As a sport, rowing is not exactly the most spectator-friendly. At most regattas, the starting line is far away from where each team’s supporters are stationed. For most of the race, each rower hears only the clank of oarlocks, blades hitting water and the competing calls of amplified coxswains. Finally, as the rowing shells head into the final 500 meters, the distant cheers of teammates, friends and family start to mix in with the other sounds.
It’s a whole other story at Opening Day on Seattle’s Montlake Cut.
The starting line sits between two log booms that stretch most of the way to the opening of the Cut. Attached to both booms are yachts of every size, filled with Opening Day celebrants who have been partying most of the night (and morning) and are ready to finally cheer some rowing action. As a result, the earliest races get some of the rowdiest support, as rowers fly between the log booms and head toward the 50,000+ fans who crowd the Montlake Bridge and line both shores of the narrow waterway. The fans cheer everyone, making it easy for each crew to feel like all that support is being directly only to them.
For Vashon Island Rowing Club, the thrill of racing on Opening Day gets renewed each time the club is honored to send a crew to the event. Last Saturday’s sun-splashed Opening Day in Seattle saw VIRC’s masters women’s eight finish a strong third. Rowing in a Vespoli shell borrowed from Lake Washington Rowing Club, coxswain Lisa Huggenvik guided Vashon down the course in a neck-and-neck battlewith Sammamish.
“We were sitting on the wait line to start,” said masters rower Sarah Eden, “and Gail Brownell, racing for the first time at Opening Day, looked wide-eyed around her and exclaimed what everyone was thinking: ‘Wow, this is amazing! I can’t believe I’m here!’”
Earlier in the morning, VIRC head coach and VIFR firefighter Ben Steele competed in the annual rivalry between the Seattle Police and Seattle Firefighters.
“We had a blazing start and left everyone behind,” said Steele. “The boat had a huge range of experience, from novices to collegiate rowers. It was an honor to get invited to be in the boat. A huge thank you to Seattle Fire for having me out.”
For adults curious to experience the thrill of rowing, VIRC’s masters Learn to Row classes run May 14 through August 3 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. on Saturdays. Contact Learn to Row Coach Tara Morgan Mulvenon with questions at email@example.com.
For a free taste of the sport, VIRC invites interested future rowers to an Open House at the Jensen Point Boathouse from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 11. Adult rowers age 19 and up will get a tour of the boathouse, an orientation and a group row on the water where they can try rowing along with experienced rowers.