All Wet, or Sleepless in Seattle

My wife was visiting for much of the last week. We were determined to get the best experience out of my time in Seattle that we could. Saturday we decided that we would branch out from microbrews, Pike Place Market, and salmon and check out some of the other pleasures that the area has to offer. We decided to start with the water.

Seattle is surrounded by water. To the west is Elliott Bay, which opens into Puget Sound. To the east is Lake Washington. And around the periphery are dozens of smaller lakes. One in particular, Lake Union, divides Seattle proper from its northern suburbs, Ballard, Fremont, and Wallingham, as well as the University of Washington (known locally as U-dub). Lake Union has a couple of things to recommend it: houseboats (it’s the supposed site of Tom Hanks’ home in Sleepless in Seattle), seaplanes, and the Wooden Boat Center.

The Wooden Boat Center restores and maintains a fleet of wooden vessels ranging from rowboats to two-master sailboats. You can take sailing lessons, or rent sailboats or rowboats. It’s pretty cool — Lake Union is a small enough body of water that it’s not too intimidating to be out there on a boat, even if you haven’t rowed in a few years.

Or so I thought. We rented a 15-foot wide-bottomed boat, got in, and cast away from the dock. As I pulled the oars, I immediately made two discoveries:

  1. The oars had much smaller blades than those I had used before.
  2. It really had been a long, long time since I had used the muscles needed for rowing. In fact, I used to use a rowing machine when I visited the gym regularly, which was last in … 1998.

Clearly, my body was not going to enjoy this.

The small blades of the oars (also wooden) contributed to the funniest problem of the day: the boat had a tendency to go in circles. This was because the oars had a tendency to rotate around their central axes in my hands, so after one good stroke with the blades in the proper position, the blades would suddenly be 90 degrees out of whack and start scooping the water into the boat and over both of us. This was more a problem on my right side for some reason, and so I found myself continually pulling the boat to port.

Lisa suggested we try to move the oarlocks back one bench to see if I could pull them better from that position, so we pulled the boat up to another dock and tried to move the oarlocks. That didn’t seem to work, so she volunteered to pull for a while. We shoved off and she promptly set the boat going in circles. After we straightened that out, she still was pulling to starboard. This was bad, because that was sending us right at a row of yachts in a private slip.

Visions of us crashing a well-loved 40 year old rowboat into a $500,000 yacht dancing in my head, I helped her wrestle the oars and we finally came to rest in a vacant mooring between two yachts. Cursing mightily, we switched places and I managed to pull the boat back out onto the open water–no mean feat, because if I pulled it too far to one side or another the oar would scrape the yacht on that side.

We finally got it out in the open water and decided to head back. Lisa directed me and I kept the boat going more or less in a straight line by lining up her head with a seaplane hangar on the other shore of the lake. I told her, “Don’t move your head, dear, because we’ll end up totally lost…”

Last night my aching triceps and mild sunburn kept me awake all night long, telling me I was a moron. It was still fun though. Lisa’s on a red-eye back to Maine where she’s managing a project. She hopes to come back in August, at which point she wants to go kayaking. Please say a prayer for me and send a bottle of Advil.