Historical Astoria

I love a crisp autumn day—fiery leaves aiming for the ground under a blue sky, the cool air challenging the sun’s warmth on our faces.

But enjoying this time of year is even more fun while exploring a few special places in a picturesque seaside town. One such place I recently paid a visit to: Astoria.

Originally one of the oldest settlements on the West Coast—named after John Jacob Astor—this Oregon jewel carefully preserves its amazing past, proudly sharing it with today’s visitors. Just passing through for the day, my husband and I fancied a walk and made a stop or two…

Back in time

The first noticeable—very picturesque—feature in this coastal-river town is only 50 years old: the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Surprisingly, this pair of small towns is home to one of the longest truss bridges in the nation.

Replacing a ferry system that was always hampered by crazy currents, fog and other weather-related challenges, this attractive span does its part to connect two states, along with a road that connects three countries. Not bad for 1966! We could see it from just about anywhere in town; it likes to photobomb…

Tea time

What does a successful local river bar pilot and businessman do for retirement? Build an 11,000+ square foot Victorian home of course! Captain George Flavel wanted something stylish that he and his family could enjoy, entertain, relax and come home to after visiting the world. Sporting 12-14’ ceilings on the first two floors (and in the basement), I’d say they enjoyed plenty of elbow room…

Now maintained by the Clatsop County Historical Society (and on the National Register of Historic Places), this beautiful structure known as the Flavel House entertains visitors from all over the world. And if you’re up for tea and scones (like me—always!), I suggest booking a tour…

Entering through the front door, we were escorted to the dining room and conservatory. Taking our seats at the table, I couldn’t help but look around at the ornate wooden walls, floors and furnishings. Enjoying our delicious tea and scones (as any Victorian era group would), we listened to our guide take us through what a typical day was like for this home’s original occupants.

After enjoying one last cuppa, we continued the tour on foot, climbing the sturdy winding staircases up and up. Walking through each room and peering through the many windows, I loved seeing the accessories: the steamer trunks fit for world travel, the art and the fireplaces. And the “hidden” toilets. I guess no one was in the mood to see that particular indoor plumbing feature…

We ended the tour at the Carriage House, where we watched a short video on the Flavel family history in Astoria. I also paid my respects to the gift shop on our way out…

Maritime

Strolling along Riverwalk, we found ourselves enjoying the past coming together with the present. Like watching the town’s historic trolley making its way along the water’s edge while the epic bridge quietly guards from above.

We happened upon several historical markers along the walkway, but there’s one that impressed me the most: Maritime Memorial Park. One would expect a maritime city to have such a special and beautiful way of honoring Astorians who died at sea. But seeing two workers adding new plaques made me realize that a life at sea remains a challenging way to make a living.

Astoria’s river-meets-ocean locale was a perfectly picturesque stop for us, before continuing on our way. But I would love to return for a long weekend, just so we could explore a little more. Its beauty and history transcends all seasons. J ⚓️

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Crew-sing the cut

Welcome to boating season! In my corner of the world, this is a year-around activity (albeit not tremendously popular in the winter months), but as of the first Saturday in May, it’s official!

Watercraft of every size, shape, color and purpose take to the H2O in droves. Temporary structures sprout up along our lakes, rivers, sounds and oceans, offering you the chance to rent your vision of freedom on the waterways.

Time to celebrate! And what better way to honor the commencement of maritime activities then with a regatta? That’s exactly how Seattle floats—with The Windermere Cup.

Since 1987, Windermere Real Estate brings together racing crew teams from all over the world for a chance to take home The Windermere Cup trophy. While the visiting teams vary from year to year, the University of Washington Huskies represent the home team for this auspicious event.

Fans crowd the narrow land edges of the Arboretum and the Montlake Cut for a chance to witness the festivities. On the water, yacht club members and other boat owners line up along the race course for a first-hand unobstructed view of the athletes in action. And just where did we fit in?

The log booms

Two very long rows of logs floating end to end (anchored in place) served as the boundaries for the race course. These logs also served as the top of our parking spot, as we backed up to one such tree trunk and proceeded to tie up.

In general, the boating community is a friendly and helpful group. Appropriate since each ties up not only to the log boom, but to each other as well. Get-acquainted conversations spring with every tie-up. Those with dinghies assist in the tie-up process, along with shuttling their own guests to and from the shore.

Each boat load of fans throws their own bash, music drifting from almost every vessel. Think one long, thin tailgate party—or “sailgate” as referred to by one of our neighbors.

The races—back in the day

What do spoons, tulips, hatchets and collars have in common? Oars, of course! Specifically racing oars. From spoons to tulips—common boat oar styles of yesteryear, today’s crew teams use the hatchet style oar.

Adjustable collars on the hatchet oars (positioned near the handles) allow coaches to assess the current skill of the rower, then increase the degree of difficulty as the athlete improves. Moving the collar higher up the oar pushes the boat even farther with each stroke.

Training equipment and techniques today are sophisticated and high tech. Years ago, manual labor jobs often took the place of formal offseason conditioning for our crew teams. And then there’s the shells. No longer wooden, modern day racing craft are made of durable synthetic materials featuring built-in seams so the boats can be disassembled for easy transportation.

Since originating in England on the Thames circa 1600s, the evolution of crew racing to the elite and popular sport we know today is highlighted throughout our history by several distinct mile markers—more than the ever-changing boats, oars and exercise programs. One such mile marker occurred during the Great Depression on these very shores.

A few days after our log boom adventure, we enjoyed a walking tour (on land!) honoring The Boys in the Boat and their famous legacy that came to pass pre-WWII. Led by former Husky women’s crew member Melanie Barstow (the “Boys of 1936” tour creator), we traveled through time from the UW’s currentand very modernConibear Shellhouse to the original ASUW Shellhouse on the water’s edge of the Montlake Cut.

A former Naval facility built in 1918—now on the National Register of Historic Places—this humble structure had a dual purpose. It served as a launch and storage for the UW crew teams, and as a shop for the assembly of the world-famous Pocock Racing shells.

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George Pocock himself created his wooden boats under that roof. If these old floor boards could talk, they would be smiling as they told the very true story of how the Husky men’s varsity crew team came together (in a Pocock shell) to win the gold at the ‘36 Berlin Olympics.

The races—present day

Fast forward to modern times, and this year’s opening day contest. Pardon the reference, but this year’s races—22 total—were akin to singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”—one race right after the other.

Each lasted between 5 and 9 minutes—each a smooth yet sharp and speedy challenge on the water’s surface, and each marked with evidence of today’s tech and style: wireless headsets for the coxswain and rowers, sleek shells and the latest in lightweight uniforms. The winning teams crossed the finish line with no more than a second or two to spare, or considerably less.

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The parades

When you hear the word “parade,” what comes to mind? Marching bands, cheerleaders, dignitaries, athletes, police and firefighters—and decorated floats? This post crew racing event contained all of the above mentioned elements, moving between the log booms with all the pomp and circumstance of any parade you’ve witnessed on paved city streets.

One noteworthy variation: all watercraft came back through the same course. In other words, any floating parade craft passed by all onlookers twice. No worries if you missed waving at a particular participant; the start and finish line were one in the same.

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The course events ending, all boats proceeded to make their way home in whichever direction necessary. This created a common experience among all commuters: rush hour. Nothing like a little traffic jam to remind us we’re not alone when making our way down the many highways (and waterways) of life.

As we tootled along the no wake zone on our way back home, I wondered what thoughts crew racing fans had that year the UW crew team represented the USA in the ‘36 Summer Olympics. Hope, pride, excitement—my best guesses. Ears glued to their radios, voices harsh from yelling their enthusiasm as “the boys” crossed the finish line first—against all odds.

If only the boys knew their mile marker in the making—their very own and very famous moment in time—how much they continue to be celebrated. Their humble personas might be a bit overwhelmed.

But I think their pride in the continued success of crew racing at their old alma mater, and the celebration of this sport every first Saturday in May, would give them that “swing” feeling in and out of the racing shell, and the knowledge that it all was worth it—and still is. J 🚣‍♀️

 

On the lake

At the lake. By the lake. Along the lake. Lake shores offer us many ways to enjoy the day: parks for picnics and barbecues, soccer and softball games, family reunions and birthday parties, swimming, jogging and walking—with or without pets—and bird watching (along with watching other assorted critters). Lakeside restaurants offer spectacular views for the dining pleasure of their guests.

But what about on the lake?

The vessel

Marinas—many of them—offer more than just moorage. During boating season, you can rent anything from a canoe to a houseboat. And depending on the lake, many a watercraft are available to rent year around. If you or someone you know utter the words, “It’s a great day for boating!” On a semi regular basis, then you owe it to yourself (and your crew) to give it a try. And if you happen to own some form of water transportation, check the weather forecast and plan your outing!

The journey

On a very recent sunny day, we awakened our boat from its winter nap, fired up the engines and took it for a drive on Lake Washington. It’s like we had the lake to ourselves! January is decidedly the off season for boating, but it’s not off limits. So off we went. The lake, the bridges, the skyscrapers, the waterfront estates—and the mountains. All willing participants in the ever changing scenery surrounding us as we made our way to the southern part of the lake. Our destination? Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park.

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The destination

Established 1982, this beautiful waterfront park remains an exciting discovery for us: four-hour guest moorage, docks, sidewalks, restaurants, a covered open-air pavilion—even an interpretive walk that identifies various species of plants. All about a stone’s throw from the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington, Boeing and The Landing at Renton.

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The afternoon

Arriving about lunchtime, we parked our boat in guest moorage and made our way to Ivar’s Seafood Bar. Order in hand, we found a table just outside the restaurant facing the water. As we ate, seagulls cried, hoping for someone to share a bite. Students learning to sail practiced in the cove—their boat a rental from nearby. Families, joggers, walkers, and others taking a lunch break meandered throughout the park. We truly enjoyed our post-lunch walk. Time flew as it always does, which meant it was time for us to make our way home. Taking in the progressive scenery once more, I realized that it always makes me smile. I never tire of how Mount Rainier—its colors changing with the dipping sun—jumps out from behind the local hills, or how the buildings, homes and bridges are mirrored in the calm water of the lake.

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Do you know the difference between a boat and a ship? A ship can carry boats, but a boat cannot carry ships. To be honest, my favorite form of boating is a cruise ship. (So many ports of call, yet I only unpack once!) But for something less involved and more intimate, it’s tough to beat your own little vessel when it’s a great day for boating. J 😎⚓️