That’s not just any raft — it’s the Joy D. Smith Wildlife Raft

That photo shared by Greg Whittaker of Alki Kayak Tours earlier this week is one of several we’ve received showing one or more seals on a raft off western Alki. After publishing another one of those photos, we received an unexpected note. Turns out, there’s quite a story behind the raft, and Guy Smith wanted to share it, hoping that when we mention it in the future, we will use its official name: The Joy D. Smith Wildlife Raft. No, it’s not a memorial – instead of in tribute to Joy D. Smith (Guy’s wife), it was meant “for” her – in this photo, she checks it out with its proud builders after they assembled it last year:

Read on for the story, and more photos that Guy shared:

The raft floats off western Alki, where it was placed almost a year ago, in view of where the Smiths live:

Building it was a three-generation project – including Guy, son Stu, and identical-twin grandsons Adam and Matt.

Guy explains they built it as a surprise for Joy “when she was recuperating from back surgery last fall. We launched it on November 28th of 08 and tied it to our buoy.” Two photos from that day:

(That’s Stu, towing the raft.) Guy continues, “It provided great entertainment for Joy with birds, seals, etc for about a month until it broke loose in a storm. Luckily, I had attached a copper nameplate with our phone # and it was returned in January. The nameplate identifies it as The Joy D. Smith Wildlife Raft.”

Guy also says: “All kinds of interesting things have happened on that raft. In August, a mother seal died on the raft. After reporting that sad fact to the people on the dead seal hot-line, they said to dispose of it in deep water. I towed the raft out toward the mid channel buoy and when I sped up, as planned, water washed the seal off and she immediately sank.”

When we first heard from him a few weeks ago, they had been watching a seal that had turned up daily for almost a week, “a sleek seal we call Squint … Squint has unique markings that we can identify using our big spotting scope, including a left eye that is half closed.” Here’s a photo:

We were particularly interested in Guy’s explanation of logistics, as West Seattle-based Seal Sitters‘ leader Brenda Peterson told us recently about the need for more rafts to provide safe respite for baby seals. (You can also read about that at the Seal Sitters’ Blubberblog.) Guy told us he’d be happy to offer advice to anyone “who wants to do what we did. The tricky parts are the buoy and the attachment from the buoy to the raft. These can go bad quickly and you can lose everything, which is quite costly in materials and frustrating to have to rebuild, tow, attach, etc. Having been through 2 cycles, I feel like I know some of the approaches that work best and many that must be avoided.”

But for starters – next time you see the raft with the distinctive buoy and float, you know it’s not just “a” raft, it’s the Joy D. Smith Wildlife Raft.

9 Replies to "That's not just any raft -- it's the Joy D. Smith Wildlife Raft"

  • star 55 October 18, 2009 (6:35 pm)

    I look at that raft daily to see what is on it. It is tough to look between the houses but we enjoy it.

  • cutie patootie seal October 18, 2009 (8:24 pm)

    I love seeing the seals on this raft. Good job!

  • 3dogslater October 18, 2009 (9:49 pm)

    The Joy D. Smith is such a thoughtful gift you have given to the sea life and residents. Great idea to suggest building more of these rafts for the seals perhaps the, Wildlife officials- will take the idea and run with it these rafts would provide safe resting areas aside from the shores of Alki.

  • Tiffany Kosa October 18, 2009 (11:18 pm)

    Better get a patent so they have to pay you to use it too!

  • Observer October 19, 2009 (8:55 am)

    That is a great gift to the wildlife. It seems the sailboat owner near the boat launch might be trying to do the same thing by mooring his derelict there again. What a foolish move…again after all the help he got saving it last week. to do it again… Too bad that clown did not learn his lesson. But on a positive of luck with the Joy D. Smith raft.

  • John October 19, 2009 (10:26 am)

    What a clever idea! You simply glued and capped the end of the PVC pipes…..pretty good! The City should put a couple dozen of these off Lincoln Park. They could ask for donors to buy one or more and have volunteers build them.

  • jay October 19, 2009 (12:52 pm)

    My father-in-law was the person that found this raft on a beach in January, and it was stored in our front yard until it was picked up the next day. It was quite a nice design, with the PVC pipes as floatation which keep the top of the raft very close to the water surface. I hope to make one of my own, one of these days…

  • Greg Whittaker October 20, 2009 (9:31 am)

    Great tidbit to add to our lighthouse paddle talk!

  • Crystol October 25, 2009 (6:00 pm)

    Hi Joy and Guy. This is the coolest story I have seen in ages. What a wonderful gift for Joy that you “boys” did. Thanks so much for sharing!!

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