Escargot: Back in the Saddle

It’s been a long time.

A few months ago, in an effort to build my writing skills and enthusiasm, I enrolled in an online writing class. It had the opposite effect. The class was for aspiring travel writers, taught by somewhat frustrated artists of the pen whose goal it was to be damn sure our dreams of writing met head on with the reality of how  competitive the industry could be. They were writers of great talent we were assured, but that was clearly not enough, even for them, as their dreams had turned sour.   I was assured I had no chance, though that wasn’t my goal.

Then there was the incident… my rescue by the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office as the bow of my boat rested precariously a good dozen feet in the air while water began to pour over my stern.  As my gallant rescuers arrived it was all but over, the only long term damage a slightly shattered sense of confidence.  Or perhaps not so slight, as I haven’t been back on the sloughs in a good year and some.

Finally, in an effort to save some serious dollars I moved my boat from a long neglected dairy barn to my sisters cozy farm, out in the open, but securely protected by a cocoon of tarps and a spiders web of ropes and lines.  Upon my arrival in spring I found the tarps flapping loose, the cabin filled with perhaps 100 galloons of rain water.  My son, now attending boat repair school, declared my boat unfit for repair, suitable only as a source of salvaged lumber.  I moped, and moped some more, until warm memories of boat outings in the past forced me into a modest frenzy of repair, or at least a fresh coat of paint.

So I dove in… climbed back into the saddle…. resumed control of the helm and set my course on personal satisfaction and enjoyment, both in boating and in writing.  Damn the critics, full speed ahead.

After a couple of weeks of intermittent repair and paint, I was heading toward the lake again thanks to a last minute decision to head out for an overnight on the Sammamish Slough. It was about 4:30pm when the idea hit with a thud, and I was on the water within an hour, my supplies thrown into the back hatch. I took no food, no water, forgot my medications, but was laden with all the gadgets I could muster.

There was the Kindle, battery half charged.  My cell phone was even lower, so I took along my small solar charger from Brunton, which proved totally useless.  I also took along my new Spot satellite unit, an upgrade from my Mark Two model, one that allows access through my cell phone, allowing me to send one of 14 saved messages, or even type in a short new one at 50 cents a pop.  With the remaining minutes of life in my cell phone I set the Spot to TRACK mode, allowing anyone who cared to follow my trip in real-time.

Sammamish Slough


After a good hour of pounding through the wakes of unending waterskiers, all thoughts of boating doom and gloom were gone, replaced with a sense of wonder at the beauty of it all. Why had it taken so long to return? All was right again, with my boat, and as has so often been the case, all was right in my head and heart as well.


All my old friends were out along the slough. There were the burly fishermen and the young jet skiers, bemused at the unorthodox shape and colors of my boat. Then there were the kids and the young at heart who upon spotting my boat round the corner just down the slough from their vantage point, would stop, point, and exclaim to those about them.

There were the chickens, roosters mostly, as the parks along the slough have become a popular dumping ground for the non-egg laying and much noisier feathered friends from backyard coops throughout the region. There were the noisy twitterings of the King Fisher, the grotesque alarm calls of the stately herons, and the angry aquatic slaps in the night from perturbed beavers, distressed by my unexpected presence.

The Sammamish Slough begins it’s run from the north end of Lake Washington, which bisects Seattle along it’s entire length to the west and the land of Microsoft and Boeing to the east.   At one time the slough was an important steamboat passageway from Seattle to the tiny and distant communities to the east, then mostly engaged in logging and coal. The river now winds through the backyards of the rich in their mansions, and comparative squalor of ramshackle mobile homes of the 60s and 70s.  It runs past industry, from a thriving NW winery scene, to the lumberyards from who’s stock they were built.   Along it’s length there is a bike and walking trail filled with the delighted shouts of kids and the huffing and puffing of those trying to keep old age at bay.  I float past them all, to the delighted waves of those on the trail, but unseen by those who race past on the freeways built high upon the tangle of high columns and ramps above.

There’s forest, too, mixed amongst it all, as in the drippy and soggy Northwest there is no such thing as barren land.  If mankind hasn’t moved in, a sea of green most certainly has.  It’s that diversity, that hodge-podge of man and beast, concrete and nature, that is such a surprise.  The greater surprise is how rarely I see anyone else in the water, especially as the slough begins to meander through the ever expanding wineries of Woodinville.   Bear creek is the largest of the tributaries, second in added flow only to Lake Sammamish which serves as the source for these slow and murky waters.  It’s there you’ll find a sand bar that brings the depth of the slough to just a few inches, save but a narrow and swift passage just wide enough for my boat if I scratch and claw my way through the stickers reaching out from the far shore.  It’s a trip few dare take, actually an impossible effort for all but the most shallow and narrow of craft.  My 6hp 4 stroke can make it’s way up, just barely, the current too strong for all but the most determined kayak or canoe.

Just beyond there that I can pull up to a small park, my boat’s appearance there seemingly as unexpected as a herd of ostriches, as I may be one of a handful of boats that have shown up there.  I usually walk over to a local store and pick up forgotten supplies, a cold soda and such, which feels a bit odd for me as well.  Approaching from behind, stepping out of the river world and into the realm of moms and their kids and strollers at the park, feels unexpectedly foreign.

The blackberries are ripe, practically falling into the water at the slightest touch, so I fill a few cups from the galley. I’d planned to bring them home as a topping for ice cream, but they don’t last the hour, my fingers stained a tell-tale purple.  I’ve created a bucket list for myself, a run down of “must do” before I die  adventures, though some are pretty simple, including a desire to pick enough blackberries to last all Winter.  The slough would be ideal, as the competition for berries is virtually non-existant, creating a blackberry jam mother lode.


After more than a year off the water, I’d found my way back.  As I was leaving home for this adventure my wife said, “I hope this trip is all it’s been for you in the past”.  She’d known for some time that I needed this trip, a break, the mental respite.  I thought about what she’d said and wondering exactly what it was these trips offered me.  I wasn’t quite sure.  Beauty and solitude, for sure.  There was no rush, as this was not a means to an end… it was a gift in it’s own right with no destination beyond.   Time… to think.. to notice.. to feel… to be.   Impossible to buy, but always available free for the taking.

Let’s make a  promise to together.  Let’s just do it… just get out more often.

A website about Shantyboats and affordable living on the water. More than 800 stories to date, and growing.


  1. hi Bryan, I moved to PA from NH in 2000. not long after that, i found you on line and we exchanged a couple of boat related emails.. it has been great to follow your progress since then… very interesting to hear that your son, who accompanied you on some of your early cruises as a young boy is now off to school! and, along with that, we are getting older. thanks for making the effort to run your web page and this yahoo group. I love the allure of a shantyboat as well as the history of it all .. and, as far as that goes, the future of it as well. it is very interesting the current designers, Harry Bryan, Sam Devlin and Phil Bolger all too the time to design a type of shanty boat – the mystique lives on! Although I am currently sailing compac 23 on Barnegat bay in NJ, I expect that I will be cruising some rivers and the erie canal at some point in the future, and the compac may not be the right boat for that.. so, i still dream of building a cool looking boat that would be comfortable for two and which would look like she has been on the water for decades.. a shanty boat might just fit the bill!

    it is great to hear that you got back on the water – i enjoyed your movie, and i hope that you and others will post more! jason

  2. Sailed as a younger-boy, sustenance fished Laguna Madre on the shoreside of Padre when hurricane leftovers and a sandbar could be the makings of a comfortable home. Marriage, kids, the usual stuff of life all happened, and when age sixty showed up unexpectedly this month…I found I was ‘fortunate’ enough to still be working 220+hrs a month at a third career. I was in Duluth yesterday and found the latest issue of “WoodenBoat” with a shantyboat calling out from its cover. Set me to searching for something leftover from those early days on quieter waters. Enjoyed the past hour exploring your website. Time for work. Thanks for the mini-vacation and some inspiration. I’ll let you know what comes of it.

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