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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Notes on Boat Camping

Statistically, the first weekend in August sees Seattle’s greatest onslaught of migratory potters, glass-bead jewlery makers, hydroplane drivers and out-of-state relatives. It’s also supposed to be the driest weekend of the year, and to many of us natives that means one thing: Camping!
But we all know that statistics lie like a cheap rug. Never was this fact brought home more forcefully than on a long-ago Seafair Weekend, when my Significant Other and I decided to take our twenty-four foot sailboat “Caution to the Winds” out for two days of glorious early-August fun.
We spent Friday night at Thriftway stocking up on all the essentials for the perilous expedition to Blake Island: Sunscreen, bug spray, Tim’s potato chips, a Tillamook Cheddar Baby Loaf and select adult beverages.
Saturday dawned dismayingly cloudy, but S.O. was undeterred. “It’ll burn off,” he said. “It’s SeaFair Weekend. It never rains.” We pulled on our fleece jackets and tromped down the Shilshole dock, lugging a cooler filled with enough Life cereal and Johnsonville Brats to sustain the Lewis and Clark expedition through a rough winter.
Since there was no wind, S.O. fired up the Iron Spinnaker. Twenty-five pulls on the starter cord later, the outboard erupted into a mighty roar reminiscent of the sound of a fork caught in a garbage disposal. We powered out of the marina in a cloud of blue smoke at a breathtaking four knots. For those of you unfamiliar with arcane nautical terminology that speed is, in miles per hour, “really slow.” “It’s OK,” I shouted to S.O, anxiously eyeing the lowering gloom. “It’s Seafair Weekend. It never rains.” Moments later the heavens opened up and unleashed a frigid deluge, reducing the visibility to approximately zero just as we reached the shipping lanes.
By now past the point of no return in the voyage if not our relationship, we pressed on toward where we hoped Blake Island might be. I endeavored not to remember how I used to tell my small-boat sailing students that it takes a freighter approximately a mile to stop. That factoid is only a concern, of course, if you are actually spotted. Our boat had been designed for racing, of with a low profile and a coating of what appeared to me to be radar-absorbing paint.
Eventually the island hove into view and we dropped anchor under the watchful Labrador Retriever eyes of a harbor seal. The rain intensified. S.O. tied a blue cover over the boom to shelter the cockpit, giving lie to the notion that “blue-tarp camping” is limited to landlubbers.
We were now effectively confined in the recreational equivalent of a prison hulk. We could not launch the dinghy to go ashore as long as the boom tent was up, and we could not stand up in the cabin or under the tent. “It’s fine,” said .SO. “It’ll clear up, it’s SeaFair Weekend.”
Since our planned barbecue on the island was now out of the question, I would have to rely on the skills and ingenuity of my pioneer ancestors to create a meal using only nature’s bounty of Top Ramen, salmon dip, Cheetos and beer. I dutifully cranked up both burners of the cabin’s tiny alchohol stove. While I waited for the water to boil I wrung out our soaked socks and fleeces, raising the ambient humidity in our cramped quarters to approximately 250 %. Just as I was wondering whether you could contract tuberculosis from the miasma of sweat, old campfire smoke and bug spray that results fishing last week’s camping clothes out of the laundry hamper,S.O. announced that the porta-potty had sprung a leak. Thankfully, only of chemicals and not of “the other stuff,” but the resulting stench would have driven Osama bin Laden out of deepest Tora Bora.
Eventually we settled down to eat my culinary creation, reclining in the berths on one arm like ancient Romans because there was no room to sit upright. S.O. managed not to make too much of a face, but I noticed he was careful to breathe only through his mouth and he followed every bite with a swig of beer.
The evening’s entertainment consisted of reading the backs of cereal boxes as we had not brought any books or magazines. “Why is there guar gum in both the peanut butter and the jelly?” I asked S.O., but he had already fallen asleep.
In fact the weather did clear up. At approximately 2:00 AM the sudden absence of the applause-like roar of rain on the cabin roof woke me. I crawled out through the hatch onto the bow of the boat. The vault of the heavens was filled with uncountable stars, shimmering a hard bluish white in the still, clear air. The bay around us was a mirror reflecting the stars back so perfectly that we seemed suspended in a child’s snow globe. The only disturbance to this perfect symmetry was a faint glowing trail in the water made by the bioluminescent-algae-filled current passing our anchor chain.
The next morning we piled on every piece of damp clothing we posessed and motored back to Shilshole. The following year we got married. But not on SeaFair Weekend.

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