Monday, May 3, 2010

Sleepless in Seattle

OK, so not really, but never having been in Seattle before, I couldn't resist using the timeless line. In any case, being sleepless would be difficult in such a comfortable and cozy room as ours in the Edgewater hotel. We have traveled to Seattle to join about a thousand other die-hard fans of the television show Deadliest Catch at the second annual CatchCon, a chance to rub elbows with the captains and crews of the fishing vessels who have gained celebrity status through the popular show, so maybe it will be a bit of a sleepless time.
Staying at the Edgewater and having this beautiful room is just a bonus. The Edgewater didn't skimp on the bathrooms either, with vessel basins and flagstone shower stall and floors. Already we knew that our stay here was going to be a treat.
And then there was the real treat... the view! We had upgraded to a "partial waterfront view" room during our layover in Denver, and when we arrived, we were overjoyed to see the view off of our balcony, which would directly overlook the berth where the F/V Wizard and F/V Northwestern would remain for the duration of CatchCon.
It's empty now, but soon this streth of Elliot Bay will be the center of attention for thousands of Deadliest Catch fans. Off in the distance is the ferry terminal that services to surrounding islands, as well as the freight terminal that offloads the huge container ships.
A check of the weather prior to our departure told us that the temperatures would be in the mid fifties, with ample chance of rain. However, after the Nebraska winter, the mild weather the green foliage and abundant flowers were a welcome change of pace. The beautiful Puget Sound stretches out to the west toward the channel islands.

The hotel gift shop features a post card of one of it's famous guests, the Beatles, fishing from their window. This used to be a popular activity, until the hotel discovered that hauling fish to the upper floors consistently broke the windows in the rooms below, and guests wanting to keep their catch as pets would try to keep them alive in the bathtub by pouring table salt into the tap water. Naturally this was never successful and the staff would find the hastily discarded pets in the oddest places, including between the mattress and box springs of the beds. After quickly checking in to the hotel, we made a short walk from the Edgewater to Pier 56 and the Argosy tour boat terminal for our tour of the famous Ballard Locks, the construction of which ensured the growth of the Seattle fishing and shipping industry. It is through these locks that the Bering Sea fishing fleet based in Seattle pass through on their way to the fishing grounds.

The afternoon tour starts in Lake Union after a short bus ride from the dock, and immediately we got something (besides all of the boats) that we just don't see every day in Nebraska, and that is a float plane touching down on the water of the lake. The float plane represents another way to tour the area, and their terminal is adjacent to the Argosy docks on Lake Union.
One of the first sight our guide pointed out to us is the historic Lake Union Steam Plant, which is the building in the center of the photo with the six smoke stacks rising from it. The smoke stacks are now merely historic replicas to maintain the authenticity of the look of the building, which is now the home of ZymoGenetics, a biotechnology company.
Our tour guide was very articulate and knowledgeable about Seattle history as well as the current maritime industry. As anyone who has ever been on a tour before, it is the guide who makes or breaks the activity, and Argosy chose well in this one. Unfortunately, I can't read her name in my scribbled notes! So, unnamed tour guide, thank you for a wonderful trip!
Early on the loggers making their living from the vast old growth forests of the area sought inexpensive places to live, and they chose to build homes upon lashed-together pine logs. Today those shacks have been replaced with the most expensive way to live on the Seattle water front. These luxurious floating homes are more likely to be built on concrete floats which also serve as basements, today. They are semi-permanently attached to docks, and are connected to city services such as water and sewer, electricity and telephone and cable.
The utilitarian waterfront was more likely to be surrounded by industry than parkland in the early days of settlement. This site originally housed a plant that made gas first from coal, then from crude oil, but after natural gas reached the area, the necessity for the gas works had passed, and farsighted city planners transformed the site into the beautiful Gas Works Park, where thousands of Seattlites enjoy Fourth of July fireworks and other activities throughout the year. Instead of completely demolishing the original structures, they are used in the park design. The boiler house has been converted to a picnic shelter with tables, fire grills and an open area. The former exhauster-compressor building, now a children's play barn, features a maze of brightly painted machinery.
Here our tour guide pointed out the most famous of the floating homes, the one featured in the movie Sleepless in Seattle.
The local shipping industry would be lost without the mighty tugboats, and these smart yellow and black boats are the pride of the Fremont Tugboat Company, which is justifiably proud of its well maintained fleet. (Correction from comment below: The Tug Alaska Mariner is not a Fremont tug. It is part of the Western Towboat Company fleet.)
Boat repairs are one of the most important jobs done in this area of the waterfront, and here one of the large boats sits forlornly in drydock. For visitors from Nebraska, the sight of all this activity related to the maritime industry is fascinating.


Of course, what brings us to Seattle is the Deadliest Catch fan convention, so it is a special treat to begin to see the fishing boats that are, or have been, featured on the show. Here is the Kodiak, Captained by "Wild" Bill Wichrowski, which has joined the fleet for the 2010 King Crab season.
The other Deadliest Catch boat in this shot is the Early Dawn, which was Captained by Rick Fehst in seasons three and four.
Further on the North American, which our guide pointed out is a "green" boat. It features GenTech technology which allows the boats electrical systems to be run off the main engine without powering up an additional diesel generator. The Sten Skaar captained boat was a part of the 2008 season of Deadliest Catch.
The Ballard neighborhood figures prominently in Captain Sig Hansen's autobiographical book "North by Northwestern", and as you can see here, the waterfront figures prominently in Ballards founding and growth.
Now comes one of the highlights of the tour to this point - our first sight of the beautiful F/V Northwestern, Captained by Sig Hansen. This graceful lady is sitting peacefully at the docks now, but most Deadliest Catch fans are more accustomed to seeing her plowing through the fierce waves of the Bering Sea.
Before the end of my blog posts about our trip to Seattle, which should be one or two more, you will grow weary of shots of the Northwestern... or, if you're a fan, maybe not!
Berthed next to the Northwestern is the other featured boat at CatchCon, and one of the "fab four of the fleet" on Deadliest Catch, the Wizard, Captained by Keith and Monte Colburn.
We have finally reached the Ballard locks, which connects the fresh water of Lake Washington to the salt water of the Puget Sound and Salmon Bay. The locks were dedicated on July 4 of 1917, but not considered completely finished until the 1940's. (Correction from the comment below: the Locks were moving ships in 1916, though not dedicated until 1917. While there have been some upgrades to equipment, they have been finished for 94 years.)
The Ballard Locks are actually formally called the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, and are operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. Our Argosy tour boat enteres the locks, the gates are closed behind us, the water is quickly drained away,
and within minutes, we are at sea level, ready to continue our trip on Salmon Bay.
This is our first view on the tour of the great waters of the Puget Sound, and the San Juan islands in the distance. From here, although the weather was thankfully calm, the wakes from passing boats give the tour boat a slight rock.
The view of the Seattle Skyline is spectacular from this vantage point, most notably the unmistakable profile of the Space Needle, constructed for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.
Besides being home to a large fishing fleet and numerous shipping terminals, Seattle is headquarters of a large cruise ship industry as well. Here is a shot of the Smith Cove Cruise Ship Terminal, important to us on this trip as the location of the memorial service for Captain Phil Harris of the F/V Cornelia Maria, who passed away on February 9, 2010.
As Nebraskans, we were delighed to see the grain terminal, where a large ship was waiting to load millions of bushels of grain, some likely grown in Nebraska, for the markets of China, Japan and other Asian nations.
Seen from the water side, it is understandable why our home-away-from-home the Edgewater Hotel is a popular tourist destination. Sitting approximatly 400 feet out into the waters of the Puget Sound, she offers perfect views of the many passing vessels.
Our tour boat passed right under some of the many huge cranes used to offload the container ships bring all of those goods to the U.S. from China, Japan, South Korea and other Asian nations. . We see the containers pass endlessly through Nebraska on both Union Pacific and Burlington Northern railroads, but many of them start their U.S. tour right here in Seattle in this large Hanjin facility.
Beyond all of the shipping containers, you can see the profiles of Seattles two outdoor sports stadiums. To the right is Safeco field, with it's retractable roof, which is home to the Seattle Mariners baseball team. To the left is Qwest Stadium where the Seattle Seahawks and the Sounders soccer team play. Either of these venues would be just a short cab ride from the Edgewater should you decide to make it your headquarters for a visit to Seattle.
My poor photography skills just do not do the beautiful lobby of the Edgewater justics. The rustic, yet extremely luxurious and comfortable lodge decor blends perfectly with the view of Elliot Bay and the San Juan islands.
Later in the evening, we joined some fellow CatchCon attendees and made a trip to the Space Needle. The dinner we enjoyed was absolutely delicious and the staff was attentive and efficient. Be warned however, there is a $35 minimum requirement to have dinner at the top of the Space needle, and to spend ONLY that little, you will have to have a mere salad and glass of water! However, if you are celebrating a special occasion or have decided on one spectacular meal during your trip, this would be a good choice.
Of course, your meal includes not only the view from the revolving restaurant, but also admission to the observation deck one floor up, so it is still a value.
Lake Union, viewed from the top of the Space Needle, is the site of the beginning of our Locks Tour which started this blog post.
As we returned to our hotel, we witnessed one of the large Evergreen container ships being escorted by the tugboats into the Evergreen terminal. It was simply fascinating watching them maneuver this massive vessel into its berth.
That ended our very full day, which started in Omaha, passed through Denver, and ended up in the far western reaches of the United States, 400 feet out above the waters of the Puget Sound.
Thanks for stopping by. There is no shortage of coffee in Seattle!

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