Monday, May 14, 2012

Cruising Puget Sound through Ballard Locks to Lake Washington

You enter Lake Washington from Puget Sound through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, commonly called the Ballard Locks. There are two locks and pleasure boats can use both. There are numerous stories and rumors about problems and difficulty with the locks but these stories are overrated. I have been through many times with both novice and experienced (with the locks) captains and never encountered a problem. A larger boat requires two people that are alert and have basic common sense to handle the lines and engine. You need two 50 ft lines if you are going through the large locks. One person can handle a small boat that usually ties to the side of a larger boat inside the locks. I have been through the locks alone on my ten foot WaveRunner.
Adjacent to the Locks is the dam that controls the level of the fresh waterways. The dam includes fish ladders. The locks and dam are open to the public and are a popular tourist stop. There is public parking and access on both sides of the canal.
After passing through the locks you travel through the Lake Washington Ship Canal to Lake Union. The canal takes you past much of the area’s historical and modern boating and boat building industry.
Fisherman’s Terminal and Salmon Bay are on the south side of the Ship Canal just east of the locks. Fisherman’s Terminal has a lot of commercial activity and a marina for pleasure craft. You may see here some of the boats used in TV’s popular “Deadliest Catch.” The Terminal also has guest moorage for its shops and restaurants.
After Fisherman’s Terminal you pass under the old Ballard and Fremont draw bridges. On the east of Lake Union there are an additional two drawbridges. The vessel clearance without opening the bridges ranges from 30 to 46 feet. Tall vessels navigating these waterways should be familiar with Seattle’s DOT “Bridge Openings” website. A vessel may request an opening during daytime operating hours (which vary) with a one long and one short whistle signal.
On the northwest corner of Lake Union you pass the famous “Sleepless in Seattle” floating home.
Lake Union and Portage Bay are known for their floating home communities. The largest of these communities are on the northeast end of Lake Union.
Lake Union offers fabulous views of the Seattle skyline and the Space Needle. At the south end of Lake Union are numerous excellent waterfront restaurants with guest docking.
Bill Gates keeps his floating helipad in a marina in southwest Lake Union. The helipad motors to the shore of his Medina mansion and convention center when he wants to use it.
On the north end of Lake Union is Ivar’s Salmon House with guest docking for up to twenty vessels. This is a popular place to dock and enjoy some refreshments and the view. Dale Chihuly’s Studio is adjacent to the east. The studio was much more interesting before it was remodeled.
After Lake Union you pass under the I-5 Bridge and another drawbridge into Portage Bay. This is the home of the Seattle Yacht Club and Queen City Yacht Club. Next is the Montlake Cut. The University of Washington borders the north shore of Portage Bay and the cut. The cut was completed in 1917 and had the most expensive construction cost of the canals that connect Lake Washington to the Sound. The opening of the cut lowered Lake Washington nine feet. Prior to the cut, LW water exited at the south end of the lake where the Cedar River now flows into the lake.
You enter Lake Washington in Union Bay and into the largest open section of the lake. State Route 520 Floating Bridge is to the immediate south. The bridge crosses the lake near the north-south center. The north end of the lake is less populated than the south end.
The University of Washington Husky Stadium is adjacent to Union Bay just north and across the water from SR-520. Many fans go to the UW Huskies home football games by boat and have “sailgate” parties on the water. These parties were featured in a 12/28/11 Seattle Mansions post.
The two floating bridges crossing Lake Washington were built in 1940 and 1963 and promoted development of Mercer Island and the area east of the lake known as “The Eastside.” The northern 1963 (state route) 520 bridge, also know as “The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge,” at 7,578 feet, is the longest floating bridge in the world. This bridge connects Seattle to Medina and points east. The west end of the bridge is in Madison Park, a Seattle neighborhood, and the east end is in Medina, the heart of Billionaire Row. The vertical clearance for boats is 45 feet at the west end and 75 feet at the east end of the bridge. Looking at the center of the bridge you see two wide sections. The outside sections are floating and the roadway is suspended between these sections. This part of the roadway can be lifted by the floating outside structures and the roadway in between floats under the raised roadway creating a drawbridge opening for large ships and barges.

(This is the second chapter [go to next chapter, “Cruising Seattle’s LW Emerald Coast”] of our “Lake Washington Cruising” article/series. The chapters are being posted in reverse order. When all chapters are posted they will be in order in this blog with the first chapter at the top. You can read and print an abbreviated pdf version of the entire article/series.)

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