A KAKAK PADDLE CHRISTMAS STORY
by Mark Greengo
The preparation begins…
Twas the eve of the eve of Christmas in 2017, when the Argosy Cruises of Seattle, Washington were featuring their finale event, the 68th Annual Christmas Ship Festival, leaving Kirkland at 7 PM and arriving at Gas Works Park at 8:45 PM. The Argosy boats would embark from Kirkland, up north on Lake Washington, and then head west through the Montlake Cut, taking a half hour break in Portage Bay, before continuing onto Lake Union, the finale point with stopping at Gas Works Park, before heading back to Kirkland.
I, Surfer Joe had coordinated this event with the Washington Kayak Club and BEWET, my main kayaking group, and oh so, such a fun paddling group, to meet the Argosy vessels in Portage Bay, listen to the songs, maybe sing-a-long also, and admire the many boats that had been decorated for this occasion. Not only were the vessels of all different sizes and shapes decorated, many sea kayakers would also be joining with their little crafts adorned with lights, trees, and their pilots wearing many Santa hats for this annual affair of phenomenal experiences. I had my hat on, were you wearing yours?
We were meeting at the predetermined launch location at the north end of Lake Union, near as possible to the Sunnyside Street Boat ramp, home also of the typical summertime launch location of the famous ‘Duck’ Boat. I was parked near Rhonda and Jeff from Lake Tapps, next to the good looking Dale’s, then Julia, Tina, Laura and Duane too somewhere down the lane, and maybe more kayakers beyond that location.
It was dark out, & I was doing a (standard for the season) chocolate package delivery to all the kayakers to be seen, known or unknown, and preparing myself for the mis-adventures of the night. Upon pulling my ‘candy-cane lights’ out from the postal delivery sack (story later), where they were resting, I soon found that many of the eight strings of lights, had discontinued to function. Too many dead strings.
I needed help.
For this task, I had already brought spare batteries, and screwdrivers, to dismantle the battery compartments. The lights were not attached to the kayak yet, and still remained on long sticks, wrapped carefully.
I needed more help.
“Wanted - Electrical engineers”, I cried out!
Being smartly parked near two (2) good looking Dale’s, (is every Dale good-looking?), [I really don’t know!], they heard my plea, and quickly came over to assist me. Soon, a ‘very cool looking’, striped kayak was made to look wonderfully festival for this occasion. We lined up at the launch ramp, and awaited for all, until we dipped our electrically decorated colorful kayaks onto the surface of the water.
To the event…
Floating about the entrance to the Lake Union, lit displays on the kayaks adorned the water’s surface, until we all were gathered together, ready for the slow crawl over to Portage Bay.
Organizing this total experience, I planned to start early in the day; finding a well-lit parking spot, room for the car, and the soon-to-be decorated striped kayak. Also ready for, any battery disappointments, the gear accumulation for a long night on the water, and being typically social. If we arrive early in the evening, and paddle into Portage Bay, we could wander even further. I had a lot of hopes.
Soon we all had arrived there, I continued to meet many more paddlers that had not launched when we did, or at that location. A good-looking Mark from the WKC, and Mike Germani and family in a canoe, Chris May and his wife in a double kayak, too. Hundreds of kayakers had also arrived, probably from Aqua Verde, Moss Bay or NWOC centers. Being chilly out, less than 35 degrees, I maintained moving, to keep the body heat up, never stopping for long.
I teamed up with Dale Meland (D1), (I know, don’t say it, a good-looking Dale) and we went paddling through the Ship Canal of the Montlake Cut, in the darkness to Lake Washington, awaiting the arrival of many more vessels, that were headed into Portage Bay. Once past the Montlake Bridge, darkness descended upon us.
Starry starry night...
My night vision kicked in immediately, and I started to see stars. Up there was the Big Dipper, The Little Dipper, and Orion’s Belt. The Cut was so dark, the stars shining magically, I was then awoken up by a sudden boat wake that appeared seemingly from nowhere. Now in the big waters of Lake Washington, we sat bobbing along, near Foster Island, and coming into full view of the large Argosy ships parade making their way into the Cut. Dale inquired when the best time to join the parade of vessels would be. I was wondering the same situation.
Do we go or do we stay?
If we waited, how long would we wait?
I stopped thinking, and I said, “Let’s Go, now”. So without any further thoughts, since the water would be rough anyways, we might as well join along with the others, the best we could. They had a motorboat, we had a kayak. In fact they had many many big motorboats. Our kayaks seemed smaller now.
Froth and foam, here we come.
And there we went, severely bobbing around in the waves, boats in front, boats in back, with 100 feet wide, and 33 feet of water below us, we paddled onward so cautiously.
The Argosy Ship’s procession...
Having all gathered together now, well I think everyone is here now, all lit up, and the Christmas songs have started, I mingled with so many other paddlers, staying clear of the ‘Official Police Escort’ boats. These two boats will lead and follow the ‘main’ Argosy vessel, on their journeys, keeping little boats away from the planned course. After leaving Portage Bay, in about a half an hour, all the boats, including us in our tiny crafts, will proceed to Lake Union, for the finale of songs for the evening.
So, what is happening out there in la la land of Portage Bay on the eve of the eve of Christmas? The boats, vessels, ships, and sea kayakers have gathered together, listening and singing to the many holiday memories of the holidays. Towards the end of the presentation to all, the songs that are being played, around the time of the last song or so, an announcement is usually made, from the Argosy ship. They plan to motor over to Lake Union. Then all the vessels honk their horns, or something of that timing sequence. This will be very important later.
Well, the kayaker that I was mingling with at that time, D2 or Dale Tangeman, (the last of the good-looking Dales’, for this story) we missed any announcement of the planned exodus of said bay we were situated in. We heard the horns, for a long time, and then, all of a sudden, the boats started moving together, way to quickly might I add. Together, in a random formation. No brake lights, no turn signals either.
Stuck in the Middle...
Dale (D2) and I were located about 3-4 boats back from an Argosy boat, they have 3-4 of these large craft supporting this occasion. Our plan, get out of this undesirable location immediately, was to merge right, way right, about 4 boats, if they were in a lane. With no lane markers around, and the captain of these ships, nowhere to be seen, in fact, I could not even see a window on a boat anywhere near me. I was too small for anyone to see me. Above and away, where maybe someone might see us, and alert a pilot, any pilot.
Ain’t gonna happen.
All we could do, was paddle over to the side or the north-east side of Portage Bay, without getting run-over. But there was no room to move over. Nothing like thinking about side-swiping a 65 foot boat, to get it to move over. Too much engine noise around us to yell to anyone, pilots unable to be seen, and no paying passengers on the cruise liners, probably going on deck headed for another refill to notice us.
What is a paddler to do?
Paddle in anxiety mode, ASAP.
So we did paddle so intensely, and this situation will go down in our memories, as our most ‘feared’ moment, ever. Or at least for the next decade. Over at the sidelines, resting, and so shocked about the ’accidental’ situation of our location, I again paddled with Dale (D2) back to Lake Union, leisurely, that was all that was left of my motoring power.
Now, back in Lake Union, surrounded by both the Dales’, the Seattle Police escort boats, led a trip around the lake for Argosy ships to follow. Parking in front of Gas Works Park, more holiday songs were resonated in the chilly airs.
Just how chilly now, might you be asking?
I took a sip of water, stored on my front deck, and I got brain freeze! Ouch, that hurts. Definitely colder than refrigerator water. Memories of me sucking on a 7-11 Slurpee, when I was 8 years old came back to haunt me. Or my first marriage. Scary head trips.
I did not mingle much now, neither did Dale (D2), around the crafts and their electrical displays. I had enough action for one night. I had seen so many of my kayaking buddies, the starry night, being stuck in the middle, and not in a good way, the ‘Hot Tub’ motorboat in Portage Bay, the bow of 65 foot boat trying to merge into my lane, and now freezing my little brain. Time for a refresh. Time to go home!
The rest of the paddlers all seemed to gather about the same moment, and we headed for the Sunnyside Street launch site again. It is not over yet. Once back, carefully UN-wrap all your lights wrapping the perimeter of your kayak, provide delicate storage, and remember to grab fresh batteries next year. Moving the kayak onto of the vehicle, icicles dropped from the craft onto the ground. What the adventure, this night has been.
Another super adventure, see ya soon...