The whole happy crew aboard Ariel.

A surprising but now obvious realization for me as a new boat owner is understanding the many functions that a boat can fill for its passengers and skippers. It can be a means of transportation, of habitation, of competition and, of course, recreation.

Except for racing, our Columbia 28, Ariel, has provided all of those services and more. For my wife Laura and I, our nearly 50-year-old sloop has, for us, filled yet another role: a host vessel for guided tours of the Tacoma waterfront and surrounding areas.

After spending most of the winter and early spring without passengers, Ariel returned to her role of tour boat for friends and family visiting from their distant homes during the idyllic summer weather in the South Sound. When guests visit, they are always thrilled to hear that a sailboat cruise is on the agenda, eager to go for a ride on the water regardless of their length of stay.

On a recent trip to Tacoma, my in-laws were recipients of our local waterfront tour, with Laura’s dad, Bob, and his wife, Michelle, filling the role of both passengers and crew. While he did spend a few years in the Navy, stationed in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Bob has never spent any time piloting a small sailboat, but I knew that he would love to take a turn at Ariel’s helm.

We arrived at the marina late in the morning, with wind and sky conditions looking beautiful, and began our sojourn in Commencement Bay with a quick refresher course of Ariel’s layout and safety equipment.

Still somewhat new to the routines of sailing, and cautious about our precious onboard guests, Laura and I checked the list of tasks needed before we disembarked: jib hanked on to the forestay with sheets bowline-tied to the clew; main halyard clear of the shrouds and its shackle locked into the cringle of the mainsail; gear safely and securely stowed below; engine idling comfortably, and then, of course, dock lines released.

With the list confidently reviewed, I piloted our touring vessel out of her slip, knowing how close I could creep in reverse towards the rocks that densely occupy the basin hillside before putting our 9.9-horsepower Yamaha in forward, narrowly missing the prow of White Rose, a Bristol Channel Cutter that is moored adjacent to Ariel.

Then, I slowly rounded the corner of the boathouses on our neighboring dock and the uncovered slips for sailboats. As we pass by the stern of the boats, Laura often waves to anyone on the moored vessels, proudly carrying the mantle of ambassador, like the grand marshall of a marine parade. For me, our departure feels like a journey through our modified water-based suburban neighborhood, with a nod to home/boat owners who may be polishing the brightwork, rather than mowing the lawn.

I maneuvered us past the Vashon Island Ferry, heading out from our ideally located harbor. The path of the massive ship crosses in front of the egress to our marina every hour or so. Even when docked, its huge idling engines churn up the water at the mouth of the harbor while it loads the car commuters on their journey to the small island across Dalco Passage from Tacoma.

Heading out of the marina past the ferry.

When the coast looked clear (literally), I handed the tiller to Laura and she turned head-to-wind as we prepared to hoist the mainsail. It was nice to have extra hands aboard, and I offered duties to our new crew. I lended a hand from the foredeck, yanking down on the halyard from the base of the mast as Bob tailed from the cockpit.

The author points out a direction to Laura’s dad, Bob.

Up next was the jib, and Bob grabbed that halyard while Michelle wrapped the sheet on the winch. There was a light breeze, so the process went smoothly. I asked Laura to head to starboard and the sails slowly filled with air, gently heeling Ariel, reminding us to cut the engine. In the mild 6-8 knot northerly breezes, Laura maintained the tiller for a while, juggling the navigation signals of the wind hawk atop the mast, the telltales on the sails, and the heading that we’d chosen. When the wind kicked up a bit, she was eager to offer the tiller to another pair of hands.

Usually, the helm would be passed to me, but today we offered the piloting duties to Bob, who enthusiastically accepted. As evidenced by his expression, it was easy to see that he loves being on the water, as long as the temperature is mild like today, or better yet, warm. Bob and Michelle live on the big island of Hawaii, on the dry Kona side, spending days either snorkeling or relaxing on the beach. While a far cry from the tropical breezes and sun-drenched days of the Pacific islands, the Puget Sound weather for our tour was a wonderful reward for residents who have held out through the cold winters of the Olympic Peninsula.

We maintained a course along the Point Ruston waterfront, no doubt spreading envy to the land vehicles and pedestrians who were watching us from shore. Continuing southward, we pointed out the historic Stadium High School perched on a distant hill, displaying its famous late-19th century brick architecture like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Wizardry.

As we made our way towards Thea Foss Waterway, we saw two nautical sentinels north of the colossal grain storage silos: the S.S. Cape Island and S.S. Cape Intrepid. Originally commissioned by the US Navy, the ships are now owned by the Maritime Administration, and sit at the ready in the event that the government needs them, whether for delivery of supplies after a natural disaster, or support during a military conflict.

I asked Bob if he’d like to be spelled a bit and he shook his head, committed to piloting Ariel for as long as possible on our afternoon journey in the bay. Laura interjected, “How about a little lunch while the wind is calm?”

We prepared to tack towards open waters and the East Passage, which would take us to Seattle given more time. But not today. Keeping in sight of our home harbor is a comforting feeling for our passengers.

With all hands prepared to tack, I told Bob to turn to port as Michelle trimmed the main sheet and Laura took care of the jib sheets. I waited for the jib to backwind and gently pull Ariel to port. “OK. Stop the turn… and trim the sheets.” Just like that, without a hitch, we were now heading toward Maury Island, adjacent to its big sister, Vashon.

We then eased the sails out a bit more for a reach and brought out the charcuterie; cold cuts, crackers, and beer. Taking in the sights of Mt. Rainier at our stern and the Browns Point Lighthouse to starboard, we marveled at the splendor of Ariel’s backyard playground.

The iconic view of Mt. Rainier from a boat never gets old.

Sharing moments on the water with friends or family has proven to be an enjoyable highlight of sailboat ownership, with many benefits. It is rewarding to be able to give back to those for whom we care, allowing them to share in the joy and beauty of our new surroundings after having moved to the Pacific Northwest about two years ago.

An unexpected benefit of sailing with guests on Ariel has been the opportunity to slow down both physically and mentally. Husbands and wives are often more patient with friends and acquaintances than they can be with each other on the boat, as evidenced by a T-shirt that I recently saw that read, “I’m sorry for the terrible things I said when we docked.”

Laura at the helm.

Although for Laura and I, docking is usually a smooth process as I have learned to slowly guide Ariel into her berth. The conflict that all too often occurs is my desire to push our tired old boat as fast as she can go while out in the open waters, often making for a wild ride.

But with guests on board, our goal is to make them feel as comfortable as possible, showing them not only our newfound sailing prowess, but instructing them on some of the “finer” points of sailing.

After we wrapped up our picnic lunch, we tightened the sheets and headed upwind with increased speed and a bit of heeling. I was cautious to keep Ariel stable for the group so we fell off to a reach for a few minutes and then completed a few tacks to return us to the harbor.

As we approached, I told Bob to head into the wind as Laura and I lowered the jib and then the main. The whining Yamaha engine reminded us of its indispensable role as it took us past the Vashon Ferry once again and we returned to our neighborhood of boat houses and finger piers.

I once again took the tiller and piloted our tour boat back through the marina, with Laura gently stepping onto the dock and securing the lines that once again nestled Ariel into her berth. After unhanking the jib and reflaking the main, we poured ourselves a glass of wine and relaxed for a while in the cockpit before returning home. It was truly a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

David Casey is a retired math teacher and semi-professional woodworker and bass player. He plans on using his retirement to build a small sailboat and a kayak, and to explore the waters of southern Puget Sound.