Taking the helm

by Andrew Malinak

One can only take so much heartbreak and disappointment before something needs to change.

Look at a map of Seattle and the first thing you will notice is that there is a lot of water. Even to the non-swimmer, the prevalence of water is obvious. Seattle is a maze of salt water, fresh water, peninsulas, islands, rivers, capes, bays, and inlets. Water surrounds and creates everyday life here (ask a Seattler to go to the Eastside and see what they say). Shipbuilders, chandlers, and fisheries coexist alongside the art, music, restaurants, and bars one associates with this town. It is a great place to be a swimmer.

It is because of the seemingly endless reaches of water that a swimmer cannot help but dream up new swims. The number of feasible swims between landmarks in the three to ten kilometer range is shockingly large. Just looking off Alki Beach, the possibilities are huge: 3.4k to downtown, 5k to Magnolia, 5 miles to Blake Island, 4k to Vashon Island, 6 miles to Bainbridge Island, and so on. All I’d need to get there, to any of these places, is a boat and pilot to get me across the channels.

So far, no luck. In the winter, it seems everyone winterizes their boat. Why they do is a mystery to me, when the weather stays so warm all year long. But they do. Puget Soundkeeper isn’t into the idea of swim escort, and I don’t have enough free time to persuade them it is in their best interest (what with the training, work, sleeping, and eating I’ve got scheduled). I also don’t have the time to meet every boat owner in Seattle to see if they’d be game for escorting me around in the cold for several hours. How do you even begin that conversation?

Two months ago, with a trip to Baltimore just a week away, I gave notice that I’d like to try an ice mile in Baltimore Harbor. Wary though they may have been, local swimmers quickly said they were willing to help on short notice, and even lend a kayak or two. But being a novice to ice swimming, and knowing that Baltimore’s urban waterfront is not easily accessible, I wanted a powerboat by my side. Good luck finding one of those when the air is 15 degrees and the water 37. That’s where this attempt ended, with no boat and no swim.

I am sure I’m not the only one in the northwest thinking this, that there needs to be a boat so I can do long, unorganized swims. An Agent Orange, but maybe not so fancy.

On a rainy Saturday in early March. I left my usual post-swim seat in front of the Tully’s fireplace, where Jeffery was telling us about his boss’s extravagant birthday trip to Patagonia, and Maria again kindly entertained my ignorant questions about summiting Mount Rainier, and headed north. Through the intensifying rain, I sped along in my New York manner over the Alaskan Way Viaduct, with its view of Elliot Bay and the downtown waterfront, and into Ballard, where offshore commercial fishing boats in for repairs and outfitting make up the skyline. I stopped at the Market Arms pub and had a drink in the back, trying to block out the noise of the Sounders game being aired, and made a few calls to be sure this was a good idea. No one answered, but I already knew it was. After just one drink I headed a few doors over to Ballard Inflatable Boats and gave Ed a check for my new boat.

Before I left the shop, Ed told me, “Your summer plans just got very different.” Yeah they did.