This past Father’s Day, my son Nate suggested we sail across Puget Sound to the village of Indianola for our annual outing. We had sailed there on a summer day 19 years ago when he was 14, and apparently he remembered that outing as fondly as I did. His sister Alison, then 11, was also with us, along with her friend Sarah. The two of them spent much of the time lying bellies down on the foredeck singing Girl Scout camp songs. There was a reaching breeze out of the north, enough to move my Caledonia yawl ALISON at a good clip while only rippling the Puget Sound waters. We made the 7-mile crossing under a broad clear sky in good time and made our landfall on Indianola’s broad sand flats, which stretched 250 yards out from the silvered driftwood above the high tide line to the retreat of the water at a minus tide. We left the boat at the water’s edge with the anchor set as far as the rode would reach shoreward. As we walked ashore, Ali and Sarah tiptoed through shallow tidepools, sending 1′-long flounders fluttering away leaving gray contrail clouds of sand behind them. Indianola’s general store was just above the beach. We went straight to the freezer for ice cream. We bought ice-cream sandwiches and Drumsticks, those vanilla-ice-cream sugar cones, topped with chocolate and crushed peanuts.
The forecast for this year’s Father’s Day outing with Nate was for weather less pleasant than we’d had for that sail to Indianola in 2004. A south wind to 20 knots and waves to 2′ with thundershowers predicted for the afternoon made it unwise for us to cross the Sound. We hadn’t been to the Duwamish River in at least a decade, and, while it offered well protected waters on the South end of downtown Seattle, it flowed through the city’s industrial district and was flanked for miles by docks and windowless warehouses. We decided to give the river a try and pulled ALISON out of the back yard and headed to the launch ramp on Alki Point, a little over a mile to the northwest of the mouth of the Duwamish.
Our afternoon on the Duwamish was not at all like the crossing to Indianola 19 years earlier. Instead of a clear sky and warm sunlight we had ashy clouds and chilling rain. Instead of the broad unfettered expanse of Puget Sound, we had a polluted canal hemmed in by ships and cargo terminals. Instead of running barefoot on sand flats and through tide pools, we plodded in boots on slimy toxic mud. I expect that 19 years from now I will remember this time with Nate as fondly as I do our summer sail to Indianola. Sometimes what matters most is not where you are but who you’re with.