That's me in the monkey mask

New Orleans is a city known for parades. They pack hundreds of parades into Mardi Gras season, lining the streets to catch plastic beads and a glimpse of a bare breast.

Here in Seattle, we do it differently. We have a few bare breasts, but without as much alcohol, the spontaneous ones are more rare. Our summertime is a parade of parades, one in a different neighborhood every weekend.

For me, the best one kicks it off: Opening Day, the so-called opening day of boating season. Although we “open” the season, we’ve actually never “close” it — we sail year round!

Our first years in Seattle, we sat on shore with family members, munching on picnic fare. After the crew races came a parade of boats through the narrow Montlake Cut. There were classic powerboats with yachties on them, standing at attention in white pants and blue blazers. There were sailboats, flying huge beautiful spinnakers. But why were the sailboats motoring backwards? Oh – the wind was from the wrong direction! Barry loved the little floating Shriner cars, complete with round headlights. We all oohed at the fireboat, all hoses going, like an enormous red fountain.

My favorite were the decorated boats, true parade “floats.” Just like a land parade, there were people in costume on boats that were decorated to look like something other than boats. Gigantic umbrellas one year, coffee puns the next — there was always a theme to spark creativity.

Once we got involved in sailing, we started recognizing our friends in the parade. I grew envious, sitting on shore. What fun it would be to sail in the parade, waving and grinning at the crowd!

Last week, that’s where I was, aboard the sternwheeler Banjo. I wore long gloves and a garden hat, throwing kisses to the fellows onshore and waving at the children. Barry, in ascot, sleeve garters, and spats, waved at the ladies. The weather was perfect, the potluck was fun, and the boat’s owner, Sam Garvin, got a third-place trophy. It was my dream come true. My friends ashore probably wondered why I was frolicking, showing an inordinate amount of bosom, aboard a boat with a huge banner reading “Seattle Singles Yacht Club!”

Sam Garvin and Banjo
A gal and her sternwheeler: Sam Garvin and Banjo

Barry with Meps and Sam
Barry has his hands full!

The crew with the SSYC banner
Don’t tell ’em we’re married!

Our Banjo invitation had come, not from Sam, but from Craig, a man with an amazing wealth of boating friends and connections. A few years ago, coming back to the lake aboard the Northern Crow, our engine died. Judging by the number of boats hurrying past us to the locks, Labor Day was the unofficial “closing day” for powerboats. I anxiously scanned the vapid faces on the Tupperware powerboats going past, and finally decided to hail an intelligent-looking fellow on a classic Chris Craft. Little did I know what an excellent choice I’d made.

I had the good fortune to choose, as our rescuer, none other than the infamous Captain Craig, Scourge of Lake Union and Environs. Tying alongside for the trip through the locks, he cast a practiced eye on our boat and asked us, “What have you got to drink?”

I was embarrassed by the question, because we’d been dieting. “Uh, water,” I stammered, “and a little soymilk, I think.”

“That simply will not do!” said Captain Craig. “Sara, fix these folks a gin and tonic.”

By the time we reached our marina, the experience seemed hilarious, and we were fast friends with Craig and Sara. We exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and that spring, I got a call. “Craig here,” said the deep voice on the phone. “Would you and Barry like to go on my boat for Opening Day?”

The theme was “Jungle Party.” When we arrived aboard Flagrante Delicto, our hosts produced animal masks, and we produced food and beverages. For about an hour, we milled around Portage bay with hundreds of other boats, waiting. A yacht club boat passed by, and a woman in a blue blazer and white pants called out, with a slight accent, “That’s a nice boat! What does the name mean?” We all turned to stare at our skipper, to see how he would respond. Meanwhile, the lady’s boat drifted farther away, and Craig had to shout. “IT MEANS ‘CAUGHT IN THE ACT!'” She called back, puzzled, “OF WHAT?” We were rolling in laughter. “OF SEX!” he hollered, loudly, because they were quite far now. “OF SEX?” she repeated back, then realized what she’d shouted. She clapped her hands over her mouth, aghast, and quickly disappeared below.

We did not win a prize for our animal act, which mostly consisted of seven people scratching themselves and hooting like monkeys. We should have won a prize for chutzpah, because just when we passed the judges’ float, the engine died. Craig tried gamely to restart it, then gave up, produced a battered bugle and played the most pathetic version of “Taps” I’ve ever heard. His monkeys were doubled over, laughing.

Unfortunately, as we were drifting, powerless, we were blocking the parade route. A police boat came out, grabbed our line, and towed us out of the way. “Can you fix it?” asked the officer. “Sure, I can try,” said Craig, looking as smart and efficient as that day I’d picked him out of the powerboat lineup for a rescue.

To my shock, the police officer took us to a navigational aid, the number 15 green can, and told us to tie up.

One of the first things you learn in any Coast Guard class is: Do not ever, ever, ever tie up to an aid to navigation. Who were we to argue with a police officer? I looked nervously over at Craig, expecting him to dive into the engine, fix the problem, and untie the boat. To my surprise, he poured himself a drink. “I, for one, am not going to disturb the food,” he said. It was true, the engine compartment was completely covered with salads, chips, cookies, and beverages. “Besides, we have the best seats in the house!”

Tied up to number 15
Do not try this unless a) a policeman says it’s OK and b) you are wearing a mask. Craig and Sara are in the rear. Barry’s the lion, and I’m the monkey with sunglasses.

We were literally across from the judges’ boat, alone on our buoy, not jockeying for space or tied to a bunch of other boats. Craig was right: It didn’t get any better than this.

At the end of the day, a friend towed us back to the marina entrance. Craig turned the key, saying, “Let’s see how this works,” and miraculously, the engine started! Was it really a fuel starvation problem, as he claimed, or a ruse to get the best seat in the house for the Opening Day parade? I’ll never know, and I don’t think I’ll ask.