“So – what do you do if you see a big ship coming toward you out on the Sound?” my wife, Kate, asked. She sounded worried.
“Oh that’s easy,” I grinned. “You just row like hell!”
Kate narrowed her eyes, unconvinced by this bit of machismo.
I had considered the question myself, and even practiced my response to the guideboat vs.cargo ship scenario my wife was concerned about. Now, I put on a confident tone. “You take out the VHF radio and say, ‘Big cargo ship headed south, this is the rowing vessel Terrapin, do you read me, over.’”
To be honest, I was more scared of big ships than I was of any other danger I might encounter on the trip. I figured that to a big ship I would be completely invisible.
My friend Neil once described his take on visibility better than I could have. “So Bruce,” he said. “Imagine that you’re sitting in your boat and you see a big container ship heading towards you.” He looked into the distance, even though we were in a bar. “Now, look up five or six stories to the top of the superstructure where the poorly paid captain and crew should be sitting.”
We paused, staring across the bar. “Now imagine that your boat is strapped to the roof of that superstructure,” he mused. “Could you see it?”
We sipped our beers in silence, thinking about that. No, it wouldn’t be a pretty situation if I met up with a ship.
I failed to tell my wife that, even if I could hail the vessel, there wouldn’t be much the captain could do to avoid me. So my strategy was to look carefully for traffic and do what I told her I would: row like hell.
It didn’t take long to reach the edge of the shipping lanes, and as far as I could tell, there were no ships to be seen. I stopped rowing and despite the waves lapping too close to my gunnels and the wind wanting to turn the boat on its beam end, I took a few minutes to strap down my gear in a more seaworthy fashion. (Little did I know that back on the beach my friends had stopped to take one more look at me and wondered what had gone wrong.)
I continued westward towards Blake Island State Park, about four nautical miles from Seattle. I had heard two things about Blake, both of which were likely to be false, since they were so extreme: it was an absolutely beautiful, unspoiled place, said one report; it was a tourist trap with a kitschy Native American dinner and show, said another. Normally, I’d avoid someplace like that, but I was intrigued.
I also had to settle a debt to myself. Blake Island was supposed to be the last stop on my Olympia to Seattle row the previous summer; but for various reasons, I never made it. Since then, I’d come to regret not visiting, and on subsequent visits to Seattle without my boat, I looked bitterly out at that island, wishing I had experienced it myself. So it was with some enthusiasm that I set out, not just on a big trip, but on the path to laying this desire to rest.
About an hour later, I rowed out of the wind, into the Blake Island’s boulder-sheltered harbor. I avoided the big plastic pleasure boats and slipped in to the undignified, but empty, dinghy parking area, where I was greeted with a pleasant surprise. After giving me the bemused look I would come to expect when my fully loaded rowboat arrived at a dock full of big boats, two men sprang up and tied the boat fast to the dock. I felt like royalty. A volunteer host greeted me, provided an orientation to the island, and told me that she would look after my boat while I went exploring.
And explore I did. I found a a simple, but poorly marked, trail system that makes loops and crossings all over the island. Avoiding the gift shop, I ambled peacefully down a grassy, shaded trail through the forest which lead to a windswept beach.
I’m an avid beach comber and recovering marine biologist, so it was with great pleasure that I sifted through seaweed, shells, and assorted beach wrack, rediscovering creatures I hadn’t seen in years. As I looked across the sand, I saw a sphere just above high tide line and wondered if my eyes deceived me. I’d always wanted to find a glass fishing float, but in all my years near the coast, I was never lucky enough to find one. Could this be a good omen for the trip ahead, I wondered?
When I got closer, I saw that the dark sphere was grey green and its sheen was decidedly un-glasslike. Half covered in decomposing eel grass, this find would never float. My treasure was a bocce ball.
Not one to dwell on defeats, I figured I’d make the best of it. Maybe I was delusional after rowing and hiking all day, but I decided that this two-pound bocce ball would become my trip mascot. Since bocce means “ball” in Italian, calling it bocce ball seemed redundant. So I dubbed my new friend B2. I knew that B2 and I would have some fine adventures in the week ahead…
[Stay tuned. Next week our heroes venture north and west.]