The super fun summertime tradition returns to Seattle’s Lake Union, tiki raft and all. It was great to see you all out there!

It’s been called the best party on the water anywhere on the West Coast, and it still delivers. 48° North’s Tropical Night at the Duck Dodge is always a good time, but this Tuesday’s 2021 installment was easily the best Tropical Night for actually sailing of any in recent memory.

For the uninitiated, Duck Dodge is a casual Tuesday night sailboat race that runs from May to September on Lake Union. It’s one of the most beginner-friendly racing environments around and boasts a wide range of experience levels, from some folks who are brand new to racing to some of the region’s best. Boat types, sizes, and speeds run the full gamut — more than any other race in town. Each Duck Dodge week has a designated theme, and sailors dress up themselves and their boats accordingly. 48° North’s Tropical Night is one of those themes, and is commonly one of the best attended weeks of the summer. Tropical Night 2021 was no exception.


The Tropical Night tradition goes back to late 80s, when the magazine team had the idea that they could make a tropical island in the middle of the lake, and it could be a mark of the race course. Over the years, beer sponsors got involved and taster-sized beers (and juice boxes for the kids) have since been available for the racers as they round the tropical raft (which is a leeward reach mark in a northerly breeze, and must be rounded as a part of the race).

The present heat wave brought solid northerly breeze of 10-15 knots to Lake Union and, along with it, some worries for the raft-bound organizers. “The raft always drags, at least a little,” said Dan Krier of Marine Servicenter, which has been a co-sponsor of the event for years. Dragging a bit may be true and of little consequence in the typical light and dying summer breeze. But as little whitecaps whipped up through the afternoon, our hodge podge of two smaller anchors and bits of chain shackled together were looking up to the task.

As the group from 48° North worked on building the tiki hut on the raft, Marine Servicenter’s Service Manager, Bryan Rhodes put out a request for larger anchor tackle on the Duck Dodge Facebook Group. In 5 minutes (NO JOKE!), we had two much bigger anchors with much more chain arranged. Enormous thanks to Morris Lowitz and Mike McGuane for generously loaning out your anchors. The raft didn’t drag an inch!

Many parts of the tradition remain unchanged, and why shouldn’t they?! Fremont Brewing once again was our awesome beer partner. Chuck Skewes and Vince Townrow from Ullman Sails, another event co-sponsor, were a big help on the raft as always. 48° North’s sincere thanks to everyone who helped on the raft, to the Duck Dodge Committee and community for having us, and for all the sailors out there living the good life and having a blast! What fun!

We’d estimate that the number of racing boats was near 150, but it’s difficult to tell with SO many sails out there. One thing seemed clear — the amount of non-Duck-Dodge traffic on the lake was higher than ever. For the most part, the other craft on the water — from power cruisers to stand-up paddle boards — courteously stayed out of the way of the racers as they zoomed past the raft, grabbing a cup of refreshment while they made the turn back up the lake toward the finish. One exception was a powerboat that was having engine trouble and drifted just east of the raft while several racers approached quickly from the west. Thankfully, the raft communicated the issue, and the sailors avoided. The drifting powerboat made up for the inconvenience by throwing one of their beers to the deviating sailboat as it cruised by.

In the excellent breeze, the first two starts (“Fast” and “Half-Fast” boats) each did two lap of the course, while the 3rd Start of Cruising/Slow boats and the Dinghies each did one. It was good that the faster boasts had two cracks at passing the tiki raft. Several of them came by so fast on the first lap that the hand-off between those on the tropical island and the sailors was rather… exciting. Several approached at a beer-friendlier speed on their second lap.

The light faded, and everyone on the water was treated to one of those fluorescent Seattle sunsets that never seems to end. It was a splendid night on the water, another installment of one of Seattle sailing’s most unique and fun-filled traditions. 48° North couldn’t be happier to be a part of it. Stay tropical!

Photos by Jacqie Callahan.