Free Public Sail at Center for Wooden Boats

Last summer I mused at how nice it must be to go on a boat ride on a clear day but I assumed you have to have a Microsoft- or Amazon-executive kind of money to be able to do it. That is until I found the Center for Wooden Boats in South Lake Union. Every Sunday they offer a free public sail (although donations for people who can afford to give are welcomed) that last about 45 minutes, rain or shine year-round, and on a recent perfect Sunday, I told my husband “today we sail.” The Center for Wooden Boat’s website states that the boat rides begin at 2:00 pm but suggests people sign up the morning of when they open at 10:00 am to reserve a spot. You sign up on the ground floor of this quaint brown building in front of what will be the Museum of History and Industry.

When we arrived there on Sunday just before 10:30 am, we saw there was already a line. What they don’t state on their website is that there are Sundays when they offer more than one sail time. So on this particular Sunday they were giving free boat rides on different boats almost every hour on the hour until 4:00 pm. The large historic boat that we wanted to ride on had only one spot so we signed up for another 2:00 pm sail on a small electric boat. That later turned out to be a very good decision because our boat was the only boat that didn’t require wind and there was absolutely no wind that day. This was the boat with one spot left.

This was our small electric boat called the Dora. It fit six of us adults and two young children. And let me tell you, it as a blast. We whizzed by dozens of sailboats at a standstill. A young couple on one of those sailboats looked like they were ready to jump ship onto ours. What was especially great was that our “Captain” was a young man who knew everything about the boats we passed by and slithered us around the nooks and crannies that many of the other boats would have had a hard time getting through. I swear I’ve seen this electric boat in one of the Indiana Jones films.

People were also kayaking, rowboating, and standup paddleboarding on Lake Union. We saw people on ostentatious boats that reminded me of that boat on the Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russel film Overboard (clearly I’m clueless as to why people need boats that large to go up and down a short distance) and we saw the Seattle Flying Dragons practicing to the sound of drums.

We felt like voyeurs curiously staring into the houseboats. They don’t look like much from the other (street) side, but from the boat the homes looked pretty darn charming. Here’s the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat.

Q: “What street do you live on?” A: “The Lake.”

Can you imagine how nice it must be on this deck on a warm day? The funny thing is that we were on the boat with a young jaded boy who said “but this is Seattle, you could only enjoy the outside space a few times a year.” Spoken like someone who’s had his outdoor plans dampened way too many times by the Seattle chill.

This boat had the best name.

View of Gasworks Park. As expected, everyone was lounging on the grass.

This couple had this great little spot all to themselves. They reminded me of older versions of us: husband passed out sleeping and wife reading and writing.

Hey man, you got food?

The Center for Wooden Boats also rents out rowboats, offers sailing and woodworking classes for a fee, and has Indian Canoes of the Northwest on display. For the boat rides, some people donated 50 cents, others $10. I believe they just want people to enjoy themselves, rich or poor. I think their free Sunday sail days are one of the best free things you can do in Seattle on a warm day, although I’m sure the kids would beg to differ when they walk past the Sunday Ice Cream Cruise sign. And if you’re someone prone to motion sickness, the area where the Center for Wooden Boats is located is a fantastic place for walking, people-watching, hanging out with a book, bringing your dogs or date or kids (who can sail toy boats), and has fantastic views of the water and the Space Needle. We’ll definitely be doing more of this on Sundays.

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