By Leslee Jaquette
On this warm spring day as I wander the docks at the Port of Seattle’s Fishermen’s Terminal (FT), I fall into a “Walter Mitty” daylight daydream. Transformed by the sights and smells here at the home of the Pacific Northwest fishing fleet, my reverie places me amongst purse seiners rolling up their massive nets. Nearby crabbers unload huge double-framed steel pots as trollers wash down their boats.
Walking past commercial fishing boats with names such as Moonlighter, Surf Scooter and Viking Magic, a flood of sensations overwhelms me. I feel the rise and fall of endless swells. Fish and salt smells permeate the air. My eyes strain to penetrate the fog.
The gurgling in my stomach brings me back to reality. Grateful to have my Bayliner secured at the port’s transient moorage float, I scuttle forth to explore Fishermen’s Terminal.
Beyond the history and bustle of one of the West Coast’s premier commercial fishing homeports, I have discovered a gem of a stopover and moorage alternative for recreational boaters. For locals as well as boaters cruising urban Seattle, the port offers a marine destination that is sure to arouse the senses.
Here, boaters can immerse themselves in the activities of the thriving port, purchase fresh salmon at the fish market and dine at any of four eateries. One thing is for sure; no one leaves the terminal hungry!
Northwest Fleet Homeport
The Port of Seattle has operated Fishermen’s Terminal on Salmon Bay in Ballard since 1913. Since those early days when the fisheries flourished and some 40 canneries operated between Blaine and Olympia, the terminal has continued to focus on providing a home for the Northwest fishing fleet.
According to Ray Giometti, FT business and operations manager, the biggest news for recreational boaters is that the old piers have recently been replaced with modern floating, concrete docks. Guest moorage at Fishermen’s Terminal includes water, 30 and 50 amp power metered at the slip, 24/7 staffing and security and restrooms and showers.
Moorage entitles guests to three days free parking and access to marine purveyors, restaurants and free sewage pump-out. Throughout the year, the Port invites visitors to capitalize on four hours of free transient moorage. That is plenty of time to indulge in a great meal or stretch the legs.
Giometti explains that FT offers guest moorage year round, usually about enough space to accommodate 15 vessels up to 60 feet in length. While no annual moorage is available, a number of boaters take advantage of the month-to-month moorage for year round accommodations. During the summer, the facility can accommodate up to about 150 boats.
“I think summer moorage is an exciting product,” observes Giometti. “It’s especially attractive to owners of smaller vessels and trailer boats, who want to have their vessels in the water, ready to go.”
Regional Boater Discovers Fishermen’s Terminal
Gary Major, a 56-year-old, retired pilot and owner of a 21-foot Sea Ray, has kept his trailer boat at FT on a month-to-month basis since the summer of 2009. The Graham, Washington resident is thrilled with his good luck at discovering the marina.
“The Port has developed a good program, the staff is friendly and helpful and it’s a positive place to be,” observes Major, who has been a boater since age 16. “It’s great because while the guys are out fishing in the summer, the recreational boaters can use the facility.”
Major and his family, especially his teenage son, like the location because it gives them access to protected, freshwater boating. They enjoy sightseeing, fishing and boat watching from throughout the spectacular reaches of Lake Washington. Major refers to FT as an “Island of Sanity amongst a Sea of Insanity.”
“Here is an enclave of people with a like interest in boats in the midst of a busy sea of humanity,” notes Majors. “Everyone is helpful and we all watch out for one another and our boats.”
For starters, he values the marina’s encouraging, professional staff and his great neighbors, the fishermen. Everyone makes the Major’s family feel at home. So much so that Majors’ sixteen-year-old son is currently working on both his master’s license and his floatplane pilot credentials. In fact, the family boating life has blossomed so much these past two years that Majors is thinking about investing in a 35 to 38-foot long range cruiser. Of course, he plans on mooring it at FT.
Oh, yes, adds Majors, not only is FT a great place to practice docking scenarios, the Highliner has the world’s best chowder. “I’ve been known to drive up, even when my boat is in storage, to get a bowl of chowder!”
Fish & Shops
“Boaters love to walk the docks and watch the boats as they are being worked,” says Giometti. “They enjoy the hustle and bustle of the Terminal as it builds it a crescendo starting toward the end of May and into the first part of June.”
Otherwise, they come here for a great meal and to shop. “This is not a place for the low-cholesterol, decaf crowd,” observes former General Manager of Piers & Properties Jim Serrill. “We do some serious eating around here. I favor the Salmon Bay Café’s enormous seafood omelets, Chinook’s Sunday brunch, the Tavern’s pub food and Little Chinook’s famous fish & chips. It’s a wonderful place to drop by!”
Built during the 1988, $22 million redevelopment, the Fishermen’s Center houses not only the Port’s offices and numerous fishing industry-related associations and businesses, but most of the terminal’s shops and eateries. Chinook’s at Salmon Bay, owned and operated by Anthony’s Homeport, is also known for appetizers, such as pan seared crispy oysters, baked oysters or fried Manila clams, served in a casual atmosphere.
If boaters hunger for a breakfast sensation, they should arrive anytime Saturdays or Sundays to take advantage of the Café’s famous five-egg, fresh seafood omelet. It comes swollen with baby shrimp, Dungeness crab, scallops, grated onions, cheddar cheese and hollandaise sauce. Other favorites include the smoked salmon scramble, French toast and pancakes.
If boaters have somehow managed to avoid Chinooks or the Café, they will most certainly fall prey to Little Chinook’s take-out and snack bar charms. Operated by Chinook’s, this luncheon spot makes it easy for visitors to dine on lingcod and chips, clam strips or tempura seafood at picnic tables along the plaza or under the covered breezeway area. And, although Little Chinook’s only advertises their Manhattan and Boston style chowders, if boaters ask they will mix the two together to form a concoction called New Jersey chowder.
When the salt air at Fishermen’s Terminal washes reason out to sea, wander into the HighLiner Pub. It is everything a boater ever wanted in a dive: a dark interior, extra greasy food, more than a dozen beers on tap and big screen televisions surrounding the room. This is the place to challenge your arteries with a Triple Bypass Burger (a three-quarter-pound burger smothered with Swiss and cheddar cheese, bacon, 100 Isle dressing, dill chips, lettuce, tomato and onion on a sesame seed bun). The total sensualist might want to test fate by consuming the Oh, My God, a one-pound burger with all the fixin’s. Otherwise, the HighLiner deep fries most every other menu item in batter, even wings and mozzarella!
In addition to these eateries, the Fishermen’s Center is home to F.K. Kirsten pipe shop. A Seattle standard for 25 years, the high-end pipe, cigar and smoke shop is popular with the boating set. Manager Rick Gahan says lots of boaters come in to buy cigars that range in price from $2 to $60, “They love the walk-in humidor.”
On the west side of the center adjacent to Chinook’s, both the Wild Salmon Seafood Market and the Fishionado Gallery bustle with shoppers. Fishmonger Steve Benedict cheerfully explained that the market started as a cooperative for fishermen to sell their catch.
The signboard that advertises fresh Dungeness, king, snow, soft shell crabs as well as tasty cocktail claws. The catch of the day signboard indicates what fish is available, where it was caught and the price per pound. Umm, I can’t decide. Shall I buy Coho or halibut? Both were caught in Southeast Alaska.
After so many food options, I waddle into the Fishionado Gallery. It offers visitors an eclectic mix of fishing and aquatic themed art, gifts and jewelry. I immediately flip head-over-fin for Bellingham artist Lori Hatch’s fish prints. Available as originals or prints, mounted or unmounted, the salmon and other assorted Pisces prints are stunning in their simplicity. Out comes the credit card for I cannot resist a small octopus print.
Bless this Fleet
Every spring for more than 80 years, Fishermen’s Terminal has been the site of the annual Blessing of the Fleet. Each March dignitaries, fishermen and bystanders participate in the ceremony near the 30-foot bronze statue by Ron Petty that serves as centerpiece to the Fishermen’s Center plaza. The ceremony blesses the vessels as well as the fishermen, wishing them a safe and prosperous season.
To celebrate the end of fishing season visiting boaters will want to participate in the Fishermen’s Fall Festival. Held in September, it continues a popular community tradition which includes salmon filleting and oyster shucking contests, crafts, food booths, salmon feed and kids’ activities. One of the highlights of the festival is always the Survival Suit Race. Starting from the bulkhead, teams of four run a distance, don suits and then swim 200 yards. Next, team members must climb onto a raft. “The winners earn bragging rights for the entire year.
Fishermen’s Terminal Office: 3919 18th Ave. West, Seattle, WA 98119-1679
(206) 787-3395; 800-426-7817; VHF Channel 17; email@example.com; www.portseattle.org
By Leslee Jaquette