Opening My Bridge for the Zodiac

Every once in a while, I have the distinct pleasure of opening my drawbridge for a true work of art. Such was the case the other day when the Schooner Zodiac passed through the Ship Canal here in Seattle.

According to her website, she is 127 feet tall, and 160 feet long. You can charter her, and believe me, I’d love to. This vessel can accommodate 49 people for day sails, and 26 people for overnight adventures. And there’s not a single square inch of her, not one, that isn’t absolutely gorgeous. Check out the website for breathtaking views of the interior, and for booking information.

This amazing vessel was built in 1924 as a private yacht for the heirs of the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune. As I watched her pass through my bridge, I felt transported back in time. I’m proud to say that on that day, at least, I helped her ply these waters and bring her passengers safely home.

Safe journeys, Zodiac.


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Cruising on the Mallory Todd

On each of the nine drawbridges I’ve operated in my career, there has always been one vessel that was my favorite to open for. Sometimes it was because the ship in question came through like clockwork and signaled the end of my shift. Other times it was because I’d always have some very pleasant banter with the captain on the radio. But most often it was because the boat was pure eye candy to my very soul. (I must confess I have a thing for teak and mahogany.)

On my current bridge, my favorite has always been, without question, the Mallory Todd. A double-masted schooner, she is, in my opinion, the most beautiful vessel that plies the Ship Canal here in Seattle. She takes my breath away. If it were possible to have a love affair with a sailboat, this would be the one.


But I’ve always found her to be a bit out of my league. You can charter the Mallory Todd, but for that you actually have to have money. And even though I started off my career as a bridgetender suffering under the delusion that I’d be offered lots of free boat rides, it has never happened. Ever. That is, until about a year ago, when the Mallory Todd actually offered such a ride to all the area bridgetenders! I was so excited! This was a dream come true!

But my employer shut that down. You see, we work for the City of Seattle, and there are certain ethical issues related to accepting gifts when you’re a city employee. You don’t want there to be even the rumor of a quid pro quo. That makes a lot of sense. But I have no idea what someone could have accused us of giving the crew of the Mallory Todd in return. Opening the bridges a few seconds sooner? But there you have it. There was to be no cruise for us.

What a crushing disappointment. But it did make me feel appreciated that they even offered. That says a lot about what a decent group they are. Bridgetenders are so often overlooked.

After that, I resigned myself to gazing at the Mallory Todd from afar. There’s nothing as bittersweet as unrequited love. When she passed through my bridge, I’d always whisper, “Hello, you…” And then she’d sail off into the sunset. But eventually she’d come back. And then sail off in the other direction. As one does.

I’d pretty much accepted the fact that I’d never be formally introduced to the Mallory Todd. Then, to my shock, this past Friday I got an invitation from one of the online meetup groups I’ve signed up for. A cruise the next day on the Mallory Todd! An opportunity to go through the ship canal and up Lake Washington to listen to the Christmas Choir sing on the Argosy cruise ship.

There are very few things that make me roll my office chair back and shout, “Holy crap!!!!” But this was one of those things. And then my rational mind kicked in. This was awfully short notice. And it was 40 dollars, which I don’t really have. And it would be after a day at work, and it would mean not getting home until very late at night, and I’d have to get up the next morning at 5:45 to be back to work. And I wouldn’t know anyone. And it would be cold, and most likely raining. All good reasons to give it a pass.

But ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I mean, seriously, opportunities like this just never, ever crop up. And if I didn’t go, I’d regret it. So hell yeah, sign me up!

I scraped up the money. (So I’d pass up on eating out about 4 times, maybe I’d put off getting my oil changed for a month longer than I should, and there’s ramen noodles in my future. Big deal.)

And before I knew it, I was boarding the Mallory Todd! I played it really cool, I think. No one realized how monumental this was for me.

First impressions? It’s a lot bigger below decks than I ever imagined. There’s even a fireplace, a sunken tub, and one of the berths has a queen sized bed. And I was in absolute teak and mahogany heaven! (So much so that I forgot to take pictures of the interior. Sorry about that. I’m sure there are some on their website.)

And I got to meet the captain, Ian Reilly. I would love the opportunity to sit down and talk to him for hours on end. I have no doubt that he has some fascinating stories to tell. (He did imply as much.) I’d really enjoy getting inside his head. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who has an even cooler job than I do. And I’m sure he can relate to working weekends and holidays. (He also has phenomenal taste in music. He introduced me to Jack Johnson, and now I’m addicted to his mellow sound.)

I also got to ask him a question that I’ve been dying to hear the answer to. The Mallory Todd has a concrete hull. Why doesn’t it sink like a stone? Ian pointed out that steel ships float, too. Now, why hadn’t I thought of that?

I was also gratified to hear that Mallory Todd does quite a few fundraising cruises. A beauty with a generous spirit. Better and better.

It was amazing to be able to cruise through the ship canal and have my drawbridges open for me for a change. (My coworkers waved.) I took some pictures, but it was after dark, so they didn’t come out very well, as you can see. I tried.

Seeing all the vessels lit up for the holidays and gathered around the Argosy choir was amazing. It was the first whiff of the Christmas spirit I’ve had so far this year. I’ll be working on Christmas and New Years and my birthday, so this boat full of good people whom I had never met before didn’t know this, but this was my holiday. And it was glorious.

On the way back in, the steady rocking got me a little sleepy, and I longed to curl up on that queen bed and take a luxurious nap. But I didn’t want to take advantage of the chemistry that I knew was going to be there all along. I wanted to treat the experience with respect. And not look like a total nut.

If you ever have an opportunity to charter this amazing vessel, I highly recommend it. I’ll probably even open my bridge for you. And I’ll try not to get too jealous.

Thank you, Mallory Todd (and Ian) for a night I’ll always remember. Let’s do it again some time!


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