Home Making Waves Making Waves – May 2024

Making Waves – May 2024

by Randy Woods
Making Waves - Opening Day
Photo Courtesy of Windermere

[ boating season kick-off ]

Spring Fever Renews Olympic Memories at Opening Day Windermere Cup Regatta

You may hear some lilting Italian accents along the Montlake Cut early this month, but don’t expect to see any languid Venetian gondoliers. On May 4, Seattle kicks off its Opening Day celebration with the annual Windermere Cup race, featuring the University of Washington (UW) crews facing off against both the University of Wisconsin and the Italian National Team.

Mirroring the excitement of last winter that came with the release of “The Boys in the Boat,” a film based on the book about the fabled UW rowing team that won a surprising gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics, this year’s Windermere Cup will once again pit U-Dub against Italy—the same two competitors that took home the gold and silver medals, respectively, 88 years ago.

The 2024 cup will be the 38th annual competition sponsored by UW and Windermere Real Estate. Held since 1987, the Windermere Cup got its start as an expansion of the annual rowing event of the Seattle Yacht Club’s Opening Day of Boating Season festivities, showcasing the UW rowing program and the Montlake Cut as a premier rowing venue.

This year, nearly 800 athletes will compete in the prestigious event. The May 4 event will mark the third time the Italian men’s team has raced against the Huskies for the Windermere Cup, which Italy won in 1989 and finished in third place in 2004. The UW women’s team won the 2004 Cup, edging out the Italian women, who took second that year. This will be the first-ever appearance by Wisconsin, “the other UW,” in the regatta. Some of the Italians rowing for the Cup this month will be wearing the purple and gold for the Huskies, including UW graduate student Giulio Acernese, who is a two-time World Rowing Under 23 champion, and Matteo Belgeri, winner of the 2022 Under 19 Championship.

The women’s teams will start the Windermere Cup race at about 10 a.m., followed by the men’s race, which will end at about noon. Following the races, fans are invited to join the regatta champions for the awarding of the Windermere Cup trophy on the north side of the Montlake Cut, just west of the Montlake Bridge. Admission to the event is free, and viewing is available along both sides of the Cut, or by boats anchored for a fee to a log boom in Lake Washington.

Following the regatta, a cannon will sound to open the Montlake Bridge and signal the start of the beloved Seattle Yacht Club (SYC) Boat Parade. Once the parade ends at around 3 p.m., a trophy presentation will be held at 6 p.m. of the SYC lawn for the winners in the various boating categories. SYC’s 2024 “Opening Day Trio” will be Admiral Dave Sanford, Admiralette Alesha Shemwell, and Vice Admiral Christian Lockwood. The theme for this year’s parade is “Pirates & Pursers,” so be prepared to see plenty of parrots, peg-legs, and people saying “ARRGH!” out on the log boom.

Throughout the day, food and drink vendors will present a wide variety of refreshments at the Windermere Shore Party on the north side of the Cut, and merchandise vendors will offer Windermere Cup commemorative gear. Other on-shore attractions will include plenty of family-friendly activities, including a bouncy house for kids 10 and under, and a build-a-boat station presented by The Home Depot, where children can design and create their own toy boats to take home as souvenirs. Current UW students will also get prime seating access for the races and the parade at the Dawg Pack Student Section.

Before the races and parades begin, the Opening Day weekend celebration will kick off on the night of Friday, May 3, with the 6th annual Party on the Cut celebration, hosted by Windermere Real Estate and UW. The ticketed event will be open to anyone 21 and older from 6 to 10 p.m., and held at the northeast corner of the Montlake Cut and the UW Waterfront Activity Center, featuring food, music, drinks, and games. The evening event will provide a sneak peek of race day, including twilight sprints held on a shortened course through the Cut between competitors on the UW, Wisconsin, and Italian teams.

For more information about tickets, times, log-boom tie-ups, and other events, visit: windermerecup.withwre.com or seattleyachtclub.org.

R2AK Photo
Photo Courtesy of Nick Reid

[ racing refresh ]

R2AK Joins WA360 in Alternating Biennial Motorless Sailing Races

The Northwest Maritime Center and some competitive boaters have decided to bring balance back to motorless summertime racing. They are going to alternate the popular Race to Alaska (R2AK) with the recent debutant WA360 race. The evergreen R2AK will switch from an annual event to a biennial one, beginning after the June 2024 race, and another wind- and human-powered upstart created during the Covid-19 pandemic, the WA360, will return in the summer of 2025. The switch will provide racers with alternating competitions so no one misses out on annual summer feats of maritime endurance.  

While most of the world was just trying to keep sane during the interminable Covid-19 crisis, the Northwest Maritime Center got creative and invented the WA360 race, a 360-mile course for human- or wind-powered sailing in a wide counterclockwise arc, beginning and ending in Port Townsend. This novel idea arose from pandemic restrictions in 2021 and provided adventurers with a local outlet. While Covid rules no longer apply today, the 2021 WA360 proved popular enough to be brought back, and is now scheduled to be held during the off years of the much-respected R2AK race: WA360 will get the odd years, R2AK will get the evens.

On June 9, the near-insanity of the R2AK will return with at least 21 teams competing for the $10,000 grand prize for the first boat to make the 750-mile journey from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, Alaska. The first leg is a trial of sorts with a mandatory stop in Victoria, Canada, to see if the vessels and crews have the right stuff. There’s also a great party, to boot, on June 10. (In a nod to the immortal “Glengarry Glen Ross,” R2AK’s second prize is a set of steak knives.)

In the grueling second stage, the competing teams (a total of 21, as of April 1) will launch on June 12, cruising the infamously treacherous 710 miles of the Inside Passage to Ketchikan. There are no set rules on what route is taken, other than passage at two waypoints: Seymour Narrows off Vancouver Island and Bella Bella, British Columbia. To ratchet up the crazy, the participants range from self-supported, four-person crews on 30-foot sailboats to solo efforts in small, ocean-going kayaks, Hobie cats, and modified outriggers, pedal boats, and rowboats. 

Though the race is high-spirited, especially in the relatively easy first 40 miles to Victoria, the rest of the challenge is deadly serious, with no racing support crews on hand to provide assistance. To weed out unseasoned sailors, the R2AK vets the teams for their endurance and levels of experience. While several teams exited the race prematurely over the years, the record is about four days to complete the entire journey.

Next year will bring the return of the human- and sail-powered WA360. From Port Townsend, the WA360 teams for 2025 will battle the maddening tidal currents, unpredictable weather, thick fog, and sea swells past dozens of ports in Puget Sound and the San Juans. Participants have plenty of leeway in determining specific courses, but there are some required checkpoints, including the dilemma of choosing either Deception Pass or Swinomish Channel after passing through Skagit Bay.

Unlike R2AK, the WA360 allows sailors to bring motors on board for emergency situations, but they will be disqualified if they are ever used. While official times and routes taken are less important, teams have a maximum of 12 days to officially finish the race. At the inaugural WA360 in 2021, a total of 56 teams competed in catamarans, trimarans, monohulls, beach cats, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, surfskis, and pedal boats.

The types of racing vessels are divided into three classes: Go Fast (racing sleds, catamarans, and other sailboats), Go Hard (slower racing cruisers), and Human Power (various muscle-powered contraptions). In 2025, a fourth class will be added for youth participants. Winners in each class will be awarded not with trophies but bragging rights, along with championship leather belts and shiny, engraved metal plates in “Rocky”-style.

Other details about the 2025 WA360 race, including the start date, registration information, and route basics, will be announced at the R2AK “Blazer Party,” on Friday, Sept. 6, at the start of the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend.

For more on Race to Alaska and WA360, visit: r2ak.com and nwmaritime.org/wa360.

Photo Courtesy of RBAW
Photo Courtesy of RBAW

[ funding for boaters ]

RBAW Lands Funding for Lakebay Marina Restoration, ‘Mind the Zone,’ in 2024 Budget

After spirited late-winter debate over the 2024 budget in the Washington State Legislature, the Recreational Boating Association of Washington (RBAW) celebrated two important wins for the Northwest boating community: funding to continue Lake Union’s popular “Mind the Zone” safety program and the ongoing renovation of the Lakebay Marina on the Key Peninsula.

Under the approved funding decisions, determined on March 7, $250,000 was set aside for a renewal of the Lake Union Water Safety Initiative, commonly known as #MindTheZone, which raises awareness of both watercraft and seaplane traffic that greatly increases during the summer season. Another $206,000 was also earmarked for the Lakebay Marina & Resort Redevelopment Project, including the potential restoration of the original marina building, which dates back to the 19th century.

RBAW said it was particularly encouraged that the two “strong wins for recreational boating” were made during the off-year state funding session, which usually lasts just 60 days every other year and tends to pass only supplemental budget bills that merely tweak the larger biennial budgets.

For the #MindTheZone project, the funding will continue to pay for the awareness campaign of the five buoys anchored in a north-south line down the center of Seattle’s Lake Union. When a seaplane approaches to land on the water, the buoys flash yellow warning lights, which alert boaters to move 200 feet east or west of the buoy line to provide room for the planes.

The move is timely, as this month’s Memorial Day weekend marks a strong surge in recreational boat traffic, often with casual boaters that have less experience with crowded conditions on the lake. The #MindTheZone project does not come with penalties for violations within the zone but is intended as an advisory that boaters should be aware of float-plane traffic. The system will continue through the summer until Labor Day weekend in September.

Meanwhile, at the Lakebay Marina & Resort, the new funding will be employed in removing the bulkhead, creosote-treated wood, and Styrofoam floats from the marina dock structure. Crews will also install grating to reduce shading, replace the fuel dock with modern equipment, and add landscaping to marina uplands with native species of flora to improve opportunities for boating, sailing, swimming, and crabbing.

In addition, the Lakebay Redevelopment Project will restore the natural habitat of the adjacent Mayo Cove, a pocket estuary west of Penrose Point State Park. These actions will include the reintroduction of kelp and eel grass beds that support spawning grounds for salmon, Pacific herring, and various shellfish species.

Lakebay is currently considered an underserved location for recreational boaters between Olympia and Tacoma, RBAW said. Due to extended neglect, safety concerns have limited the desirability of the marina, which has been closed to visitors and had its docks removed to decrease risk. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources, in partnership RBAW’s Marine Parks Conservancy, purchased the marina in 2021 with the help of funds from the Recreation and Conservation Office, the Washington State Department of Commerce, and Pierce County. The recent addition of $206,000 funding for Lakebay this year raises the total state investment into the project to $500,000.

Created in 1884, the Lakebay Marina pier was built for small cargo ships and vessels used in the area’s famous Mosquito Fleet of passenger ferries. The marina also housed an egg and poultry cooperative, which was vital to the local economy during the Great Depression. Restoration of the Lakebay building, listed on the Pierce County Register of Historic Places, represents a new opportunity to use modern, sustainable materials to lessen environmental impacts while expanding recreational boating access in the area. According to RBAW’s estimates, the completed project will enlarge site capacity to accommodate at least 40 vessels per day, plus another 20 hand-launched watercraft.

For more details on both of these initiatives, go to: rbaw.org.

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