From The Citiot Desk

The Miracle of Boats


Crabs think fish fly. I can hear them, muttering and grumbling, stumbling about on the barnacled rocks along the shores of Puget Sound. The fish too look up jealously at the bottom of my boat as I sail about in the sun and fresh air, cruising like Pharaoh down the Nile. Only the birds look down and show their disdain for my false flight with their surprisingly loud cries and occasionally more substantial offerings. But my boat is flying high.

As I look at the Sound, I often see what looks like a shallow lake, or even a big pond, but I remind myself this thing is huge, 400-plus feet deep in many places. You could sink the Tacoma Narrows Bridge upright and the towers would be submerged. There are worlds down there with many layers of temperature and salinity, each with its own lives and stories, each looking up and down and wondering. And I glide above, in my boat.

The Sound is a delightfully open space available to all if you can get to a boat, any boat. We see so many kinds of boats here and they are all wonderful.

Boats take us into a fluid world. Air and sea both offer smooth gliding across their interface, but boats had been taking us off the ground for thousands of years before Kitty Hawk aircraft, and our mastery of the invention is a human splendor. Poled, paddled, sailed or motored, boats get us beyond solid earth into another world filled with danger and beauty and life and commerce.

Especially here on the Sound, the shortest distance between friends is often across the water, and the trip can be primordially satisfying. If you are quiet and slow enough, you won’t be alone for long. Maybe a family of porpoise will rise for a few deep breaths before they dive back to the safety of the deep. Likely a seal will bob up, clearly curious about these monkeys out here and what they may want. I am fascinated by our jellyfish, barely more viscous than the salt water that makes us all, floating up slowly, heavy with unborn life, riding the summer tide to Olympia or Shelton or Joe’s Bay; they don’t really care. And maybe orcas, tremendous, in case you had any doubt about who is the guest in this house.

People who know how to boat are a special club; even more so are the people who know how to make boats. I recommend a Saturday afternoon at the Gig Harbor Boat Shop. Spend an hour or so with resident shipwright Tom Regan or any of the other old coots with years of experience at the boat shop any given Saturday: machinists, woodcrafters, sailors, merchant marine and Navy who volunteer their time building and repairing boats. There are no straight lines on a boat. Design is all about fluid efficiency and when expertise is apparent, the results are very satisfying.

If you can get to a boat, any boat, you can slide out into an adjacent world. From this new vantage, you can look back on the land, where all that stuff is going on.

Looks a little smaller, doesn’t it?

Sailing is my favorite. There is magic in riding the difference between ocean and air. But who can’t love the silent slice of a kayak or the screaming delight of kids towed on a float by loving grandparents with a cool ski boat? There’s nobility in the monstrous freighters out of Tacoma or the tugs hauling through the Narrows.

But most of the time, boats wait. Look down onto any marina, the overgrown part of the yard on a trailer, out in the shed up in the rafters, and there they wait; stabled horses, unplayed guitars. An old friend used to say, “patient as a box of bricks,” but so much more alive than that. Even just waiting, boats are graceful, maybe even hopeful.

The waiting boats need our help. So, shove off, power up, unmoor, set sail, pilot, navigate, bring the beer, bring to life. We are the souls of the boats, they our vessels. Where shall we go? Like our jellyfish cousins, I don’t really care.

Jack Dunne lives gratefully in Lakebay.