The Sally S tugboat on Salmon Bay gives a taste of salty maritime traditions. Or sleep in a treehouse, or a caboose...
“That’s what I want to see! Four boats all lined up together!”
The coach’s voice crackled through the megaphone and the afternoon air, giving me a start.
I looked up to see 36 members of the University of Washington crew team stopped just a few feet away on Salmon Bay, getting an earful from their coach — and a gander at me as I sat on the deck of the tugboat Sally S with a glass of wine and a smile on my face.
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How can you not grin when you’re staying on a tugboat? It’s the antithesis of the average hotel experience, where every room is square, sealed off and the very same.
Tugboats are unique and unassuming, with curves and cubbies and the smell of wood, oil, and whatever the breeze blows over the water. (In this case, the sweat of rowers and something cooking across the water on Ballard Avenue.)
The Sally S is also steeped in history – including that made by Michael and Kelley Marian, who bought the 75-foot boat in 2012 and tested their newly minted marriage getting it ready to rent on Airbnb.
Tugs for hire
Of the 32 boats for rent on Airbnb in Seattle, only one is an authentic tugboat that formerly worked on the sea for its living: the Sally S (airbnb.com/rooms/7921065).
The boat was originally built in 1927 as a tender for the owners of a cannery who wanted “something nice” in which to make trips between Seattle and Alaska, Michael Marian said. Once up there, they lived aboard.
The boat later became part of the fleet of Seattle-based Western Towboat, founded in 1948 by the Shrewsbury family.
The Sally S is docked in Magnolia, between Fisherman’s Terminal and the Ballard Locks. (It’s also a short walk to either spot).
The Marians lived on it for a while before they realized if Sally S was going to stay in the family, she had to bring in some money.
“It was a long, hard process,” said Michael Marian, whose company, Marian Built, transforms salvaged materials into furniture and interiors for homes and restaurants like Rock Creek and Brimmer & Heeltap.
The Sally S was in good shape, but needed Marian’s eye for possibilities, and his work ethic.
Kelley Marian grew up sailing and had an appreciation for the work of naval architect L.E. “Ted” Geary, who made a name designing fantailed motoryachts. Geary designed a few, more humble boats — including the Sally S, in 1927.
Moreover, Kelley’s father was a lawyer for the Westin hotel chain, so she grew up learning what hospitality looks and feels like.
“I just want people to walk in and know that it’s clean,” she said of the boat, “and feel comfortable.”
Good omen, and diapers
Once the work started, Michael found his own good omen in the boat’s logbook, when he looked up his birthday: “All systems go, everything’s great,” the log read. “Full steam ahead, Captain.”
The Marians lived aboard Sally while they renovated the interior. It wasn’t easy. They stapled diapers to the ceiling to stop leaks. Their headboard was a microwave oven.
Before they listed it, they had friends stay “to make sure the light switches worked and the toilets flushed,” Michael said.
They did. And guests have since raved about Sally’s old charm. The wood doors, the brass finishes, the refinished floors and the high-gloss wood.
Sit on the deck and the scent of oil from the working marina takes turns with salt air. Kayakers churn past, seagulls bob and weave overhead and barges and Argosy cruise ships pass by. (Kelley once saw huge segments of the now-completed Evergreen Point Bridge being hauled out to Lake Washington.)
Inside, the basics are covered, but on a slightly smaller scale. In the main room is an L-shaped couch and a small table for dining, and in the kitchen area, an oven, stove, refrigerator (but no microwave) and plenty of counter space. There’s also a large window that looks out onto the water, and the deck, which has a large dining table and a gas grill.
The main stateroom, with a custom-cut foam mattress and a tucked-away TV, is nice for nesting on a rainy day. The bathroom features a roomy, walk-in shower, with a gated entry, and Michael’s woodwork all around.
Below deck (watch your head!) the forward cabin has another nest of a bed and a bathroom.
All along each side are doors that open to sunshine and breeze.
And, since this is a tugboat, you can climb up to the wheelhouse for a clear view of the mountains on one side, the Ballard Bridge on the other. Or just plop onto the daybed for a nap.
Far from the city
Just across the water is Ballard’s behind, but you still feel far from the city, happily out of the loop. And it’s nice to be so close to the water on a sunny day, yet so happily isolated. Whether you live in the city or are coming from out of town, that’s a welcome privilege.
“In Seattle, when it’s nice, you can’t get away from everyone else,” Kelley said. “Whether it’s Golden Gardens or an outdoor patio at a restaurant.”
Said Michael: “I don’t think you get to experience this kind of thing in the city that often. In a hotel, you sit on your deck and look one way or the other, and there’s everyone else, sitting on their deck, looking one way or the other.”
Here, there are other boats, from sleek (empty) yachts to the tugboat next door, with owners who wave you on and off of the dock.
The Marians don’t recommend Sally S to anyone who may have trouble negotiating the steep stairs or the occasional sway; or groups of more than three people, since there are only three beds.
“The water tanks can only hold so much,” Kelley said. “This is a unique situation. It needs to fit the right people.”
But when it fits, it’s like a marriage.
There has been one wedding, so far, performed on Sally S’s deck. And the Marians’ union was made stronger as Sally S was turned into what Kelley Marian now calls her “happy place.”
“When we lived here, we didn’t go out,” Michael said. “I used to tell people, ‘You don’t understand this thing I’ve got going on the deck of the boat.’ ”
Now I do. And so do the members of the UW crew team. Keep rowing, kids.
IF YOU GO: Renting the Sally S, and more offbeat lodging around Seattle
• Sally S tugboat, sleeps three; moored on Seattle’s Salmon Bay; about $250-$395 a night in peak summer season, plus $100 cleaning fee; airbnb.com/rooms/7921065.
• 1889 Arthur Foss tugboat, South Lake Union; $49/night for crew quarters, $79 for officer’s cabins, or $495/night for entire ship (9 berths total); nwseaport.org/activities/tugboat-sleepovers/
• Treehouse Point, near Preston, offers six deluxe treehouses erected over the past 10 years. Get cozy with nature in a fir forest bordering the Raging River; $290-$390/night, treehousepoint.com.
• Cave B Estate Winery & Resort, near Quincy, Grant County, offers Cavern Rooms, built into a cliff face overlooking the Columbia River and accessed through a basalt-rock entrance, yurts among vineyards, and more; July weekend rates start at $269/night; cavebinn.com
• Red Caboose Getaway B&B, near Sequim, rents six vintage railroad cabooses — original on the outside, remodeled for comfort on the inside, and clustered around a duck pond; $175-$195/night. Chow down in an authentic dining car. redcaboosegetaway.com.