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by Bryan Lowe -  Seattle, Washington - USA

It's been 12 years since I built my Phil Theil designed Escargot, and no, the thrill is NOT gone! I recently spent a few days out on my little shantyboat exploring the sloughs near Everett, Washington. I hope you find inspiration to start or finish YOUR build.

Ebey, Steamboat, and Union Sloughs are basically the delta for the Snohomish River, which runs through the small city of Snohomish and enters Puget Sound in Everett, home of one of the big Boeing plants. At one time these sloughs were quite the place of industry, sawmills for the most part, and you can see their ghosts at every turn in the pilings and abandoned structures. Now, the muddy waters of these sloughs don't get much traffic. In the two days I saw maybe four other boats away from docks at the two or three run-down marinas. Not many people go there. For me it's a fascinating place, and a wonderful retreat from the world. I store my boat in an old dairy barn, which protects it from the weather. It also makes my wife and my Seattle neighbors happy!

My tow vehicle is a Chevy Malibu Maxx. The boat feels a bit big back there, but works.

I launched in Marysville, Washington, at a great public ramp, but the tide was SUPER low, and the ramp was high and dry. I've been boating on the sloughs for 12 years and this the lowest I'd seen the ramp. Mostly it was mud and small puddles!

While I waited I spoke to some homeless guys who approached me along the slough.

Food? They say that's not a problem, as there are several free food programs. It's a place to LIVE that is hard for them, and my boat seemed ideal. Cops, they say, chase them off from wherever they try to sleep, under bridges, for example. They hide in tall grass or the woods most often, though cheap hotels are valued as they provide a shower. Rainy days are the worst. One had been a plumber, the other did carpentry, and another never spoke to me or to anyone. The rumor was he knew seven languages and was from Vietnam.

The former carpenter seemed an OK guy. He talked quite openly, and with a bit of shame about his place in life. He'd done more, and wanted to again. The guy who said he'd been a plumber was a good looking guy, well spoken, and considerate. He came across as a bight guy, and seemed less street pummeled than the others, though there was a sort of street confidence there, too. He said he felt safe, and that these guys were the most family he'd ever had. "We look out for each other".

Then a couple of new guys wandered in. "How's your stab wound?", the plumber guy asks. "Paul" introduces himself to me, not sure who I was or how I fit in, as we wandered away from the boat into the shade by now, then he shows his stab wound. Nasty wound, but, I'd say it was healing nicely. He was a heavy enough guy the shank may not of penetrated into his internal organs.

Carpenter guy told me, "A lot of these guys could work, but don't. I know a guy who has lived on the streets for more than 20 years. He doesn't even try to get off the streets". He spoke fondly of a past with boats, but there was none of that in his life now, and I could sense he didn't believe there would be again.

For all I knew these guys were trouble, but not that day, not with me. There was a respect between all of us, dignity, and some open talk, a fascinating glimpse into a life I am glad I don't know more about. I wish them well. I think, there but for fortune, it could be me or my son.

Three hours later the tide had come back enough for me to launch. Looking back toward Marysville to the south, you can see Mount Baker, which was as bright and clear as I have ever seen it. The top was blown off in an eruption long ago. This is the one spot on the sloughs where you see a lot of homes. I always leave those far behind.

Soon, I was threading my way through a forest of pilings, clearly a part of the abandoned sawmill barely visible in the overgrown shrubs along the shore. These pilings are a real danger, as many are rotted off just below the high tide line. I've hit more than a few as I motor along, which is part of the reason I move so slowly here.

Slow is best, as I have no place to go. I'm already there. I usually run at idle, and I can go that way for a weekend and barely make a dent in my five gallon gas tank. I'm running a 4-stroke 6hp outboard.

I come across my first wreck of the trip. A new one to me. An old aluminum fishing boat of some kind. This area is called the boat graveyard by some, and it has been for decades.

I've been going out on these sloughs for more than a decade, and this is my favorite spot to spend the night. Beautiful. Protected. No homes in sight. Here's the view to the north. As a point of reference, Everett is to the west about 5 miles or so, Seattle is about 30 miles south.

Another shot of my evening on Ebey Slough, now looking to the south.

I settled in for the night as the sun set.

I used a cardboard solar oven to make dinner. In an hour or so I had steaming hot dogs with sauerkraut.

In spite of what they say about Seattle, it doesn't always rain! It worked pretty well.

After dinner and cleanup, I read my Kindle for a couple of hours then went to bed. I have a head on board, and can sleep four comfortably. I woke up about 10pm and took a shot out the window. So beautiful at dusk. I've never seen another soul sleeping out on the slough in the more than 30 nights I've been there, away from the docks at least.

In the morning I went exploring on the 20 or so miles of easily navigable waterway. Be careful, though, as there are SO many things to hit. These snags are the worst, though this one is marked by some kind soul. An old bleach bottle or something. When the tide comes it that may be all you see of the snag, though it lurks just below the surface, perfectly angled to poke through the bottom of an unsuspecting boat.

This was an odd sight for me, as the cut in the levee didn't use to be there having opened up in a flood a few years ago. There was a large culvert there. It drains into and out of a marsh on a small island. Now there is an impromptu and very unofficial one-man shipyard there. It's a mighty big boat that seems to have suffered a mighty big fire. Some of the superstructure is cut off, and there is some sort of house going on the back. A guy working there told me with a lot of work and money it will be a great boat. I hope so, though the sloughs are littered with broken dreams. The added superstructure gave the boat an interesting mix of old and new. A bit odd, but clearly shantyboat. Big money shantyboat, if such a thing exists.

This dream isn't quite broken, but it is seemingly stalled. Basically, it's a raft with a house, of sorts, on it.

It was pulled up to the high water line, so wouldn't see water very often.

This old fishing boat showed up about 5 years ago or so. She was floated here, and will never float again. The metal bits will be here till the next ice age.

So many shantyboats out here, and so many wrecks. Some, I'd seen floating at one time. Others have been there for decades - ruined. This is one of the more recent wrecks, and it's tied to a dock. I expect to see it pushed down the slough, left to rot, next time I am up there.

I knew this boat as The Widgeon... and while she was afloat I thought she'd be the perfect boat to convert into a home. Not gonna happen, as she's been under water quite some time now.

This sort of boat is a dime a dozen on the sloughs. Once a great boat, but well beyond her prime.

And here's another, somewhat optimistically listed for sale.

This one was restored a few years ago, but time and money don't seem to have found their way into keeping her up. Sad, as it is a beautiful old coast guard boat.

This boat had a million dollars of repairs done and was used as a party boat, or so I was told. I've been aboard many times hosting parties for the radio station I work for. A guy on the slough told me it was headed to a new museum in Tacoma.

My favorite treehouse, actually on pilings. What a nice, though small, retreat above the water. Oh, the books I would read!

A houseboat. Seems occupied, but I don't know if that's full time or part time. It was either used for storage or was a rather messy place to live.

I am using a solar charger from Fenix. Very nice rig that kept my cell phone, Kindle and Nook charged with no problem. I once needed rescue, and my cell phone had mere minutes of life left. Not going to let that happen again!

For lunch on day two I tied up to a piling, Mediterranean style, one end tied to the piling and the other held in place with an anchor. The helps keep the solar oven lined up. You can't really step out on shore, as the mud is very deep. You can only get out at high tide, when you can step onto the grasses.

When I built my Escargot boat a dozen years ago, I had these sloughs in mind, though I'd never been out on them. All I knew was what I could see from the freeway that passes over them near Everett. Now, they are one of my favorite places to go!

Learn more about Escargot and other shantyboats at my website, Enjoy!

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