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Gals in the Neighborhood: Wooden Boats and Summer Bliss

Posted by Johnine Larsen on July 8, 2014
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center-for-wooden-boatsWe know a few tricks for making the most of a sunny Seattle weekend without breaking the bank. One of those tricks, however impossible it might seem, is boating. No joke. Boating for free. You could scour Craigslist for a free boat or you could mooch off your boat-owning friends, but we know a better option. It’s about time we shared it.

If you head down to South Lake Union on a Sunday and visit the Center for Wooden Boats, you can enjoy an afternoon on the water for the grand total of free-ninety-nine. It’s called Free Public Sail, and it’s the perfect way to spend a beautiful summer day. The process is simple, and we have a few tips to make the day even better.

Tip 1: Show up at 10 a.m. to reserve a spot

Space on the boats is limited, and although most Seattleites don’t know about this opportunity, the ones who do tend to keep coming back. Sail times vary week-to-week, but most occur between noon and 3 p.m., so once you’ve secured your spot on the sign-up list, you’ll have some time to kill. Fortunately, there are few better places to kill time than South Lake Union on a sunny summer day.

Tip 2: Grab lunch nearby

Sushi, steak, crab? It’s all within a few hundred feet. But in the spirit of saving money, you can also find less expensive food that still manages to taste delicious. Walk south a few blocks to find plenty of options: deluxe fast food to classic Mexican, vegan specialties to traditional pub fare.

Tip 3: Explore the docks

The Center for Wooden Boats has 170 different vessels, and whenever we see them, we always find ourselves breathless. Their fleet includes:

  • A 114-year-old fishing boat, retired from a past life salmon fishing in Alaska.
  • A two-masted “gaff-rigged cat ketch”
  • A cutter built in the style of historic Maine sloops, circa 1800s
  • A wooden longboat, of kind that explorers used when making the first maps of the Pacific Northwest
  • A replica Umiyak (the sealskin boats once used by Artic Native Americans).
  • An 108-year-old steamship that looks like an odd mix between a Mississippi sternwheeler and a speedboat from Indiana Jones


You can also watch carvers working on the boats, or you can simply enjoy the sounds and smells of the waterfront.

Tip 4: Relax

Our only tip for sailing is to relax and enjoy it. The skipper and the crew will guide you like the experts they are. The views from Lake Union are some of the best in Seattle, and you’ll have just enough of a breeze to make eighty degrees feel perfect. So sit back, dip a hand in the water, and smell the salt in the air. You’ll have forty-five minutes of bliss.


The Center for Wooden Boats knows how to make a Sunday spectacular. And they do it all for free. There’s not even a pressure to tip, because the skipper and the crew are not allowed to accept anything. So don’t feel guilty. It really is free.


Bonus tip:

Park in the public lot west of the Center to score two hours of free parking.