Exploring Seattle's Sights and Sounds
The horn blast sounded long and deep, resonating through the thick fog that encompassed our small sailboat. A huge cargo tanker bound for Seattle’s port was out there in the mist somewhere beyond what our eyes could detect. Its position was only notable to us by the GPS unit we watched earnestly from behind the helm.
Not a breath of wind or sound disturbed the water around us, the surface of the sea was smooth like a mirror to the sky. We were cruising at a slow 10 knots, powered only by the slow chugging prop, and headed for an unseen coastline that would lead us back to the marina. As our eyes scanned the drifting fog around us, I couldn’t help but imagine the huge prow of a tanker driving out of the fog toward our tiny vessel.
I know very little about sailing, let that be clear, but what had been a run-of-the-mill cruise on Puget Sound had suddenly taken a turn toward the adventurous and uncertain side.
Earlier that morning, we made our way to the Elliot Bay Marina to meet Gordon Stoll and his family and helped outfit their sailboat for a day out on the water. Heavy fog flowed across the port city like a viscous blanket, giving brief glances into downtown Seattle and out across Puget Sound as it thinned and then thickened again. After an hour’s wait, Gordon made the call that the fog had thinned to the point where we could sail across the shipping lane safely (about a mile of visibility). As we cruised past huge tankers from a world away that were moored and waiting to be loaded or unloaded, I got the distinct feeling of being at the edge of something bigger, the jumping off point for the expansive American crush.
After crossing the main channel, we set our bow toward the southwest coast of Blake Island, a marine state park set aside to provide a place for those who wished a glance at what much of Northwest Washington’s coasts might have looked like 200 years ago. As bald eagles sat watching us from the tall pines above we anchored our boat, and loaded into the small inflatable dingy with Gordon’s son Kip. A wet landing put our feet into the surf, and walking barefoot up the beach towards the wall of pines we set out to wander the mossy trails of and lofty hallways through the old growth.
As we near completed our circumnavigation of the island, and explored the grounds of the restored Native American Long House that sits at the tiny marina on the south side of Blake Island, Gordon rang my phone franticly.
“Can you all run back to where we’re anchored?” Gordon asked. “You are missing something really special back here.” A mile away, while waiting for us to return Gordon had been standing on the deck of his boat when an ebony pillar emerged from the water several hundred yards away, followed by a blast of fishy mist. The bull orca of J-Pod, leading the rest of his family, swam gracefully past the Stoll’s boat, as we rushed to get back to the boat to catch a glimpse of those elusive and legendary black fish in the wild.
By the time we had returned to the landing zone and gotten everyone back on the boat, the orcas had gone as quickly as they had arrived. They disappeared into the inky water of Puget Sound like black ghosts. Sailing back toward Seattle, the sun sank low and bathed the waterways around us in glowing gold. Gordon propositioned us all to take a ride up the mast, and get a real ride of the rocking sea around us. “You don’t really feel like a real sailor in these calm seas until you get 100 feet off the water” Gordon chided laughing. I was keen to get the unique view of our surroundings, so up I went.
I feel like “adventure” is a word used in such great breadth, and today so many amazing individuals are pushing the limits of what’s possible in its name. In my humble opinion, adventure is a relative term. Sitting atop the mast of my friends’ boat, the wind silencing all by its static in my ears, and seagulls circling lazily to see if I was friend or foe, I felt a surge of pure exhilaration, the kind you can only find in doing something that pushes your life’s boundaries. For certain adventure can be defined in the stories of hardships experienced in the remote and untamed corners of our world, but just as much it can be found in chasing the unknown right in your own backyard—or a friend’s backyard, in my case.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Up next: Adventures in Bellingham, Washington
Read all the “Exploring the Cold Coast” dispatches.
The Adventurists blog series “Exploring the Cold Coast” is sponsored by Sperry, which provided footwear and apparel for this adventure.
Follow us on Instagram at @NatGeoAdvenure—coming soon!