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Posted by on Jun 2, 2009 in Sailboat Racing, US | 1 comment

Prom Night at Lake Union’s Duck Dodge

Seattle sailors do a ritual dance at this time of year.

A fleet of Ocean Alexanders anchors the south side of Lake Union in Seattle.

A fleet of Ocean Alexanders anchors the south side of Lake Union in Seattle.

The headquarters for and is in the Union building, perched on the western edge of Lake Union, a small but busy patch of water on the east side of Seattle. I visited the home office last week and while I enjoyed the welcome of my Seattle-based colleagues, I must confess the conversation at my first night’s dinner was somewhat disjointed. The venue was Joey’s restaurant, next to a dock packed with Ocean Alexanders (home, I discovered, of the company’s Seattle office). The food was good, but the service might’ve been a little, shall we say, too attentive. The truth is, though, we had a problem with the view. For those of us on the inboard side of the table, the view through the plate glass was a perfect one of several dozen sailboats racing a multi-lap competition around the lake.

A flock of ducks in pre-start dodge mode

A flock of ducks in pre-start dodge mode

Weeknight “beer-can” racing is an in-season tradition almost everywhere sailboats are found, but it appears the organizers of this event have raised it to a high art form. Instead of calling their event Thirsty Thursdays or Wet Wednesdays, they’ve billed it the “Duck Dodge.” If you check out the Duck Dodge website, you’ll find the derivation, and begin to understand why little rubber ducks can be found perched in the rigging of all the boats that get around the lake the fastest. But I think it has less to do with facsimiles of our feathered friends and more to do with avoiding each other. Not that we witnessed any collisions, but despite the modest breeze, we saw plenty of boats wandering off course or sailing around marks with spinnakers flailing. No doubt they were religiously following the race’s unique rules:

Rule 1: Starboard Tack has Right of Way
Rule 2: Rules of the road apply
Rule 3: No hitting one-another(With or without boats)
Rule 4: Take all marks to PORT unless noted on Race Course
Rule 5: No hitting one-another
Rule 6: Bribing the committee is against the rules (while anybody is looking)
Rule 7: No hitting one-another
Rule 8: There is no rule number 8
Rule 9: No hitting one-another
Rule 10: Follow all the rules
Rule 11: No hitting one-another
Rule 12: Never make a duck change its course (Dodge the Duck)

The spinnaker boats in the first class

The spinnaker boats in the first class

My  friend, Kurt Hoehne, a long-time area resident and sailing writer, filled me in further on the phone, explaining that while some boats may have been competing, others were simply going round and round the lake until the sun set and it was time for the big Raft Up. He also said that the single greatest navigational mistake in his last few decades on the water was tying up one night after racing next to a crew that was powering their blender with a lawn mower engine…

Sure enough, from my hotel room on the sixth floor of the Silver Cloud on the south side of the lake, the last thing I saw as the light faded around 10 o’clock was a large powerboat anchored in the middle of the lake (the race committee boat, no doubt) and about 20 boats tied up to it in a giant raft.  What I only learned later was that the event I’d been watching had a theme, as many evenings of the Duck Dodge do. It being late May, it was Prom Night, of course. No wonder the spinnakers were flapping in the breeze; everyone knows it’s hard to execute a good takedown in a tuxedo, jibe the spinnaker in stiletto heels, or grind a winch in a full-length gown. I can imagine it, but I wonder if anyone was taking pictures?

The morning after...engaging in rowing, Seattle's other passion.

Next morning, the raft was gone and I looked out to see Lake Union’s other personality; about a dozen shells and skulls lined up to practice their starts. Somehow I doubt that any of this group had been to the Duck Dodge.

—John Burnham

1 Comment

  1. This is the kind of thing that makes boating in Seattle so great. Years ago, I used to do the Duck Dodge on my Windsurfer, but the typical light evening air and all the boat chop made it dicey most of the time. Not to mention the Lake Union floatplanes doing touch-and-goes. Ducks weren’t the only thing you had to dodge.