Complete with charming boutiques, acclaimed restaurants, and inspiring Northwest art exhibits, the dreamy town of Kirkland — separated from urban Seattle by a sprawling lakeside vista — contains everything one might seek for a relaxing escape away from the city. Some visitors, however, may want to leave Carillon Point in the wake for just a few hours to dabble in the area’s intriguing waterside attractions.
As the home of the Puget Sound, 41 percent of the Seattle area is covered by water, and with almost every interconnected basin and inlet suitable for exploration, guests can embark on a city-bound adventure straight from the dock of The Woodmark.
We asked Rob Renshaw, captain of the Woodmark II, to walk us through his boat tour of Lake Washington and Lake Union and to recant his journey to the helm.
In 2004, when Rob was running US Navy patrol boats around the post-9/11 world, he read in a magazine that The Woodmark had purchased a 28-foot refurbished 1956 Chris-Craft Sedan Express Cruiser. The only thing missing from the vintage wood-paneled boat — redubbed the Woodmark II to make it distinct from the premier hotel — was someone worthy to steer its rudder.
Rob soon got a phone call from hotel management who found one of his resumes afloat in the world. As a Lake Washington-area native, his boating experience began early; from spending nearly every family vacation on the Puget Sound to operating a contract charter business with his dad, he was almost always near the water.
“I thought, I know this area pretty well,” he says, “so I think I can shed some light for people about what’s going on around Lake Washington and Lake Union.”
Captain Rob began running tours from The Woodmark dock that very same year, and soon after, an exploration of the Seattle-area estuary that started out as a service for guests of the hotel opened up to the public as well.
It might be the mahogany planks, or the gleaming chrome rails, or the throaty hum of a finely tuned engine from deep within the V-shaped bow that gets passenger nostalgia flowing. Whatever their disposition to the classic boat, riders may notice — from the moment they climb aboard the stylish craft — they are stepping back into a time of nautical luxury.
“I remember when these things were built” and “I haven’t see one of these in a while” are two common phrases Captain Rob hears while welcoming guests aboard. Part of the Chris-Craft experience, he explains, means being able to recreate how riding on the water felt in 1956.
“It’s an older vintage that you wouldn’t normally see,” he says. “You get a sort of mystique that sparks an interest in the boat itself.”
The arresting aura of the Chris-Craft doesn’t necessarily idle within the hull: Guests often notice that their vintage ride invariably turns a few heads along the way.
“It doesn’t look like all the other runabouts that are out there,” says Rob. “If it’s a busy day with a lot of people, you are going to get looks.”
The route Captain Rob takes can vary from trip to trip: It all depends on who is on board. For those new to the area, he has a favorite circuit that affords the most variety over the course of two hours.
Departing from the dock, most tours start by heading south along Lake Washington’s shoreline to the city of Medina’s “Gold Coast,” where waterfront estates owned by magnates such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos greet the lapping waves with their striking facades.
Rob then cuts across the lake to pass under the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, which, built from 77 concrete pontoons spanning 1.46 miles, is the longest of its type in the world. On the west side of the bridge lies Union Bay, where guests may spot bald eagles in their native habitat.
He says, “There are a couple of nests up there, which is sometimes a great spot to see the eagles fly out and go down and try to grab fish out of the water, kind of like you see on the Discovery Channel.”
As Captain Rob ventures further west, he motors through the Montlake Cut, a manmade channel marking the south edge of the University of Washington’s gothic campus and connecting Lake Washington with the greater Puget Sound.
After skirting through Portage Bay, the Woodmark II emerges into Lake Union near the boathouse studio of world-renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, as well as Ivar’s Salmon House — a Northwest Native American restaurant acclaimed for its indigenous décor and alder-smoked cuisine. Here, as the bay opens up to the brimming lake strewn with white sails, guests can savor the stunning backdrop of Seattle skyscrapers sparkling less than a mile across the water.
As passengers enter Lake Union they will notice Gas Works Park, a US gasification plant turned public space that embraces the rustic remnants of its industrial past. Lining the coastline here are several communities of floating homes — distinct remnants of the city’s bygone logging era — including the buoyant abode made famous by the film Sleepless in Seattle.
“The floating houses are neat, because a lot of people haven’t seen those,” says Captain Rob, who then likes to coast alongside the nearby Skansonia. The storied ferryboat built in 1929 is now retired and permanently docked on Lake Union to provide a spectacular stage for enjoying the Seattle skyline in one panoramic sweep.
After guests get their fill of the lake, Rob will ply the waters back to Lake Washington to deliver them to the tranquil shores of Kirkland.
For repeat passengers and those more familiar with the area, Captain Rob might not take the tour into Lake Union at all, but rather stay in Lake Washington to explore the marina and architecturally intriguing homes in Meydenbauer Bay. One home has a replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the living room that can be seen if the light is just right. Another, protruding at juxtaposing angles and nicknamed the Windows 2000 House, belongs to former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi.
“I don’t know if it really has 2,000 windows, or not,” Rob says, “but it has a lot of windows.”
For Captain Rob, every tour is unique, and he caters to his passengers. While some simply want to unwind on the water with friends and family – or go for a swim – others are more absorbed in the sights.
“It’s not like a boat full of 40 other people,” explains Rob, who can accommodate up to six passengers at a time. “There’s no standard, regimented tour with the same cruise over and over again. I try to see what works for them.”
Although the Woodmark II’s busy season spans from early April through late October, he assures guests that the boat is available year-round. Sometimes, the defoliated trees of the winter season afford unique glimpses of fantastic homes usually concealed by lush greenery.
“If someone wants to go out in January, we’ll do it,” says Rob, who turns on a heater in the cabin and seals the cockpit with a transparent canvas called isinglass. “So even though it could be freezing outside, you’ll be fine inside, so long as you have a coat on.”
Prior to your stay or upon arrival at The Woodmark, contact our front desk team for additional information or for assistance reserving an excursion. You can reach us at 425.822.3700.
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