“Dangerous Side Winds,” is not a good sign to see when cruising the bridge that spans Deception Pass, connecting Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands in Washington. The Whidbey Camano Islands Tourism Information site estimates that about 20,000 cars cross the bridge every day. From my estimation, throngs of people seem to love walking across it, too— stopping to take pictures along the way. Indeed, a breathless sight of emerald green waters with splashes of white-crested waves that make mesmerizing swirls, wait below. For me though, it’s another windy, wobbly bridge that makes me dizzy and panicked. Last year, I made it halfway across and then turned around. This year, I’m not even attempting it. I let Nate and Alex go ahead, which gives me the perfect opportunity to stand right near the tourist/sight-seeing booth in the parking lot, near the entrance to the bridge. There, I discover another way to view this magnificent spot: from far below—in a boat. I was hoping to see orcas too—I mean, I’ve been in Washington for a year now and I’m wondering, “What do I have to do to see an orca?” Everyone else has made it seem so easy—with stories of orcas riding alongside ferries and frolicking close to shore. Even at 9 a.m., when I’d suspect they’d be frisky, I’ve never seen them leaping or playing about from the shore. I figure I’d have to depend on a boat tour, but that ship already sailed for the day. If I had wanted to catch an orca sight seeing tour from Deception Pass in September, I should have bought tickets and been ready at the dock by 8 a.m. Though the boat leaves the dock at 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays, passengers are encouraged to be there by 8 a.m. so they can don special gear. In other words, passengers on the orca tour might expect to get wet. Maybe not soaking wet, but wet.
Getting wet might be worth it to see orcas, but I prefer not to be hit in the face with freezing cold salt water. Been there; done that on board the Codzilla in Boston. Oh yes, Codzilla sounds sexy and exciting. The tour boasts loud rock music, fast speeds, and large sprays of water. The vessel carrying the passengers is half menacing shark/half speed demon on water. I couldn’t resist.
“We sooo have to do this,” I told Nate. “It can’t be that bad. I’m sure we’ll get hit with some water, but maybe we’ll luck out.”
I knew Nate didn’t believe me, but we boarded Codzilla anyway. I encouraged Alex to sit near the “window” (there is no real window) so he could “see more,” but I planned on using him as a shield against the sprays. (I’m a terrible mother. I know.) We were warned that we could get very wet; however, we might also only experience “light sprays” and there were free ponchos. What really happened? We were the last ones to board the boat, we had to sit in the “very wet” section, and they ran out of ponchos. Yep. We were repeatedly smacked hard with ice water for at least 30 minutes—maybe more. When the tour was over, we got off the boat at 5 p.m. in a fashionable part of Boston. How fabulous we looked sloshing about and waddling back to our hotel rooms! The Deception Pass Tours boat, though an “open air” arrangement type vessel, is not supposed to be a Codzilla-like tour. Not at all.
After paying around $39 per person, we make our way over to the dock, which is a few miles down the road from the Deception Pass Bridge. When the boat pulls up the dock, I have flashbacks of Codzilla.
“Nate—look at the seats. They’re made of mesh—just like in Codzilla We’re going to get wet.”
At this point, the gentle-looking passengers turn around to look at me. I can see the instant panic in their faces. What had they signed up for?
“No. We’re not going to get wet,” Nate says. “The floors aren’t even wet.”
Still, I put Alex near the “window” again.
“Great, Mom, now I’ll get wet.”
“You’re young and you have fantastic hair. You’ll be fine,” I respond.
No one on the boat is reassured by my words.
“Do you feel that, Nate? The seat is wet. My rear end feels cold.”
“It’s not wet. It’s just cold. The air from the water is cold. Just relax.”
So, I do. I’m encouraged to see that the crew is not wearing raincoats. We will take a gentle tour along the Deception Pass to learn some history and maybe see some seals or birds. All will be well. And it is. We see plenty of birds, a few harbor seals, and the Deception Pass Bridge, built in 1935. It is roughly 1,487 feet long and 180 feet above the water, according to the Deception Pass Park Foundation. As I look up, I can see plenty of people—without a care in the world—fearlessly taking pictures from the steel and concrete structure. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to feel that calm, but I always feel I’m being pushed from tall bridges by swaying winds. As I read more about the Deception Pass Bridge, I realize that deaths do occur—through suicide, car accidents—and the occasional out-of-towner who believes there’s absolutely no danger in diving into the waters below. It’s humbling to think about the sad histories surrounding this bridge and others, but as I lookup from the boat, I mostly see joyful figures watching in admiration of the beauty below.
Lost in my trance, I’m startled when the captain and tour guide say,
“We’re picking up speed as we go into the Danger Zone—woohoo!”
The engine roars and Kenny Logins’ “Danger Zone” starts blaring.
“Oh, sh*#!” I say. “We’re going to get wet now!”
Everyone in the boat looks at me with sheer terror. However, there is nothing to worry about. The boat picks up speed and splashes a little, but nothing happens. Nothing like Codzilla. The boat docks and we’re suddenly a little sleepy.
“That was nice,” Nate says.
“It was nice. Very nice,” I reply.
“Very pleasant,” Alex agrees.
So why do we look just a little disappointed? The tour was everything we expected and more. The crew was fantastic and the guide was enthusiastic and fun. Maybe we were secretly hoping for an in-your-face orca encounter of the Codzilla kind. If it exists, it’s probably illegal—for many, many good reasons.
Your Turn: What’s the best tour in or near your city and what are some tips for booking/visiting?