian ceremony.
In it's modern incarnation SeaFair is a month-long series of local, neighborhood and community events (parades, street fairs and the like) capped off by the annual "Torchlight Parade" through downtown, followed by a weekend drinking binge predecated on the excuse of watching hydroplane racing and airplane aerobatics over Lake Washington. Hundreds of thousands of spectators line the banks of the Lake, while thousands more take to all manner of floating vehicles (in 1979 I made the voyage with a college roommate from Mercer Island to "the log boom" -- the floating spectator area adjacent to the hydroplane course -- in a ramshackle raft made of 55 gallon steel drums and 2x6 planks) for a floating party powered by testosterone, sunshine, beer and jet aircraft fuel. It's the sort of event where every year, at least one person is seriously injured after falling overboard (although invariably it's reported that they were "diving") and either landing on: a.) another boat, b.) the log boom itself, or c.) their own boat's prop (this year it was c.).

Perhaps the sine quo non example of the ultimate SeaFair moment is embodied in the famous 1955 fly over made by Boeing Chief Flight Engineer Alvin "Tex" Johnson, who took the "Dash 80" -- the prototype of Boeing's 707 jetliner -- on a little cruise over the Lake, flipping it upside down in a barrel (or aerolon) roll a mere 400 ft above the deck, sending a hundred thousand spectators into estatic amazement, and scaring the living bejeezuz out of Boeing President William Allen. That was a half century ago, but old-timers still talk about it around this town with the same sort of hushed reverence that in an earlier era would have been reserved for memories of Presidential visits, World Series victories, and famous battles.

Although the huge influx of out-of-towners in the past decade has dilluted enthusiasm for the event somewhat, the general populace still clings to the old tradition with a certain reverent irreverence if you will. Culturally it's become a demarcation line dividing the "old" Seattle of blue-collar radical unionism, lumber, and fishing, and the "new" Seattle of computers, bio-tech and overpriced housing markets. It's Weyerhaeuser and Boeing versus MicroSoft and Amazon; Lutefisk verus sushi; Ford pickups versus Hummers.

Every year the local newspapers are filled with letters from irate "New Seattlites" bemoaning the noise, the smell, and the jingoism, as the air is temporarily shattered by the subsonic vibrations of Navy F-18's cruising just above to tops of buildings. But, every year, a crowd of roughly 250,000 (or about half the size of Seattle's total municipal population) shows up on the shores or out on the water to enjoy (sometimes over enjoy) this annual ritual celebration of our water-faring roots.

Posted byCOMTE on 9:22 AM

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