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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Hello Sailor

Most boat captains are responsible and want to take good care of their very expensive investments. They take the time to learn the rules of the waterways. They don’t hinder commercial vessels’ ability to maneuver by drifting slowly into their path. They don’t tie up the radio waves with useless banter. They take safety very seriously, and respect the property of others. They don’t go through a drawbridge and then turn around and go right back, thus backing up traffic for miles, simply because they can. That’s the type of sailor I would be.

Unfortunately there is another kind out there. This kind has hundreds of thousands of dollars lying around and can’t think of anything better to do with it than buy a money-pit of a sailboat that they can only use a few days a year. That probably tells you a lot about their priorities right there.

This type of sailor buys himself a cute hat, makes sure his wet bar is well stocked, and invites all his friends for a ride, not warning them that he doesn’t even know how to leave the boat slip. Half the time he hasn’t bothered investing in a radio, so he’s impossible to communicate with when you’re trying to warn him he’s being an idiot. And he uses a street map instead of a chart and wonders why he goes aground. He does not respect no wake zones and cheerfully does thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to other vessels thereby.

For some reason, people who would never drink and drive will not think twice about drinking and boating. And very responsible automobile drivers though some people may be, they don’t bother to even learn which side of the buoy to navigate when they take to the water. It’s enough to make you scream.

People die on waterways just as they do on highways. Just because you’re out there to have fun does not mean that your 15 ton destructo-boat can’t put other peoples’ lives in jeopardy. Think before you boat.


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“Even Cheerleaders get Pimples on their Behinds.”

Those words of wisdom came from my mother on a day when the teenaged me was lamenting the fact that I wasn’t popular, and also complaining about a pimple on my posterior. When insight is put forth so colorfully, it tends to stick with you for life. And while it was meant to apply to a very specific situation, it does have wider applications.

What my mother was trying to tell me, basically, was to be careful what you envy. It’s often not as bright and shiny and flawless as you assume.

For instance, I know a millionaire. He owns a mansion on a lake, a beach house, a sailboat, and he travels to the Caribbean every month or so. At first I bought into his philosophy that everything is possible if you have the right attitude. I actually thought maybe I had been doing something wrong all along, and that happiness and success were within my reach if I’d just look at things differently.

And then I got to know him better and discovered that he’s a binge drinking alcoholic in the midst of losing everything in a nasty divorce. He’s not happy. His life isn’t a huge success. In fact, he’s pretty darned miserable.

I know another guy who has an amazing future ahead of him, but he’s the loneliest person on the face of the earth. It’s really sad, too, because he’s a wonderful person.

Don’t we all know people like this? The exterior looks awfully good, but scratch the surface and you discover that what lies beneath isn’t particularly attractive. My mother was right. It does you no good to waste your time with envy. Your time would be better spent working on your own life. It’s a much better investment.


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Patience, dammit!

It’s 7:20 a.m. on a Monday morning and I’m opening the drawbridge for a sailboat. Traffic is backed up for a half mile in either direction. Joggers are jogging in place at the gates, and a few are giving me dirty looks. Horns are honking. Then the sailboat radios in to ask why the bridge is taking so long to open. I reply that the bridge is old, and even the best of us take a while to get moving on these cold mornings. Oddly enough, that really is true. Whether he believes it or not, it seems to mollify him, at least for now.

Once the bridge is opened, the sailboat seems to take his sweet time going through. Once he does, though, I close the bridge as quickly as possible and reopen to traffic. Several cars make a point of honking their horns when they pass, and I know that for a brief moment, I’m the most cursed person in town.

Come on, people. The average bridge opening takes LESS THAN FIVE MINUTES! And if you KNOW you’re crossing a drawbridge or a train track or anything that will potentially cause you a delay, you need to ALLOW for that! Joggers? Same response to you, only I’d probably add, “get over your skinny little self” at the end of it. And the sailboat? Nothing reminds me more of Marvin Martian than an impatient person on a sailboat. Such impotent, self imposed rage. Sheesh. I can’t imagine having a life that’s so important that a simple 5 minute delay causes such a disproportionate amount of irritation.

Then I notice I’m tapping my foot.

I guess we’re all works in progress.