“Geographically, Anacortes is the cream of the waterfront crop. I’ve never seen another place with such perfect access to rowing, sailing, paddle boarding, etc. Our mission statement is to enable people to have a meaningful interaction with our community's waterfront through the preservation of public access and the development of inclusive programs.”— Kevin Pratt, Director of the Anacortes Waterfront Alliance (AWA)
By Kathleen Kaska
I knew from an early age, I wanted to live near saltwater. I think it comes from my family’s vacations to Galveston when I was a child. There was something about the smell of salt water and seaweed, the feel of sand under my feet, and the flow and tug of the surf as I waded into the water. My geographical limit was to be not more than a half day’s drive to the beach, other than that, I was open to almost any locale. Little did I know I’d end up living on an island in the Pacific Northwest. The first time I visited the area was in 1999. I remember having dinner at the Captain’s Place at the marina and, even thought it was summer, enjoying the coziness of the wood-burning stove. The shanty feel of the place left an impression on me.
That restaurant is no longer there, and the waterfront has changed considerably in the last nine years since I’ve moved here. During that time, I’ve been content with enjoying a cup of coffee on a bench overlooking Fidalgo Bay, having a picnic on the lawn at Seafarers Park, or jogging over the trestle to March’s Point. From the hilltop in my neighbor, I’ve noticed a small fleet of sailboats on the bay now and then. I often wondered who these sailors were, and over time, I became a bit envious of their chance to be on the water—an activity I’ve had to enjoy vicariously. That was until I met Kevin Pratt. Kevin was my guest on the second episode of my podcast, “Waggoner Insiders Boating Banter.” I asked Kevin to share with me, a non-boater, what AWA had to offer.
I learned that the AWA is a local nonprofit organization founded to facilitate community boating and build new boaters on the water by providing resources and opportunities. Kevin became AWA’s director in 2016. Since then, he has helped develop several programs to accomplish those purposes. I asked him to give me a highlight of these programs.
The Learn to Sail Program
Kevin began by telling me about the Learn to Sail program - a partnership between the AWA and the Anacortes Parks and Recreation Department. Learn to Sail actually began before Kevin came on board. The AWA has taken on the role of structuring the program, providing resources, setting schedules, and providing the staff to make all this happen. Park and Rec still parents the program and sees to the administrative side of things. Learn to Sail has grown considerably and just in 2019, participation increased by 100%. “This is our largest program,” Pratt says. “We offer a five-day curriculum which includes all the fundamentals needed for sailing. The classes are offered between June to September and are designed to teach basic sailing, but we also offer intermediate and advances courses.”
The Learn to Sail program gave rise to the middle- and high-school sailing team.
The team initially started about eighteen years ago. It was founded by sailors and parents who were interested in passing on their love of sailing to future generations. The team competes in the Northwest Interscholastic Sailing Association’s sponsored regattas, along with student teams from Bellingham to Portland. “It’s a demanding program, requiring a lot of time and commitment by the students,” Kevin says. “Our Anacortes team is doing exceedingly well in these competitions. Not only are they honing their sailing and racing skills, they are also improving their life skills and learning to become leaders and responsible adults.”
AWA’s Open Sail Program
Learning to sail is still a prospect for me, so I asked Kevin about the next step. I don't own a sailboat, and if I did, I'd have to figure out how to store and maintain it. That part doesn't appeal to me, but the Open Sail program does. “Up until the launch of Open Sail in 2019, someone who has learned to sail had to then either join a yacht club or buy a boat,” Kevin says. Anyone who has completed this program or who has previous experience, which earned them the credentials, can check out a boat and go sailing. “This is one of the most satisfying programs for me. When you drive down R Avenue and see the sails on the bay, we want you to think, ‘that’s the AWA doing their work.’”
“How do you get a non-boater on the water for the first time? Or, as I like to say, how do they get their feet wet?” — Kevin Pratt
AWA’s Stand-up Paddle Boards
If learning to sail seems a bit daunting at first, as it does to me, you might consider the Stand-up Paddle Board program. Almost no previous experience is needed. It’s safe, affordable, simple, and as Kevin says, “culturally on fire.” I interpreted that as meaning culturally “cool.” The AWA has assembled a fleet of stand-up paddles boards that are available to the public, and offers basic instruction on how to use them. You can sit, kneel, and take your time learning to stand. The section of Fidalgo Bay that laps at Seafarers Memorial Park is considered a level one zone, which means it is protected by a breakwater that separates it from the rest of the bay. I asked Kevin if it's possible to end up in the water. "That is a possibility, but we facilitate a high level of risk management for all our water programs. We provide PFDs, have VHS radios, and keep chase boats on-site,” Kevin says.
AWA’s Lido 14 Racing Fleet
Since I’m attuned to the excitement of outdoor competition, such as running marathons, maybe one day, I can take on the water. The Lido 14 Racing Fleet is a multi-generational racing program. Members race 14-foot sailboats called Lidos. Thanks to the AWA, the community can get involved in racing by either using their own boat, or crewing with other racers, or chartering Lidos. The racing schedule runs from the first week in May to the last week in August. Experienced sailors who are members of this program meet on Thursday between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. AWA members can participate for free; nonmembers pay $20.00 per season. If you’re into competitive sailing, consider joining Anacortes Lido Fleet 78.
Classes and Speaker Series
During the offseason, the AWA keeps boaters engaged in maritime education by offering classes and opportunities to hear guest speakers. The AWA works with the Anacortes Public Library in scheduling maritime speakers. One of the most popular classes is “Introduction to Knot Tying” and “Rope Splicing.” Go to AWA’s website for updates on classes.
At this point, you may be thinking that these programs and activities might be beyond your budget. The good news is that in October 2019, the AWA started an affordable-membership program. For $25 a month, members have unlimited access to the Open Sail, Stand Up Paddle, and Lido Fleet Racing programs. Members can also attend educational classes, seminars, potluck events, and receive discounts on certain boat storage facilities. The purpose of the AWA membership is to bring local boaters together to create a strong maritime community with a voice in its development. And what would any membership be without a T-shirt and tote bag? For more information on the AWA membership visit their website.
Until I visited with Kevin, I had no idea what I was missing. For me, the AWA means I no longer have to enjoy the water from the sidelines. And I don't have to own my own boat. But the best thing is, I can be part of a unique, innovative boating community. There’s more to Anacortes than its spectacular forestland trails. After all, you’re living on an island, so why not get your feet wet?
To learn more about the AWA’s programs and memberships, listen to my upcoming podcast interview with Kevin Pratt, coming in April 2020. Joining him are three members of the Anacortes High School sailing team: Sam Hardesty, Kirsha Khile, and Elizabeth Koals.
by Leonard and Lorena Landon
A mixed sandy-mud bottom is ideal for anchoring, but it’s also ideal for the establishment of eelgrass, a seagrass that’s crucial to the ocean’s ecosystem. Notices posted at marine parks often request that boaters anchor out from shore in deeper water to avoid damaging eelgrass. But why? What’s so important about eelgrass? Eelgrass beds provide important habitat for fish species, filter pollutants, and store huge amounts of atmosphere-warming carbon.
When eelgrass beds are damaged or disappear, carbon is released, warming the ocean. The ability to purge pathogens from the ocean is another important attribute of eelgrass; pathogens can sicken other marine life and even threaten humans. Scientists believe that pathogens, along with the warming ocean, played a part in the devastating sea star wasting disease that started in 2013 and destroyed most of the star population on the West Coast. Eelgrass meadows, disrupted by boat anchors, can take years to recover, affecting marine life such as spawning herring and juvenile Chinook salmon that make eelgrass their home. Herring, salmon, and other fish species are important food sources for marine mammals like Orca.
What can boaters do to help protect these fields of eelgrass? Eelgrass beds are normally close to shore and are completely submerged, with roots anchored in sandy, muddy bottoms. An anchor can easily pull out the roots and destroy these bedding areas. Be mindful of where you anchor. As a general rule, anchor off shore in at least 30 feet of water to avoid anchoring in eelgrass. Better yet, use mooring buoys where available. Quickly clean up any oil spills and fuel spills.
For More information about Eelgrass Protection Zones in the San Juan Islands, visit the website of Friends of the San Juans.
MissionProtecting and restoring the San Juan Islands and the Salish Sea for people and nature.Contact UsFriends of the San Juans
PO Box 1344
Friday Harbor, WA 98250
by Kathleen Kaska
"This Caribbean adventure is not what I thought it would be.” — Steve Orsini.
You’ve probably watched a few episodes of the reality TV series, Deadliest Catch, showing fishermen braving the icy waters of the Bering Sea during the Alaskan king-crab season from October through January.
The king-crab fishing industry originated in Seldovia, Alaska in the early 1920s, but it wasn't until the 1950s when innovative gear and fishing techniques caused the industry to take off. Kodiak became the hub. By the 1960s, rectangular steel pots replaced older round pots used to store live crab until they could be offloaded, allowing for more efficient use of deck space. This caused the industry to experience another surge in production. Crab boats became suddenly in high demand, and building had begun in several boatyards across the country. Today’s crab boats, like those seen in the Deadliest Catch, are sturdy, seaworthy vessels. But that wasn’t always the case. Like in many new and fast growing industries, early equipment evolved and improved over time.
In 1969, local Steve Orsini and his friend from Astoria, Oregon, were looking for temporary jobs during the college Christmas break when they learned about a prospect that could put cash in their pockets and offer a new adventure.
Bender Shipyard in Mobile, Alabama, had just built two 100-foot commercial crab boats. Each boat had two 700-pound storage tanks secured to the deck. The owner of the vessels needed a crew to assist the captain and engineer in delivering one of the boats, the Scottie, from Mobile, through the Panama Canal and on to Seattle for final outfitting before sending it to Alaska. The idea of cruising through the calm, clear waters of the Caribbean while earning a few bucks appealed to Steve and his friend. Because of their previous experience in the fishing industry in the summers in Southeast Alaska, they were hired.
The Scottie’s trip to the Panama Canal was expected to be an easy one. The weather was bright and sunny, and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea were calm. But as soon as they were underway, an unexcepted Nor'easter blew in. Steve had experienced bad weather and turbulent seas before, but this storm developed into one of the worse he’d ever encountered. Forty- to fifty-knot winds caused one of the crab tanks to fill with water because a valve was left open by mistake while the boat was still in the shipyard. Also, the lazarette wasn't secured properly, and the entire back of the boat began to fill with water. Soon one of the booms used to haul the crab pots had broken loose was swinging freely toward the starboard side. Yelling for help and dangling from the cargo hook over the mad Caribbean was the engineer. In a heroic attempt to save the guy, Steve and his friend grabbed ahold only making the situation worse. Fortunately, the engineer gathered his wits and managed to get the potential disaster under control. The captain was struggling to hand-steer the boat when a rogue wave hit from port, knocking the boat onto its starboard side and shattering a sliding glass window, causing a deluge of water onto the bridge.
“There was a moment, no more than a few seconds—although it felt like hours—that we hung there, the boat tittering on its starboard side, when I wondered what I’d gotten myself into,” says Orsini. “If the boat had sunk, we’d have been trapped inside. There was no satellite communication back then, and no telling how long it would have taken to discover that we were goners.”
And it turns out the captain, though a gregarious fellow experienced in operating crab boats in coastal waters, had navigational skills poorly suited to the open sea. There were times when they weren't sure where they were.
Despite the storm waves, the crew managed to get the Scottie to the Panama Canal. But since the autopilot steering had malfunctioned, maneuvering through the canal wasn't easy. It was later discovered that the problem was caused when the hydraulic rams had come loose—another one of many mechanicalsystem problems that plagued the boat.
At this point, Christmas vacation was ending, and Steve and his friend returned home. The Scottie, however, was stuck in Panama where it had to be rebuilt. It finally completed the journey to Seattle, and on to Alaska. But it sunk less than a year later.
For more details about the adventures of the Scottie, and Steve Orsini’s soon-to-be-published book, listen to our upcoming podcast interview with Steve. We’ll be announcing the date and time soon.
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