Like many Pacific Northwest boaters, come summer, I dream of sailing north, to places familiar or unknown, but always far away. The allure of the local is left to the neighborhood farmer’s market or the nearby park. But lately I’ve been thinking that when it comes to boats, we often overlook what’s right under our noses.

Case in point: I’ve been preparing for a cruise to British Columbia, and much of my free time has been spent gathering provisions, painting, doing odd jobs, and tending to my life on land here in Portland.

But last Saturday I decided to take a break and rowed up the Willamette River from downtown. There was so much going on, I felt silly for forgetting about the lively boat scene right here in town.

First stop: The Dock. Maybe it’s not quite a boat scene, but it’s a scene, all right. As I reported a few years ago, if there’s a twenty-something with a tattoo, skimpy bathing suit and a free afternoon in inner Southeast Portland, they’re hanging around on the dock. Wakes regularly wash over the deck, but that’s all part of the fun.

Sure it’s designed for dragon boats, rowing shells and the like, but if your dock has to be invaded, beautiful young people are pretty good occupiers.

Second stop: The anchorage in front of Tom McCall Park, home of the July 4th Blues Festival. Early birds have been here for a couple of weeks, staking out the best spot to take in the show. Each day more and more new spectators arrive; part of the fun is watching the scene slowly evolve. Boaters help each other set bow and stern anchors. Dinghies float from boat to boat. It’s a scene too, but more for the yacht-set.

Next I head upriver, passing the wildlife preserve on Ross Island. Scores of kayakers, a canoeist, outrigger paddlers, and even a few swimmers are bobbing along in the shade of the towering cottonwood trees on the sandy shore. Distracted by a water skier zooming behind a wake boat, I make direct contact with one of the trees that toppled into the river during the winter. The boat is fine, my pride only minorly dented.

Third stop: The Willamette Sailing Club and Rivers West Small Craft Center are hosting their annual family boat building event and wooden boat show. Boats are moored at the docks, land lubbers are packed into sailboats for free rides, and kids from the Wind and Oar School are launching their latest creations. There’s so much energy in the air, I stay at least an hour past the time I was supposed to be home.

All along the waterfront, people are reveling in the sunshine, catching up with old friends, and meeting new ones; and aside from the usual growling of impatient drivers at the boat ramp, it’s a beautiful day to be on the water at home. Why, I wonder, would I ever want to leave?