As rowing venues go, Lake Union could not be more different from Quartermaster Harbor. On its home water, Vashon Island Rowing Club usually rows in early morning conditions free of most boat traffic and can always find calm water on either side of the Burton Peninsula.
On Seattle’s Lake Union, the Tail of the Lake regatta happens amid working tugs, barges and floatplanes, while wave reflections off the dozens of houseboats lining the lake can create choppy, bathtub-like conditions out on the course.
Despite the challenges of rowing the tricky, counter-clockwise 4K head race around Lake Union, VIRC came home with medals in eight separate events at last Sunday’s Tail of the Lake, including first-place finishes for masters Gail Brownell and Debby Jackson.
Brownell completed her tune-up for Boston’s Head of the Charles later this month by topping 21 other competitors on her way to a gold medal in the women’s masters single.
“It was my first time on the course so I was just glad there were lots of other people to follow,” said Brownell. “The fun part was that since the race was delayed, all of us singles got very friendly as we lined up in order.”
Less than an hour later, Brownell teamed up with Debby Jackson to lead a 12-boat field to a gold medal finish for Vashon in the women’s masters double.
“We were gaining on a boat ahead of us, so Deb did the gutsy thing and took the inside line on the buoy turn,” said Brownell. “This can be risky if it impedes on another boat but Deb’s course was perfect.”
Vashon’s junior rowers came home with medals in four separate events. A bronze went to the men’s junior quad, with Joshua Kyles in stroke. VIRC’s Under-17 quad stroked by Eva Cain also rowed to a third-place finish.
“We have a really young team, with only three of our thirty athletes being 17 and up,” said VIRC coach Ben Steele. “It is exciting to see them do so well at such a young age and I can’t wait to see where their potential leads.”
Steele was particularly proud of one of Vashon’s youngest competitors. “My favorite race had to be the middle school single,” said Steele. “Eban Tracy finished first in his age group and put down an amazing time for only being 12 years old.”
VIRC always takes pleasure in seeing their novice athletes shine in competition. For the juniors at Tail of the Lake, both the men’s and women’s novice coxed quads rowed to silver medals with Oliver Hill and Freja Holmes setting the pace from each boat’s stroke seat. For the masters women, VIRC’s novice four, coxed by their Learn-To-Row instructor Tara Morgan, took bronze in their first head racing action.
Rounding out the day for the masters, Vashon’s venerable “Old Guys Quad” finished third out of eight boats. John Jannetty, Fred Sayer, Bob McMahon and Sam Williams came within 16 seconds of gold while rowing in a field where their average age was 17 years older than the next youngest boat.
“After dodging an eight that was determined to t-bone us, and a 200-foot fish processing ship being towed up the ship channel,” said Sayer, “the OGQ did pretty well for a 73-year-old boat.”
— Jeff Hoyt is a rower for the Vashon Island Rowing Club.