By Jeff Hoyt
For The Beachcomber
The Masters Mixed 8 from Vashon Island Rowing Club powered through ugly conditions to its fourth consecutive gold medal at the Head of the Lake regatta in Seattle on Nov. 7.
Traditionally the largest fall regatta on the West Coast, this year’s event, which usually starts in Lake Union and finishes in Lake Washington, took place despite strong winds and sometimes heavy rain. Race organizers shortened the course and canceled all of the singles and doubles events. In the interest of safety, rowers weren’t required to wear their traditional racing unis and would only be allowed on the water if everyone was properly equipped to stay warm and dry.
“Everyone had to wait for a tugboat to outwit the wind and push a barge through the Montlake Cut,” said Colby Atwood, who later stroked VIRC’s Mixed Quad to a silver-medal finish. “Our boat was well-sheltered but the Vashon eight had to endure the intermission in the heavy chop at the north end of Lake Union.”
Despite a slightly smaller field this year due to weather and COVID, Vashon’s Mixed 8, with Lisa Huggenvik in the coxswain’s seat, outduelled all of their traditional rivals, besting Sammamish, Bainbridge, Pocock, Mt. Baker and Portland’s Station L to defend their title.
“The last couple of practices for the eight went really well,” said VIRC Masters Coach Aidan Teachout. “There were some specific things that a couple of the athletes needed to work on that finally started to click for them.”
Unfortunately, the conditions wiped out all of the races for the Vashon Junior rowers, who trained hard for the event.
“While we were disappointed to miss HOTL,” said Head Coach Ben Steele, “we were thankful to have any regattas at all given the last year’s experience.”
Steele went on to highlight a couple of standout performances from recent weeks. “The novice girls quad finished first at every regatta this fall except American Lake, where they finished second,” he said. “And our experienced girls finished 19th of 52 at Head of the Charles in Boston and had to fight hard past several crews to qualify as a guaranteed entry for next year.”
In wrapping up the Juniors’ season overall, Coach Steele remarked, “This season brought a lot of fun energy into the boathouse. We ended up with 14 novice rowers, who brought a new charisma with them. It is great to see the experienced and novice rowers work towards their goals.”
All in all, despite COVID, it was a year of growth for VIRC, with increasing numbers in both the Junior and Masters programs, including several new Masters rowers who were able to take up the sport because the pandemic affords them the opportunity to practice two or three days a week while working from home.
“After our success this season, I’m hoping for more people looking to race come springtime,” said Teachout of the Masters. “I also look forward to winter conditioning. Cross-training is a huge part of injury prevention and a great way to gain speed on the water as well.”
Looking back at 2021 for Vashon Island Rowing Club overall, Steele pointed out the culture of the boathouse: “We’re all about hard work, setting goals and enjoying the process of self-improvement. It’s amazing to see people of all ages, genders and abilities striving for this mission.”