National Geographic : 1977 Jan
alcoholism. The latter is associated with a Seattle expression long since adopted by oth er Americans: "skid row." The name-orig inally "skid road"-applied to a steep slope along the Seattle waterfront where logs were once skidded to waiting ships and where bars and flophouses did a roaring business. Roaring business still occupies Seattle, though today's products are more diversified - newsprint, jet aircraft, icebreakers, space hardware, smoked salmon, and a brand-new professional football franchise appropriately named the Seahawks. In addition Seattle furnishes a welcome measure of hope in the battle against human illness through pioneer research at its renowned University of Wash ington Medical Center. City Goes Waterborne on Weekends For recreation Seattle turns instinctively to Puget Sound. With one of the highest per capita ratios of boat ownership in the country, the entire city seems to weigh anchor on weekends to explore the Sound. A few take their yachting less strenuously. Along the shore of Lake Union, not far from downtown, a fleet of sedate houseboats lies moored in permanent residence. "At least we're supposed to be permanent," one owner told me not long after a heavy mid night storm swept Lake Union. "But at the height of the storm old Mr. Farley-he's the end house out there in our row-lost his mooring and started off down the lake. "Well, sir, we had a time of it! All the neigh bors running around in pajamas and bath robes, shouting and trying to throw Mr. Farley a heaving line. And Mr. Farley shouting back and not catching it and trying to keep from being blown overboard while he sort of passed the neighborhood in review. "We finally got a line to him, and everybody lent a hand to haul Mr. Farley back home. He was shaken up a little, but there was no dam age to speak of. We're thinking of entering him in a regatta next year." Mr. Farley's voyage would seem tame to Don Bostdorff and his shipmates on the Prud hoe Bay run. Don's voyages take an average of three months, and storms are common place. So are pack ice, blinding fog, 20-foot seas, and freezing temperatures. The compa ny for which Don works, Crowley Maritime Corporation, delivers trans-Alaska pipeline Puget Sound, Sea Gate of the Pacific Northwest supplies and equipment from Seattle to Prud hoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean-3,700 hazard ous miles through the Aleutian Islands and Bering Strait. I met Don one morning in late July at the Port of Seattle, where as Crowley Maritime's assistant operations manager he was plan ning the yearly run. Outside his window on Elliott Bay a flotilla of giant barges, each larger than a football field, rode at anchor with cargoes ranging from steel pipe to com plete buildings standing nine stories high. "They'll shove off with the tugs in a week," Don said. "Anything later, and we've got trouble. Between early August and mid September the tugs have their only chance of getting through the pack ice around Point Barrow. By late summer there's usually an open corridor along the coast, but the wind can slam it shut in hours. When it does, you don't want to be inside." As a veteran of the 7,400-mile round trip, Don has endured sub-zero weather that turns Manila lines into rigid bars and guarantees death for any man lost overboard. I asked if he planned to make this run and his face fell. "Not this one," he said, "and probably not the next. I've been transferred from tugs to the management side. It's a bigger job with more opportunity, but I kind of miss the excitement." Historically, Puget Sound has served as the gateway to Alaska, more than once at a hand some profit. Alaskans still claim that in the gold rush of 1898 little of their hard-earned bullion got beyond Seattle. The Sound will continue to be a vital link to Alaskan development as pipeline oil comes to Pacific Northwest ports by tanker.* The actual volume of tanker traffic, however, is not expected to increase in Puget Sound, be cause its refineries are already running near full capacity with oil from overseas. The concentration of large tankers, foreign or domestic, does bring increased threats of a major oil spill, a catastrophe Puget Sound has so far avoided. But the odds are narrow ing. Tanker deliveries have increased almost twenty-fourfold in recent years, from an average of 14,000 barrels of crude oil a day to some 335,000 barrels. Ominous signs have already begun to appear. *See "The Pipeline: Alaska's Troubled Colossus," by Bryan Hodgson, GEOGRAPHIC, November 1976.