Jaquette rows along the shoreline of the Snohomish River. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Jaquette rows along the shoreline of the Snohomish River. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

River journal marks seasons of a remarkable life

Winter, spring, summer and fall, Bill Jaquette puts oars in the water. He glides upriver on the Snohomish at the break of day, often taking a turn to Steamboat Slough.

Reaching a personal landmark he calls the “Turnaround Tree,” he changes direction and heads back in his single flat-water shell. His starting and ending point is Langus Riverfront Park, home of the Everett Rowing Association.

The longtime managing director of the Snohomish County Public Defender Association, Jaquette stepped down from that lead role in 2015. At 75, he still works part time at the public defender’s office while devoting at least three mornings a week to rowing.

Jaquette, who lives in Marysville, is now a first-time author. Earlier this year, he published “Rowing on the Snohomish.” The 66-page paperback is part rowing journal, part meditation on nature.

Back from his misty morning row Wednesday, Jaquette heard a request called out near the Everett Rowing Association boathouse: “Hey Bill, I left three books for you to sign. They’re in the office.”

Lifting his 26.5-foot Pocock shell and hefting it over a shoulder — “the toughest thing I do all day,” he said — Jaquette made his way up a ramp from the dock. Once his boat was wiped dry and safely stored on racks in the boathouse, he sat down to sign copies of his book.

“Rowing on the Snohomish” is a trip through a year on the water, more than 1,000 miles, with chapters titled “Winter,” “Spring,” “Summer” and “Fall.”

Through the year, a reader visits and revisits Jaquette’s Turnaround Tree, learns about the tall cattails of summer that turn brown with fall, and is told how hunting season brings the sound of gunfire. “Winter is the best time for mountain viewing,” wrote Jaquette, whose routes vary with the tides and weather.

His boats change, too. In summer, Jaquette rows in the fast, sleek shell he calls “Molly.” It’s a name he would have given a daughter — except Jaquette has two sons. In the fall, he switches to a shell named “Piper,” which is more stable and easier to right in case he capsizes. Jaquette has a third shell for races and outings with Sound Rowers, an open-water rowing and paddling club.

Jaquette’s love of boating began in boyhood. He grew up on the water, in Seattle and on Mercer Island, and was sailing as a teenager. He began rowing in a dinghy. With an undergraduate degree from Whitman College in Walla Walla, he went to graduate school at the University of Missouri. He became a professor of philosophy at what’s now Missouri State University.

In the mid-1970s, the Northwest called him home. Jaquette attended law school at the University of Washington. He worked in King County as a public defender, in the prosecutor’s office and in private practice before coming to the public defender’s office here more than 28 years ago.

His interests in rowing and justice are evident in a sea-going masterpiece Jaquette built himself. In his garage is a 17-foot lapstrake rowboat crafted of cedar and spruce. With the traditional Whitehall design, the vessel is modeled after those used in 19th century New York. Jaquette named the boat “Thurgood,” in recognition of the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Beyond its symbolism, Jaquette said Thurgood is simply a fine name for a boat. “You can see I’m into boating,” said Jaquette, who has rowed Thurgood around San Juan Island and taken it on camping trips.

His rowing trips on the Snohomish River, and on Steamboat and Ebey sloughs are both lovely and concerning. “It’s a pretty area, except for the derelicts,” he said. He was happy to see a state Department of Natural Resources program that helped remove a number of abandoned boats from the area a few years back. “For a number of years I was phoning in oil spills. I’ve got an oil spill line on my cellphone,” he said.

His love of nature keeps him rowing, on icy mornings or breezy summer days. Jaquette usually rows for an hour and a half. “I have nine miles in my head. Today the tide was out, and there were a number of herons at water’s edge,” Jaquette said.

“First of all, it’s getting out, being out there in nature,” he said. “Second of all, it’s exercise.” He has a rowing machine, but pronounces it “quasi-retired.”

Beautiful and healthful, rowing is also an antidote to the stresses of his legal career.

On his computer, he keeps a log of rowing days, distances and adventures. For the book’s “Spring” chapter, he wrote one morning: “The weather is too perfect not to go for a row before heading for that office chair.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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