I know you’re gonna come out and protest Shell setting up shop in West Seattle, so I wanted to lay out a few ground rules if you are planning on getting on the water. We operate Alki Kayak Tours, an organization that is committed to enabling citizens to use human powered watercraft to help them peacefully, civilly, and lawfully express their views about the proposed Shell Oil Homeport and to safely view this facility from public waters.
1) Wear the right gear. You need to be ready for cold water immersion. We dress for water temp around here, not air temp, especially if the rig comes in late at night when a cold north wind is blowing. Generally your feet and hands will go numb first, so if you’re gonna invest (and I recommend it as kayaking is a lifelong sport and our city is surrounded by water), start with gloves and booties. If you can’t afford booties, wear fleece gloves and wool socks under yer sneakers. For your torso, you will be best protected with a wetsuit (although not so thick you can’t move), a drysuit (expensive yet the best protection), or using the synthetic clothing you have from sporting activities such as running, skiing, hiking, and disc golf. Cotton kills. This is a true statement when dealing with 49-52 degree water. The worst possible outfit would be jeans and a cotton sweatshirt. You need foot protection because the barnacles are nasty and will give you a bacterial infection, so no bare feet.
2) Rental kayaks are for legal protests only. Alki Kayak Tours, which provides kayak instruction, tours, rentals, and repair, is a small family business that turns people onto the abundance of Puget Sound on a daily basis. You trying to slow down a giant vessel with a kayak not only may get you killed, but also prevents us from helping more people see what an amazing resource we need to protect by getting kayaks confiscated. So don’t do it as you will be legally liable for any loss.
3) It’s been amazing watching this development unfold. This protest may end up on the international stage regarding climate change issues, and we are turning people on to how incredible this area is to explore via human powered watercraft. My mission is to get butts in boats, so the more people we can turn onto paddling the better people’s general outlook on paddlesports will be. If you’ve had a rough day, the best way to escape the world is to paddle away from shoreline.
4) Policy makers are elected. If you don’t like the decisions Port Commissioners have made, vote them out.
5) The Coast Guard is doing its job. That means keeping paddlers and other vessels safe and following the rules. There will be a designated protest area so that’s cool! Use it and bring your human powered watercraft to support. You can launch from Jack Block Park, which is right off the protest area. It can get nasty when the north wind blows though, so read the next point.
6) Get the proper training. Yeah paddling is for everyone, but you still have to practice and know how to get in and out of your boat, put on a spray skirt, paddle forward backwards and sideways, conduct a self rescue, and be able to rescue others. Alki Kayak Tours is offering trainings organized through shellno.org. We are also looking to get the skilled paddlers on water, so if you’re an ex paddlesports guide or instructor and know rescue and recovery we want you on the water.
7) Shell is connected to several felony level spill violations off of their vessels. If that happens in Elliott Bay, not only will it destroy our local ecosystem for my business (sustainable tourism), it will drastically reverse the restoration efforts we are doing on the Duwamish and Puget Sound. We live on the second largest estuary in the continental US, and we need to continue to restore not destroy it. The orcas are swimming through these waters right now and are a symbol of why we choose to live here. Can you put a price tag on them? Or Mother Earth for that matter?
So, we encourage people to come out and peacefully, civilly, and lawfully express your views about this Terminal 5 lease to Shell Oil and its Arctic drilling rigs. If you have a kayak or stand up paddleboard, come on out and join the solidarity paddle on May 16th. We could literally have the largest number of paddle craft out in one location at the same time. The current record is 1,700 vessels.
Greg Whittaker is a naturalist guide and the owner of Alki Kayak Tours and Mountain to Sound Outfitters