Monday, January 17, 2011

Lake Washington Cruise By Judy Brady

Judy & Dr. Bill Brady On Deck

My husband, Dr. Bill Brady, and I have visited Seattle several times and have taken in the normal city sites.  We were looking for something unique and were invited to a “Map of the Stars” cruise of the lakes.  I previously had crossed the floating bridges of Lake Washington and was awestruck by this gorgeous lake on the east side of Seattle.  I wanted to see it by boat.

Most people know Seattle has salt water to the west but are not aware of the large bodies of fresh water downtown and to the east that connect through locks to the salt water. 

Lake Washington is the most beautiful large lake in the center of a major US metropolitan area.  The glacially carved lake is twenty-two miles long with over 80 miles of waterfront property on its shores and Mercer Island.  The Lake has more than 10,000 waterfront homes.  Lake Washington flows into Lake Union in downtown Seattle and on to Puget Sound through a wide ship canal and locks.

We were invited on an Anchor Bay Charters’ yacht.1 My Internet research showed this cruise was the most luxurious and intimate plus, compared to other cruises, it claimed to show more of the fabulous mansions along with the most information about each mansion and its past or present residents.  I was not disappointed.

We boarded our beautiful yacht, the luxurious Seeker, in Lake Union on the north edge of downtown Seattle near the Space Needle. We were greeted by Captain Kelvin Dahlgren, a very courteous staff and Dykstra, whom we were told makes occasional guest appearances on the cruises.

We sat down in the comfortable lounge and were served excellent margaritas.  We cruised Lake Union past the famous “Sleepless in Seattle” floating home with the Space Needle and Seattle skyline at our back.  We entered the waterways to Lake Washington past Dale Chihuly’s studio and The University of Washington’s waterfront Husky Stadium.

Immediately after entering Lake Washington we crossed under the longest floating bridge in the world to the central part of Lake Washington with a fantastic view of the lake with Mt. Rainier in the background.

We were now cruising past the eastern shore of Seattle, the Madison Park neighborhood.  Seattle is the Emerald City and this is its Emerald Coast.  We viewed the palace of Howard Schultz, the founder and CEO of Starbucks.  Further down this shoreline were two beautiful Mediterranean villas.  The first was the former home of Keith McCaw (1953-2002) of McCaw Cellular fame.  The next was the home of Expeditors CEO, Peter Rose.

The cruise included cocktails, soft drinks, appetizers, dinner and an $18 book, Lake Washington 130 Homes, by David Dykstra.2 The book is fascinating and invaluable for the cruise.  It is called the Seattle area’s “Map of the Stars.”  I enjoyed the book so much I bought five copies onboard to give as presents.  It’s for anyone who enjoys magazines of homes or likes to read about the rich and famous including tidbits and history about their life, businesses and communities.  With this book you can enjoy an armchair cruise.

We were now having wonderful meatballs, chicken, shrimp, etc., served with wine, on the upper outside deck and enjoying the vistas as our yacht headed to the southern end of the lake and Mercer Island.  This is the largest and only residential island in Lake Washington.  It is six miles long and averages about one mile wide with about fifteen miles of waterfront.  It has approximately 22,000 residents.  It is the U.S.’s most populated island in a lake.  On the southwestern side of Mercer Island we came to Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen’s $150 million, ten acres, twelve buildings and 70,000 sq ft campus. This is the southern end of the area’s billionaire row.  This row covers 12 miles of Lake Washington’s eastside waterfront with Microsoft billionaires at each end and in the middle.  Allen is at the south end on Mercer Island, Steve Ballmer lives at the northeast end in Hunts Point and Bill Gates lives in the middle in Medina.  Based on Forbes’ 2009 list of “The 400 Richest Americans,” all of the state of Washington’s richest of the rich live here.

As we cruised north along the eastern shore of beautiful Mercer Island, Captain Kelvin and Dykstra pointed out many of the mansions in Dykstra’s book.  They shared the microphone throughout the cruise.  They conveyed fascinating information about the mansions, the personalities, the history, etc. of the area.  They spoke just enough, along with a few jokes and breaks, to keep the passengers interested without overwhelming us.  It was the best tour narration I have experienced.

We crossed from the north end of Mercer Island to Bellevue and Medina and the heart of Billionaire Row. This is 8 miles of Medina and Hunts Point from the southeast end of Medina at the entrance to Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Bay to Ballmer’s in Hunts Point.  All the state’s billionaires except for Allen live here.  Local Realtors call this the “Gold Coast.”

The ten miles of waterfront on the Gold and Emerald Coasts boast mansions of the top executives of the Seattle and Eastside based largest companies.  The largest area company is Costco.  Both its co-founders, Jeff Brotman and James Sinegal, along with other Costco executives live on the Gold Coast.

In addition to its three billionaires, more than fifty present and past Microsoft executives have Lake Washington waterfront mansions.  Former Microsoft executives have some of the most spectacular and flamboyant Gold Coast mansions.  These include the “Windows 2000” and “T-Rex” houses in Medina south of Gates’ estate.

The Charles Simonyi mansion has more windows than any other house on this lake.  It picked up its name when Microsoft introduced Windows 2000.  Simonyi is one of the inaugural commercial astronauts and the first commercial outer-space frequent flyer.  He paid for a 2007 two-week International Space Station roundtrip aboard the Russian Soyuz space shuttles and took a similar trip in 2009.

Nathan Myhrvold used some of his Microsoft multimillions to fund a dinosaur bone digging foundation.  His foundation has recovered more tyrannosaurus rex skeletons than the total previously found by everyone else. He has given most of them to museums including the Smithsonian.  Inside the big rounded windows of his living room he has one of the t-rex skeletons he helped dig up.

The highlight, of course, was Bill Gates’ $150 million, 50,000 sq ft “convention center.”  Dykstra gave it this name because of Microsoft’s and Gates’ annual CEO Summit where the selected are entertained here.

Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, and Forbes-list billionaire, lives on the Medina waterfront on a five plus acre multi-mansion estate.  The Gold Coast and Mercer Island boast many past and present Nordstrom family homes.  The McCaw brothers, worth $billions, Bruce (1946- ), Craig (1949- ), John (1951- ) and Keith (1953-2002) pioneered the cellular phone industry.  All four brothers live or have lived on the Gold and Emerald Coasts.  Craig owns the former home of saxophonist and composer, Kenny G.  Professional sports and entertainment stars’ past and present homes are in the 130 Homes book and were pointed out to us.  These stars include Mike Holmgren, Rashard Lewis, Jim Zorn, Detlef Schrempf, Jack Sikma, Michael Chang and Kazurhiro Sasaki.

After Gates’ we passed back under the long floating bridge to Hunts Point, the wealthiest town in the state of Washington and the fourth wealthiest town, its size or larger, in the U.S. We enjoyed the setting sun during our cruise across the lake and back to our port with lights coming on in the Seattle skyline.  The four hours went by quickly and we hated to see it end.
Judy and Dr. Bill Brady are the owners/managers of Assisting Hands®Home Care of Newport Beach, California.  Judy is active in numerous charity organizations. The Bradys have traveled extensively and Judy enjoys freelance writing about their travels.
1Anchor Bay Charters  2David C. Dykstra is the author of Lake Washington 130 Homes published by Hundred Homes Publishing
Copyright © 2010 by Judy Brady and David C. Dykstra.