November 19, 2012
I've been in a storytelling mood as of late. I hope you enjoy this blog collaboration with Kenmore Air, which details my recent visit to Seattle, and links to Mikaela Cowles story on Victoria and Executive House in Part II.
A Victorian in Seattle: The Kenmore Air Experience Part I
‘If this corner could talk…’ was the first thought to cross my mind as I stared out the window of Bauhaus coffee on the corner of Melrose and Pine in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood of Seattle.
I was looking across at the Ristorante Machiavelli, at a window seat where three months earlier I had gone on a first date with what would turn out to be short term Seattle girlfriend. With a smile and a brief cruise down memory lane, I let those thoughts fade, and turned my attention to the task at hand.
Sporting a tweed suit jacket and a moustache, I feigned being local as I sipped an Americano and typed incessantly. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I was a sheep in wolves clothing, or perhaps more accurately, poutine disguised as a hamburger. A Victorian posing as a Seattleite.
Why was I here? This was not a simple question; in truth, there were a myriad of reasons I found myself on Capitol Hill, and let me tell you, this was NOT my first rodeo. For the intents and purposes of the present, however, I was here to experience Seattle as a tourist, and not just any tourist – a tourist that had the good fortune of experiencing the thrill of a Kenmore Air flight, a 40 minute cross-strait jaunt from Victoria’s Inner Harbour to Seattle’s Lake Union.
Kenmore Air has been of interest to me since I first learned of their existence. As the USA’s oldest floatplane operator, they have been serving the Pacific Northwest since their humble beginnings in 1946. Their story is pretty unique. Three high school friends came together after World War II, and in rebuilding a wood & canvas floatplane, inadvertently launched the company. For a complete history, see Kenmore’s site: http://www.kenmoreair.com/Our-History
If any of you readers have checked out previous posts (there’s got to be one or two of you…I hope?), you’ll know that I have a thing for the Pacific Northwest, and not just the side north of the border. Having cycled from Port Angeles to Seattle earlier this year (http://bit.ly/PWIp9o), the concept of making the same 7-hour trip in 40 minutes mid-air (and not having to pedal) was quite appealing.
The de Havilland DHC-3 Otter, the plane which I boarded to fly south, is an iconic Canadian-built aircraft, and a fixture in Victoria’s harbour. Our local floatplane operators Westcoast Air & Harbour Air rely on Otters as their primary vehicle on main routes like Victoria-Vancouver and Nanaimo-Vancouver. I was surprised to learn upon further research that only 466 were manufactured, and between the years of 1951-1967 at that! Kenmore Air has made a global name for itself as a retrofitter of these planes, and it’s amazing to see a piece of machinery with some serious history look so shiny, new and well-maintained.
I can proudly say that I’ve travelled on almost all of the transit links out of the Inner Harbour – the MV Coho to Port Angeles, the Victoria Clipper to Seattle, Harbour Air and Helijet to Vancouver, even a kayak up the Gorge Waterway, but never Kenmore Air to Seattle. I was quite excited as I boarded the Otter, and as if on cue the shifting fall weather took a turn for the better and the sun emerged from behind cloud cover.
It was hard not to feel exhilarated as the Otter accelerated, gradually pulling away from the water’s choppy surface. The acceleration and sheer willpower of the 750 horsepower Pratt & Whitney radial engine was impressive, as it hauled myself, the aircraft, pilot, passengers, and luggage up-and-away, past the Coast Guard station, over the breakwater, and into the open sky.
Engine hum aside, there is something truly peaceful about cruising above the area of the world in which I spend so much time. We began to chart a course due North-East, and looking out the window I caught a glimpse of the MV Coho heading north towards Victoria. Much like Kenmore Air, the Coho is another longtime transit operator, also employing a tried-and-true vessel since way back, 1959 to be exact. That, however, is another story in itself.
As we continued further south, I couldn’t help but reminisce about various trips in Washington I have taken in the past year, as I looked down on the various locales I visited with my pals. Sequim, with its Fraser Valley-esque landscape, cool and quirky Port Townsend, and the tiny port of Kingston all rolled by below as we entered the Puget Sound.
All too quickly, we were crossing suburbs north of Seattle, and were soon flying low over the historic buildings of the University of Washington. Elevation decreasing, we were now coming in hot over the many yachts and watercraft on Lake Union (perhaps the smallest lake with the most powerboats on it I have ever seen).
There was a fleeting moment as we touched down on Lake Union with Seattle’s skyline rapidly approaching where I thought ‘We’re going to plow right into shore…we’re going too fast captain!’ This moment quickly passed, as the water’s resistance combined with the wing’s flaps doing their job brought us to a walking pace at which to taxi to the Kenmore Air terminal.
Our pilot tied up the Otter, and ushered me and the other passengers off the dock and into the terminal, where were met by a friendly US Customs agent, who cleared me after a few pointed questions.
Now stateside, this Canadian was about to spend a short 22 hours eating, drinking, and soaking up Seattle’s vibrant culture…
Continued in Part II.