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Originally published May 4, 2013 at 7:39 PM | Page modified May 4, 2013 at 10:13 PM

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Seattle revels in sunny start to boating season

Opening Day draws a big, happy crowd to watch, launch

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The faithful who turn out every year for the festival of sails, oars and diesel fumes that launches Seattle’s boat season know better than to expect good weather.

But when sunshine is superimposed on the city’s annual celebration of all things aquatic, as was the case Saturday, even stoic Northwesterners are quick to peel off their insulating layers and bask.

“We brought deck chairs instead of umbrellas,” said Van VanBenschoten, who scored a prime viewing spot on the Montlake Cut. In shorts and sunglasses, he watched racing sculls mill around in the water and waited with his friends for the main attraction: An armada of boats, many decked out like floats in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“You see a lot of really fine old boats,” said Michael Byrd, who, like VanBenschoten, lives aboard his boat at Shilshole Marina. That Byrd’s floating home chugs fossil fuel, while VanBenschoten’s is sail-powered, was no impediment to camaraderie.

“The rag baggers and the stink pots hang out together,” VanBenschoten said.

The blue skies were marred by dark smoke from a fire that broke out around 2:15 p.m. in a warehouse at 1443 N. Northlake Way. Firefighters were at first concerned about the possibility of a toxic spill when they found containers of nickel cobalt, a green, acidic material used in metal plating.

Nothing got into the water, but firefighters cordoned off a block-long area to protect people from fumes, said Seattle Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore. The cause of the fire was unknown Saturday.

Except for adding to the traffic snarls, the fire didn’t affect the maritime festivities.

Seattle’s Opening Day can be confusing to newcomers, because there’s really no official boating season. Die-hards take to the water year-round, blustery weather be damned.

But since 1920, when the Seattle Yacht Club dedicated its stately clubhouse on Portage Bay, the first Saturday in May has been the agreed-upon time to celebrate the end of winter and the arrival of more congenial cruising conditions.

“It’s a rite of spring,” said Rick Krochalis, who dodged nasty traffic snarls by biking to the University of Washington campus from his home nearby.

Don Ross drove from his home in Mountlake Terrace behind the wheel of the vessel he also planned to captain in the boat parade: A 1964 lagoon-blue Amphicar. Made in Berlin, the amphibious vehicle has two propellers and a motorized surf board strapped on top and labeled “Don’s Life Saver,” just in case of disaster.

“I’ve never had to use it, and I hope I never will,” Ross said.

But some years, the water has been so choppy waves broke over the hood and slopped into the driver’s lap.

“You can’t worry,” Ross said. “You just take your chances.”

This year, odds favored a smooth ride.

In keeping with the 2013 Opening Day theme of “Hawaiian Magic,” Ross’s co-pilot, Jerry Sorensen, pumped up an inflatable palm tree that sat atop the car like an oversized hood ornament.

Peter Ricks and his crew picked inflatable pineapples and Aloha shirts to festoon the 52-foot motor yacht Pau Hana, whose name means “done with work” in Hawaiian. But less than two hours before showtime, Ricks was hustling to get everything ready before setting forth to represent the Tyee Yacht Club in the parade.

While he tested the sound system and bow-mounted speakers — the song was “Over the Rainbow”— the party was already under way on the stern. Friends sipped mimosas and predicted more beverages to come.

“We plan to whoop it up,” said Ricks’ girlfriend, Kathy Morrissey, wearing an airy muumuu and flower leis.

Otto Bauer’s costume included a coconut-shell brassiere.

Asked what he called the garment, Bauer replied: “Uncomfortable.”

Sandi Doughton at: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com

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