Opening Day, the annual event that officially kicks off boating season in the Northwest, is a great excuse for a boat parade and party. So why does the idea of Opening Day this Saturday get me a little blue?
In years past, we’ve had some of the best seats in the house for the Opening Day celebration in Portage Bay and the Montlake Cut. When we arrive, the shores of the cut are inevitably packed with throngs of spectators for the Windermere Cup rowing races.
Being aboard one of the boats in the parade should be a huge pleasure. But …
By the time parade starts a few hours later, the shores are sadly sprinkled with just a few folks. Apparently, it just isn’t a “thing” in today’s Seattle to while away a few hours watching beautiful boats, festively decorated, motor past.
This is no slam on the organizers of the parade. Each year they do a wonderful job of breathing life into this local tradition. For those who participate, it is an event full of fun and friendships – worth doing even if nobody else seems to give a damn.
And that’s just it. There was a time when maritime traditions like Opening Day helped to define the culture of Seattle. I’ve seen the black and white pictures of people packed along the shore to watch the parade.
Today, boating may be as popular as ever in terms of the numbers of people who get out on the water, but it now competes with a lot of other activities and events that define what makes Seattle Seattle.
As someone in his mid-40s who grew up boating in these waters, I can remember a time when the Seattle SuperSonics were pretty much it when it came to professional sports. No Seahawks. No Mariners. No Sounders FC.
Back then, we were still pretty much a Boeing town, long before Microsoft arrived and heralded a high-tech boom that is dramatically reshaping the city, and its culture, in wave after wave.
When I worked as a reporter at the Seattle Times, I dug through the archives to discover that we once dedicated a staff member to cover local boating — up until the 1970s, if memory serves. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer did as well. Man, I always longed to revive that beat.
During those halcyon days, I think boating was embraced as an everyman’s activity, a hobby that suited the growing middle class in the post-World War II decades. My dad’s federal government salary was enough to keep us in Catalinas as I grew from a toddler to a college grad.
Even today, I know a lot of people of middle-class means who make boating a priority in their lives because — well, anyone who goes boating around here and loves it knows that it is worth the sacrifices.
The rest of the city? Maybe there are just too many new and shiny balls to capture their attention these days. People parading by in their boats? Well, we’ve got better ways to spend our Saturday.
It is their loss. In a city surrounded by water, boating is still part of its soul. Those of us who understand that will keep celebrating it each year on Opening Day. We’ll take part in the many boat parades in the region, from Tacoma to Friday Harbor. We’ll saddle up for the Race to the Straits. We’ll go out for our first-of-the-year cruise to our favorite anchorage. Or, if you’re me, you’ll be working to finish up all those winter projects.
We don’t need an audience to make these activities special. We do it because we love it.
Seattle, you can thank us for it later.
Looking for a place to celebrate Opening Day of boating season? Here are a few options:
Seattle Yacht Club Opening Day
May 2 | noon
Sloop Tavern Yacht Club Race to the Straits
May 2 | 8 a.m.
Port Townsend Yacht Club Opening Day
May 2 | noon
Mukilteo Yacht Club Opening Day of Boating
May 2 | 10:00 a.m.
Cap Sante Marina Opening Day
May 2 | noon
Friday Harbor Opening Day
May 3 | 2:30 p.m.
South Sound Opening Day
May 9 | 11 a.m