Youth on the water

Youth on the water

Youth on the water

The most impressive moment of my young life was moving from Angle Lake near Sea-Tac Airport to Madison Park. Lake Washington seemed like an ocean to me. I got a handle on it when my friends and I passed our swimming test and could finally go past the ropes and swim to the raft. 

The raft was made mostly of wood but had three diving levels; we expertly jumped from the second. The water was so clear you could see the seaweed on the bottom. 

Schoolmates lay on the concrete pads south of the bathhouse to warm up, but some kid would invariably yell, “Waves!” caused by a large ship or tug going by. We all ran to experience a wave only second to the ones in Hawaii. 

Since our swim patches were visible, Mr. Johnson would now allow us to fish for bullheads off the end of his dock at Johnson Marina. We made it a contest to see who caught the biggest bullhead, but I might add it was strictly a “catch-and-release” exercise due to the non-gourmet nature of said fish.

The marina covered the area where Parkshore Senior Living and Washington Park Tower stand today. South of the marina were five houses that had been built and tied on pilings over the water. Years later, I lived in one of the three-bedroom houses there and split the $87 rent three ways. 

Life was tough.

If we weren’t fishing, we were scouring the beaches collecting bottles at 5 cents each. Service personnel stationed nearby and wounded outpatients of the Marine hospital would visit the Park. One day we asked a wounded soldier if we could have his empties. Instead, he offered, “How about getting burgers from the stand at the south end of the beach for you and your buddies?” He was on crutches and we were happy to oblige him.

While delivering our goods to the store another soldier told us about the jungle and the war going on, but was careful to censor the realities of it. One guy went a little further and paused as his experience involved losing a good friend in battle. He and all of us shed a tear. 

Sheltering us from war news was what the schools and our parents tried to do. The Weekly Reader had nothing about the national news. Today’s computer era takes us up real close to what a bullet can really do. Even the Lowell Thomas and Sam Hayes Radio Show censored news for young ears. 

So, the next most important thing to us was boating. One friend’s dad had a huge old rubber raft with a cover, oars and a pump for the many pinholes. Fun but trying to row; it was much like rowing a brick. A movie we saw showed how to build a canoe with a sharp bow for speed.  We found the perfect log and with the tools suggested in the movie — chisel, hammers and sweat — we barely made a dent in the thing. 

A beach just west of Edgewater (now Canterbury) was covered in cattails. There were a couple of old docks, houseboats and other boats of various sizes anchored there due to the fuel shortages. A half-sunk, fairly large rowboat with a For Sale sign beckoned to us, so we bought it.  Scott Relton, the owner, even threw in oars and cushions.

My grandfather, Wolf Larsen, gave us an old 10-horsepower Johnson Outboard. Buckins’ Boat Builders gave us a “How to caulk a vessel” lesson. Adding a couple of coats of paint and taking out the middle seat for more room was the final touch. That 14-16-footer at full throttle could pass most waterfowl to be sure.

Exploration of all nearby waters was the goal. The Broadmoor slough was much larger than it is today, and on our maiden voyage we saw birds, water rats, beaver and raccoons. Another trip took us across the canal to the slough by the UW Stadium. It was also much larger than now. It was always a good cruise back to Madison dock to show friends and share the day at sea. 

Other schoolmates also had boats—some larger with more power and room. Hence, we were catching one-foot fever. Those who own boats oftentimes find they must have more room for a main salon, or a galley, a larger restroom or shower, and they know the fever takes over. It is ever so much easier just to be invited out on a friend’s boat and scratch the hassle. 

I did buy another boat in the ‘60s. I had met Bill Muncey and knew he had designed the California Drag and Ski boat—a 16-18-foot flat bottom. It was to be all mine! Going at full throttle in the evening, bugs hit us like rocks. For its minimal upkeep it still was the best day in my life to sell it.

Fast-forward to the early ‘70s.

A group of us put together a large raft called the Gus Arno. It became legendary, and the stories are forthcoming.