Todd’s Shipyarrrs

Having once evaded actual pirates, a Lake Union skipper fulfills the sailing fantasies of the sick and curious.

George Todd knows a little something about pirates; he once encountered real ones. It was the early ’60s, and Todd, three friends, and a dog—all sailing novices—left Hong Kong in a 40-foot yawl, planning to sail around the world. A day after setting sail, an enormous powerboat sped up alongside their vessel, zipping back and forth in front of it, herding it toward Shanghai.

Todd had been warned this might happen. The people in the powerboats, nervous friends back in Hong Kong had said, were pirates. They would force a boat into Shanghai, more than 600 nautical miles south of Hong Kong, where the crew would disappear and the vessel would be sold. “They said ‘Crazy Yanks, you guys are just out of your head,’” Todd says. “I guess you could say that.”

Despite having an arsenal of rifles on board, Todd and his friends decided they couldn’t outgun the people on the powerboat. So they played along. Then around 2 a.m., hoping their would-be captors were sleeping, they turned off all the lights, hoisted the sails, let them fill with wind, and pushed the boat as fast as it would go. As they sailed off, Todd says, a searchlight came on from the powerboat—but never found them in the dark ocean.

You can never really tell with a sailor, but Todd insists his pirate encounter is no tall tale. “That’s a true story of idiots escaping from death,” he says.

Todd subsequently decided he had to have a boat of his own. In 1989, he hired a Sacramento shipbuilder to construct the hull of, and woodworkers in Seattle to help him finish, a 65-foot schooner he christened Mallory Todd.

The completed yacht features an onboard fireplace (sculpted by Todd himself), a vast state room, wooden decks, and enormous sails that can inspire even the most sea-fearing landlubber to shout “Yo ho ho!” (Todd himself employs this phrase, without irony, in casual conversation.)

Most springs, Todd sails his ship to Alaska. But starting this month, the boat is available to anyone hoping to experience a few hours of life on the open water. Chartering your own vessel isn’t cheap: A four-hour jaunt goes for $1,350. But you can bring 35 friends—so divvied up, the price isn’t too bad ( Todd, or one of the many volunteers who works with him, captains the boat with a couple of crew members. (You can also get in on one of the Mallory Todd’s five-day cruises to islands and ports in northern Puget Sound, at rates of $800 per person or $1,200 for couples.)

Moored in Lake Union near the Center for Wooden Boats, Todd says that getting his boat through the Ballard Locks takes too long, so he recommends sticking to the city’s lakes. If there isn’t enough wind, or you and your crew find yourselves barfing over the railing, you can dock at Ivar’s Salmon House on the north end of the lake.

“But any wind at all, I highly recommend you get onto Lake Washington,” Todd says. “You can do other things from your car.”

These days, the money Todd makes off the Mallory Todd doesn’t go just to keeping up the boat. It also supports his labor of love: taking people suffering from cancer or other immune system–compromising diseases out for a day on the water.

Not long after he arrived more than a decade ago, a group of kids from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, on an outing to a nearby South Lake Union park, walked up to Todd and asked if they could see the inside of his boat.

“And who’s going to turn down a kid that wants to look at your boat?” he asks. “No one.”

Todd learned from their caretaker that while many of the kids seemed healthy, their susceptibility to infection or other diseases due to medical treatment meant that outings were limited to open-air spaces. So he suggested a sailing trip.

It wasn’t long before he was taking dozens of sick kids and adults out on the water, free of charge. In 1999, he formally created the Sailing Heritage Foundation. Now he, or a friend certified by the Coast Guard to sail such a large vessel, takes the captain’s wheel for some 5,000 people every year—both patients and their family members. Every kid who comes aboard is named an “Honorary Captain” and gets a photo at the helm.

Making the trips requires dozens of volunteers to help the kids work the sails and make sure there are no calls of “Man overboard!” So if you can’t stomach the price tag of a charter but desperately want to join Todd’s crew, volunteer applications are available on his website,

This summer, Todd and the Sailing Heritage Foundation are partnering with the Pirates of Treasure Island (, a local group of marauding swashbucklers, to lend the voyages an air of authenticity. Just don’t let them take you to Shanghai, kids.