Eat my wake

Eat my wake

Cruise to your heart’s content on the big, bad ferries.

Mark Driver

Published on May 23, 2001

ANOTHER BUCOLIC Seattle springtime: Willow branches beneath I-5’s breaching of Lake Union nod their approval in a light breeze. Yellow baby goslings follow their mother in single file, a tiny convoy learning some of life’s little lessons. Standing on the banks of Lake Union, or even Puget Sound, one wishes to walk upon the water’s glassy surface, to shoot across its calm translucent skin at great speeds, to taste the freedom beyond the claustrophobic fingers of the city.

Unfortunately, like all life’s nice little moments, some jackass is going to come along and ruin everything. He’ll roar by at three times the speed limit, standing tall on a 45-footer, screaming over twin motors into a cell phone, a cigar in his mouth and a warm Coors Light in the breast pocket of his polo shirt. He’ll destroy your reflections, run over the goslings, snag the willow tree, and, in his wake, leave a series of a tidal waves that will take out wildflowers and assuredly send all sorts of cute and precious organisms to their watery deaths. The name of his monstrous white boat will be painted in gaudy blue cursive across the back: Show Me the Money. You don’t know about money, but you’re certainly eager to show him the finger.

Yes, it’s boating time again in Seattle— and since you can’t beat them, why not join them? It’s easy! Simply withdraw $350,000 from your checking account and—oh, you don’t have that much? We can still swing something navigable in the $150,000 neighborhood. It won’t have all the bells and whistles, and may still smell of the previous owner’s dachshund, but—what? You don’t even have that? Well, how much do you have to spend on a boat? Oh, I see.

Then consider the Washington State Ferries, departing Pier 52 on the Seattle waterfront. Someone else’s pain-in-the-ass commute can be your romantic moment on the water; just you, the view, and a thousand screaming tourists. The ferry system is no secret to outsiders. Coming to Seattle as a tourist myself six or so years ago, a loved one and I spent many, many special February moments shivering our asses off on a dark and seemingly deserted Vashon Island, waiting for the Seattle ferry to come back and get us. Yes, the first lesson of riding a ferry for sport is that you don’t get off. If the last ferry of the night splits without you, you’re looking at either a $350,000 cab ride home or a romantic night of Pole Position and benchwarming inside the station.

THE BEST CRUISING can be had at dusk. The setting sun puts the city in a spotlight, and even the gaudy high-rise condos along the waterfront will take the light in a beauteous way, their cookie-cutter windows reflecting the enormity of the scene that they normally cheapen. On a clear evening, fading light will color Mt. Rainier salmon pink, making even the most die-hard Seattleite reach for a camera like a sunburned tourist.

Routes on the ferry system are various, the cost of each ride corresponding to ferry size and the length of the journey. If you’re without a car, you only pay on the westbound route. For those looking for just a bit of fun, the best bet is Vashon Island, $5.20 (starting June 3) and only 25 minutes each way. Longer trips to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton will each run you $4.50, and take 35 and 60 minutes each way respectively. Check out for up-to-date schedules.

Lest you become parched on your journey and forgot to pack a martini thermos, beer and wine are available inside the ferry, as are many fine examples of cafeteria food. Recently a few concerned politicians have been attempting to remove booze from the cruise; let us hope that the next time they’re crossing the dark water of the Bainbridge run, they’re unceremoniously pushed in. A final word of warning: It can get awfully cold and windy riding around on a ferry, especially at night. Make sure you and your friends dress accordingly. Nothing ruins a beautiful view like continuous whining. Or hypothermia.