Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sailing in Seattle (Part II)

Today, Wednesday, I did not have any plans. However I had met quite a few people on Steve's boat yesterday, one of which was Tyler who works on the tourist yachts in Seattle Harbour. This venture, called Emerald City Charters (, owns two 70' ex racing yachts called Obsession and Neptune's Car and takes passengers out on them a number of times a day. They are also available for private charter and are often used for private charter.

So Tyler invited me to join him onboard at 11am, where he was due to take out Obsession with the owner at the wheel and a few other tourists on board. I had a look around the boat, which had a very large flat deck surface and some huge winch drums, but had also been modified to make it as uncluttered as possible for the guests and had all but one of the pedestals removed. 

Sparse interior and metal construction!

With all on board we set off into the bay and as soon as we found a 5kt breeze, we set off towards Puget Sound. We soon passed Alki beach where I had been kayaking, and went and found a bit more wind out in the bay. Nevertheless, we were still making about 3-4kts in this very light air, testament to the huge sail area and racing hull design of this ship!

I had a good chat with Tyler, who will be studying to be a helicopter pilot in Hawaii throughout 2013, who also seemed very interested in how we fly gliders and was asking some impressively deductive questions! It seems that the US Government is willing to provide a loan to those hoping to study to be commercial pilots - quite a difference to the situation in the UK. 

We got back to Seattle to find that the other yacht had also returned (having been on a private charter) and Tyler was then able to show me around that one as well. The difference in appearance between the two yachts, despite being the same length but had been built to different specifications and out of different materials, was quite striking.

This one had much more of an interior to it - and also had a lot of food left over from the previous charter. Free lunch then!

These yachts were magnificent fun and I would love to be part of a proper racing crew on a boat like Neptune's Car or similar. Not sure how I could have such an opportunity - but I will be on the lookout... Thanks again to Tyler for making this possible, and please have a look at to learn more about the boats.

Having had a free lunch, I ate this on the pier while carrying out an experiment. I had seen a seagull drop a paper bag on the decking and I must have seen 30 people walk past it or kick it without putting it in the bin which was right next to it! Eventually, an older lady picked it up and put it in - she said she was a girl scout leader! So kudos to the girl scouts but what a shame that so many tourists or residents on the Seattle seafront didn't care enough to bin this bit of litter.... (of course I would have done it if it were still there when I finished my lunch. But it was an interesting experiment). This is what I meant about the American public in my previous post. Not something I had been able to put my finger on before.

For the rest of the afternoon, I have been writing blog posts and sorting photographs and chatting to my fellow hostellers and trying to get Picasa to work (still no luck) and sending emails and working out how to get round the Great Firewall of China and Skyping David and eating free pancakes (I haven't paid a cent for any food today) and trying to guess the gender of the 'lady' who I met in Santa Monica HI who has now turned up in Seattle (who, for some reason, was showing us her passport and confirmed my suspicions) and comparing currency and signatures and generally chilling out. Also trying to make plans for tomorrow!

Sailing in Seattle

Tuesday evening was a real treat! On the plane on the way up to Seattle, I thought what a treat it would be if I managed to get some sailing in around the Puget Sound and the bays of Seattle. Although I found a few operators which would take you out for 90 minutes for $30, on a 70' boat set up for tourists, I wanted to see if I could connect with any recreational sailors who could take on a Brit as another crew member just for fun. On the day I arrived, I found the Google Group for sailors in the area and put a little advert up:

 Hi guys,

 I'm visiting Seattle area for a week and would love to get out on a boat if possible. I've never sailed in the USA but am an RYA Day Skipper with a couple of thousand miles under my belt. I also have quite a bit of dinghy experience.

If you think I can help on your boat, please let me know! Racing, day sail or just around the bay - anything would be fine with me.

Many thanks,
Colin Field 

To my delight, I got a couple of replies, one of which was from a chap called Steve who offered for me to join him on his One Design 48' racing yacht, named S/Z Flash, for a Tuesday evening race on Union Lake called the 'Duck Dodge'. The Ducks are the tourist amphibious buses which will take you round town as well as a dip in the lake.

So I took the bus to the other side of the city and found my way to a fish restaurant where we were meeting the crew. The yacht then arrived, crewed by Steve and his daughter Christine:

I was not quite prepared for just how racy this yacht was going to be! 48' is the biggest yacht I've been on, but this one had a 60' mast and huge sails and genoa. There was nothing on deck that wasn't required for racing - the deck was very flat and featured pedestal for 'grinding' the two very large winch drums. Also, look at the size of the wheel!

One of the other attractions of Lake Union is the floatplanes, and also the houseboats, where Sleepless in Seattle was set.

Eventually more and more crew turned up, eventually numbering around 20! Of these, about 8 were hangers-on (daughters, sons, wives and friends) acting as ballast with their legs over the side. The other 12 of us were sailing the boat, including 2 on the bow, two grinders, two jib trimmers, two vang and halyard trimmers, one main trimmer, one backstay trimmer, and of course the helm-come-tactician-come-owner. In other words, a full racing crew, great fun and a new sailing experience for me!

The young lady here is Steve's other daughter Jenny and was an excellent winch grinder for the race. So we set off for the middle of the lake, where we joined maybe 50+ other yachts, powerboats, Laser dinghys, Ducks, floatplanes, windsurfers and all sorts of other water craft! It was not a large lake for so many vessels, but ours was probably the largest, and by keeping the engine running the whole time (and having a very efficient bow man looking out), we were able to avoid collisions.

There was even a floating dinner party in the middle of the lake!!!! We asked what was for dinner. 'Salmon' they replied :-)

The race started and, being in the fastest boat class, we set off first. The course was two reaches to windward and then a broad reach to the downwind marker - repeated twice. Each lap took us about 15 minutes, the boat never seemed to go slower than about 8 knots, and this was in a fairly average wind of 12-15 knots... in other words, this boat could really move!
The crew was clearly quite experienced together and I was especially impressed with the spinnaker raising and lowering drills. It was an asymmetric spinnaker, which I am not so familiar with, but the sheets and guys still seemed to have the same function. My job was partly jib trim but mainly blowing out the working sheet whenever we tacked or gybed, then handing over to the other trimmer who was much better at the finesse of trimming such a big sail, giving commands to the grinders. During the spinnaker runs I was operating the guy on the same winch as the others, but this didn't require much adjustment. 

Starting at the head of the fleet

Running downwind under spinnaker. Mine is the winch with the yellow guy wrapped around.

Needless to say, we won easily in about half an hour, collected our prize then headed back to Ivar's Salmon while tidying up the boat. It was great fun but I wish we had had another race, or a longer one in a bigger lake, to really stretch the legs of this awesome boat. Lake Union was just too small for it!

Finally managed a sail on USA water!

You can see the size of the crew as we all disembarked.

After everyone else had headed home, I helped Steve and Christine return Flash to its mooring just outside Lake Union. We had to pass under a couple of raising bridges as the sun set, and motored home in very still water. 

Steve was then kind enough to drop me off at the Hostel in the International District, which he assured me was en-route! I am so grateful for Steve for making this expedition possible, what an honour it was to sail with his crew. He said that he had replied to my request because he had been in the UK for Cowes week with some friends and family, and wanted to pay the favour back to UK sailors! How good it is that we can connect with all sorts of groups like this through the internet, and that he was walling to let a complete stranger on board and help out. Thanks again :-)

Studying Airliners in Seattle

One of the main reasons I have visited Washington State was to gain experience of Boeing. Seattle, especially the main manufacturing facility in Everett (a few miles north of the facility) is Boeing's main base and is responsible for manufacturing and assembling thousands of the aircraft which grace our skies every single day. Clearly, this is the ideal destination for any aircraft geek!

Boeing also, very kindly, provides a tour for any member of the public who wants to learn more about the company and see aircraft in the process of being built. It's also a big PR effort - the tour guides wear badges saying 'if it's not Boeing, I'm not going!' and of course everyone is very proud of the products. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

The facility, quite amazingly for a workplace of 30,000 people, does not have any public transport links and the only way for Colin public to make his way there would be to take a bus and a taxi for about $40, or purchase a combined transport and tour ticket from an independent tour operator. It was a bit expensive at $65, but since the tour of the factory was about $20 anyway, I don't think it was too much of a rip-off. Plus I would get picked up directly from the hostel.

Therefore, on Tuesday morning at 9am, I found myself in an MPV on the way up to the Everett with guests from around Seattle, some of whom were going to the large mall, others to the the casino in the area, and 3 others were going to Boeing. First stop was the Future of Flight centre, which is full of interesting exhibits of Boeing technology.


Rolls-Royce, as launch engine supplier for the 787 Dreamliner, had a really good stand with a model and a real Trent 1000 and some cutaways of the internal gas dynamics, compressor, turbine and fan blades. There was also a GEnx engine in the hall (the other option for 787, and the only option for 747-8) which in my opinion was nowhere near as pretty an engine!

I could also sit in the pilot's seat of a 727 and show a lady who came in as my co-pilot what some of the controls did. It was surprisingly similar to the VC10 simulator I have flown!

Yay gliders! Although a slightly weird description of what gliding is...
[edit - I only just realised that this picture credited the 'White Plains Picture Co' - close but no cigar!]

There was also an observation platform, from which you could view Paine Field and the manufacturing facility on the other side. The Boeing plant here is the largest building in the world by volume, was built in the 1960s and was extended in the 80s and 90s to incorporate more and more production lines for the new 767 and 777 airliners. 

World's largest building

A whole line of 787 Dreamliners for All Nippon Airlines (ANA), the launch customer and one of the biggest recipients of aircraft so far. Also delivered are some to Japan Airlines and 1 to Ethiopian Airlines.

To my delight, the Dreamlifter (a very heavily modified 747 for moving Dreamliner parts around the world) was in residence while I was in Everett. Behind it are some brand new 747-8s (frieghters and passenger variants) for delivery to various European customers).

Our tour began with an 'inspirational' video about Boeing's products, then we were split into two and put on a coach to go across the flightline to the manufacturing facility. After a 500m walk through a tunnel, we were taken up a freight elevator to survey the 747-8 production line. This aircraft, although updated with some of the 787 features, was still very manually assembled and was predominantly aluminium with hundreds of thousands of fasteners. Also, much of it is fabricated on-site and then assembled on a complex production line from wingbox right up to complete aircraft. Each aircraft is moved from station to station while being built up with components.

After being transported to the next part of the hangar by coach, we saw the 777 production line - this was much more automated, with more parts being shipped in from around the world on trucks and trains. Each aircraft is put on a crawler which moves about 3cm per minute down the line, while all the tools and steps around it are on wheels and move with the crawler.

Finally, we were able to see the 787 Dreamliner production facility. By far the fastest line on site, churning out an aircraft every 2.5 - 3 days (when moving at top speed), this aircraft is only really assembled on site with parts that are completed in Japan, Germany, France, the UK, China and the rest of the USA. This plant is much simpler than the rest and the composite aircraft has far fewer fasteners than its aluminium sisters, facilitating a much quicker assembly. You can also see the colour difference! 

After exploring this facility from above, we were told about the ordering process and how the first payment is made on order, the second partway through construction, and the final just before it is taken to the painting workshop. The customer then flies to Boeing here to take delivery of the new airplane and fly it to wherever it will be based (with a little ceremony and a couple of test flights).

Sadly that was the end of the tour, which predictably required us to walk through the gift shop on our way out, then I returned to the Hostel.

Sightseeing (and Sea-Kayaking) in Seattle

Monday morning I decided to go and have a look at the Space Needle up-close (because that's what all tourists do in Seattle, right?). The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World Expo in Seattle and was, at the time, the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Surrounding it at the base are a number of remnants from that expo, including a monorail and some crazy looking buildings: 

I then headed into downtown, and on a whim decided to visit the now-tallest skyscraper in Seattle. At over 76 stories tall, the Columbia Centre is a tourist attraction in its own right and you can visit the Starbucks for free on the 40th floor (which was my original plan), but since that first elevator didn't seem to take any time at all to reach the top, I decided it can't have been the 40th floor so I followed a few other sandals, shorts and rucksack wearing tourists (actually some students from Derby Uni) into the next elevator - and found myself on the 73rd floor! There is an observation deck here so, following their lead and claiming to have forgotten to bring my student card, I got in for a mere $6 and had a good look around.

Looking South

Looking North-West towards Puget Sound

Looking East at Lake Washington

Looking South-West towards the docks, where two cruise liners are approaching

The view was magnificent and, having never been in a skyscraper like this before, I was quite surprised by how much the view must make this an attractive place to work. Especially if you are high up in the building and can enjoy these amazing views all day long. It was nice that they provided this observation deck for the enjoyment of tourists - although the other half of the floor was shared with the traffic observation group, for obvious reasons!

On the way down, I observed the rate of descent of the lift a bit more carefully. It took 20 seconds to cover 40 floors, including acceleration and deceleration - which means that at peak speed it is covering between 3 and 4 floors per second - which equates to about 30mph vertical speed! The acceleration did not seem that strong - but it did continue for a long time and I guess that's the secret of express elevators.

This is the view of that skyscraper from the International District, where the hostel is.

I headed back to the hostel for a quick lunch of hot-and-sour soup (from the Asian market yesterday) and was then picked up for my next adventure. You see, I had booked myself onto a sea kayaking expedition which is run every Monday exclusively for the enjoyment of patrons of the local hostellers. It's run from Alki Kayak Tours on Alki Beach, on the opposite side of Elliott Bay from Seattle Downtown. One of the staff, Jonny, has done a lot of hostelling so organises these trips every Monday at quite a good discount, and provides a free shuttle!

There was only 3 guests on the tour, the other two being a couple at one of the other hostels in town (one was a member of staff), so I had a choice of being in a K1 by myself or a K2 with the guide. Clearly I chose to go solo! So off we went on a 2 hour trek around the bay:

We were able to see starfish, jellyfish, sea lions, turns, a golden eagle's nest and all sorts of other sea birds from the water, which was incredibly clear. There are also 6 types of salmon in the bay, and there is an easy way to remember them - Sock-eye, King, Silver, Pink, Chum and Steelhead. We saw a couple of salmon while we were exploring, plus some interesting barges and wrecks around the edges!

The sea-lions were the most interesting, clustered on a buoy in the bay and clearly enjoying the nice weather. One of them was barking at us, so it was wise not to get too close!

We then ventured out into much deeper water, enjoying the swell and soaking up the lovely views of Seattle city and Puget Sound. It feels almost a little bit fake, with a large city such as this surrounded by such beautiful scenery, the crystal clear see and all the forests, rainforests and mountains around us. But it was a privilege being able to explore it by kayak, so please have a look at the website if you're in Seattle -

After that, I headed back to the hostel for dinner and an early night. I've also been trying to update the blog, but the normal software that I use just isn't connecting to the system so now I have to upload the pictures directly to the web. This takes between an hour and an hour-and-a-half so I need to plan my uploads a little better!

I've also discovered what a problem I'm going to have emailing people and writing the blog once I get to China. Google, Gmail, Picasa, Blogspot are all blocked by the Great Firewall of China and, still pondering whether I should use a VPN to get around this or not, means I might have to be off the radar for a little while. I promise I'll still be taking photos etc though and have created a new email address for use out there that I hope won't be blocked -

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sights around Seattle

Annoyingly, Picasa (the software I use to upload photos etc to my blog) has just started failing on me so now I have to upload everything (full-size via the webform). So it will probably take me most of tomorrow to get up-to-date!

On Sunday, after an offensively early wake-up, I caught the free shuttle to LAX without managing to trip over teh kittehs which were just lying on the steps of the hotel. 

The airline had my name down as "Colinjohnmr Field" so unsurprisingly I needed assistance checking in. Hopefully this won't be the case with all my flights, or it might be worth checking in online beforehand!

The flight was on a Canadair Regional Jet (CRJ-200) which was novel and, with the engines being a long way aft, was very quiet indeed. The flight was pretty straightforward and I used the time to write most of the blog updates you benefited from a couple of days ago.

Once I arrived in Seattle, having caught the rail link from SeaTac with another traveller (Ari) who turned out to be coming to the Hostel as well, we discovered that the hostel was literally just across the street from the railway station, which also happens to be Chinatown. So our hostel is the large beige building partly obscured by this traditional Chinese archway...

The hostel itself is incredibly nice, I am in a 4-bed male dorm and each of us has 4 plug sockets next to the bed, a wall fan, and a reading light! Luxury indeed. There's a big TV room and numerous common rooms and a laundry and of course a good continental breakfast. Nothing to complain about then - apart from the location, which isn't hugely central, and in a part of town that I would think twice about venturing into after dark...

Upon checking in, and it being far too early to go up to my room, I immediately went out exploring the city. I had heard that there was a free walking tour around Seattle which comes well recommended to travellers, so I made my way to Pike Place Market (free buses!) and waited around there for the tour.

I have noticed that Seattle does seem to attract even more homeless and begging people than LA and Seattle. Chatting to a local about this later, I discovered that the state of Washington has a lot of welfare programs and I guess that this attracts a lot of people to the area. I was approached numerous times for change, for help, and passed tens and tens of people sat on the floor with their pitiful cardboard signs asking for change or, amusingly on one occasion, pot. At least he was honest. Really, it's not a kindness to give cash to these people but I was surprised that there was just so many of them! I guess they do congregate where the tourists were heading anyway though, one of which was the garden just next to Pike Place Market where I was waiting.

Anyway, I digress. The tour guide turned up soon and was easily recognisable by the sign he carried above his head. With about 9 other travellers, from Canada and Germany and Israel, we set off on the tour, heading first into the Market itself. 

Following like Sheep

The first thing we saw was the 'original' Starbucks (as original as it gets, considering that the actual original was a coffee cart, and then the first actual shop burnt down). There was a big queue of people getting their coffee fix from here. I wonder if they know that it's just the same beans as everywhere else? However, next door was an award-winning cheesery which I found much more interesting :-)

We then headed into the market proper, which was set up by a co-op of local farmers when the middlemen started squeezing the price of eggs and fruit. It's been going strong ever since, and is now both a tourist attraction and a very successful market for local produce. Many of the stores (especially outside) are only open at the weekends, when the farmers have the time to come and sell the produce they grew that week.

Something I actually really like about the USA is the prevalence of the 'independent shop'. You would have thought, by the fact that we are being overrun by chain-stores (especially US ones) in the UK like Starbucks, Subway, Currys, Tesco etc, they would be all the more prevalent here. Not the case. There are many more independent shops, like Mike's Lock and Key or Saveway Supermarket or some small local Subs shop, than chain stores and it is refreshing to see. Not sure why small businesses thrive out here while they die in the UK - maybe there is a culture of getting your supplies from a local merchant (a sort of local pride), or maybe the local councils are more hospitable to small and medium enterprises, or maybe the American people are just a bit more entrepreneurial. But it's a good trend and I like it.

So, back to the market. We ventured inside and visited this fish market. In an attempt to try and get world-famous, the guys here put on a bit of a show - when they all start chanting to each other, you know they're going to chuck a fish somewhere into the audience! Where one of their number will catch it and present it to the person who ordered it. Anyway, they seemed to be doing a great trade with fish flying everywhere and clearly their strategy worked. We got to sample some dried fish here too.

Next we went into lower Pike Place, where there is an independent cinema with an infamous 'gum wall' where thousands of people have deposited their gum. Originally the city insisted that they scrape the wall, but now it's a tourist attraction, so they've stopped nagging them....

(Voted the 2nd most unhygienic attraction in the USA)

We explored some other shops down Post Alley (where the horses, belonging to those visiting PPM, were tied up) and some of the other key sites in Downtown Seattle. Our guide enjoyed mentioning the steam system wherever he could - so you can imagine my pleasure when we found actual steam rising up from some manhole covers!

Free steam for everyone!!

The tour eventually led us to the seafront, where we were treated to some free samples of Chowder at Ivar's Salmon. We also had a bucket of chips, which we could eat if we wanted, but seemed explicitly put there for the feeding of the seagulls which was strongly encouraged! I managed to feed a couple.

What do you call a Seagull flying over the bay? A Bagel, of course.

Our tour took us past the aquarium and the newly erected ferris wheel. All the cool cities have these (see the post on Santa Monica pier). So here's the Seattle skyline at the end of the tour:

And, of course, its most famous piece of architecture:

After enjoying the sites down at the seafront, I wandered back to the hotel before Ari showed me where to find the massive Asian supermarket. You can get almost any kind of Asian cuisine here, plus all the ingredients you can handle. I settled on some proper sweet and sour sauce and some hot and sour soup for the day after. Then I went back and ate the food. And eventually went to bed. You don't need to know all this stuff!!!