Water, water everywhere -- our region is rich in streams, rivers, lakes and the Sound itself. As warmer weather approaches, families find themselves drawn to explore our waterways by boat.
You can get out on the water year-round, but the "official" Opening Day of boating is sponsored by the Seattle Yacht Club on the first Saturday in May. Get there early for a good spot (check www.windermerecup.com for a parking and viewing map) to see thousands gather in all types of boats on Lake Washington and on the shores of the Montlake Cut. They are there to watch the Windermere Cup crew races from Lake Washington through the Cut to Lake Union, followed by the annual Parade of Boats. Before the crew races, children will especially be drawn to the dragon boat races. These 48-foot-long boats, gaily decorated to look like a dragon with a colorful head at the front, hold 20-22 paddlers who row to the beat of a drum. Another awesome sight, at the end of all the races, is when all the crew shells and the dragon boats head back as a group through the Cut to Lake Washington.
If you stay for the whole event, bring lunch and snacks, as it may be 3 or 4 p.m. before the last boat has passed and the crowd dissipates. Remember, this is the Northwest, so prepare for changing weather. For more information on Opening Day, call 206-325-1000 or visit www.seattleyachtclub.org
The parade may interest you in learning to sail, kayak or canoe. The Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union in Seattle offers sailing classes. SailNOW is a six-week group class for adults offered throughout the spring and summer. In the summer, the CWB also offers a week-long sailing camp for children 9 and older. Once you learn to sail, you can rent a craft from the center for family fun throughout the season. The CWB features free rides on classic wooden boats every Sunday from 2-3 p.m., no sailing experience required. For more information on classes, call 206-382-2628 or visit www.cwb.org
The Seattle Canoe and Kayak Club at Green Lake may be the perfect place to learn to canoe or kayak (both sea and flatwater kayaking) as you can use club equipment to learn. The club offers evening or weekend classes open to adults and teens (age 16 and older); youth ages 10-16 need an adult companion. For more information on classes, call 206-684-4074 or check the Web site at www.scn.org
Interested in sea kayaking rather than kayaking in the tamer inland waters? The Northwest Outdoor Center in Seattle offers classes in both whitewater and sea kayaking, and welcomes children over 13 years. The center even offers a five-day immersion class. Kayak rentals are available year-round, for trips around Lake Union. Find out more at 206-281-9694 or www.nwoc.com
If you'd prefer a guide when you sea kayak, check out the Outdoor Odysseys tours on San Juan Island. A day trip to see orcas and eagles starts with a brief orientation to paddling and boat safety, and then it's off with the guide to see the orcas on the west side of the island. You'll spend about five hours on the water, with a break for a delectable lunch. There are longer trips, but this works well for families with children over 12. (For ages 7-12, call for special accommodations.) Find details by calling 206-361-0717, or visit www.outdoorodysseys.com
For spur-of-the-moment paddling excursions, families can rent canoes or kayaks from Cascade Canoe & Kayak Centers, with locations on Lake Washington in Bellevue and Renton. From the Bellevue location at Enatai Beach Park, paddle to the wildlife-rich Mercer Slough Nature Park. The rental season begins in April, with weekend rentals only, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., through mid-June. From mid-June through Labor Day, rentals are available daily, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. The Bellevue center is located at 3519 108th Ave. S.E., while the Renton location is close to Gene Coulon Park and the Cedar River at 1060 Nishiwaki Lane. Through mid-June, rent on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mid-June through Labor Day, rent daily, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Cascade Canoe & Kayak Centers also offer summer youth paddling classes. For more information, call 425-430-0111 or visit www.canoe-kayak.com
Janice Lovelace is a freelance writer and photographer living in Seattle.