Home Activities & Entertainment “The Great Escape” of Opening Day

“The Great Escape” of Opening Day

by Norris Comer

Opening Day Log Boom - photo by Mike PenneyTradition is a powerful theme in the maritime world. Boats have been referred to as “she” for centuries and superstitions persist to the point where otherwise-reasonable skippers will not allow bananas aboard. Likewise, Opening Day, the official opening celebration of Seattle’s boating season hosted by the Seattle Yacht Club (SYC), carries the torch of tradition into the summer of 2016 with its “Great Escape” theme.

The origin of Opening Day goes back to Seattle boat parades ranging from the 4th of July boat celebration of 1895 to the visit of the Great White Fleet in May of 1908. The first official Opening Day is said to have taken place in early May of 1913 and included a parade and regatta in Elliott Bay.

Opening Day has come a long way since 1913, and traditions with pageantry abound. The commissioning ceremony on the Seattle Yacht Club’s lawn is attended by the commodores of participating yacht clubs and kicks off the celebrations. The clubs’ burgees are hoisted and the band plays as dignitaries are honored and a chaplain says a prayer. The Montlake Bridge opens to the blast of a cannon and the yacht parade begins, kicking off a whole week of festivities, including sailing regattas, a Mai Tai party, award ceremonies, and more. University of Washington rowing events have become staples over the decades, and 2016 marks the 30th Windmere Cup that’ll pit our Huskies against Russian rowers.

We turned to Bruce Campbell, this year’s Vice Admiral of SYC, for Opening Day 2016 for the inside scoop.

So who exactly belongs to this “trio” [of Seattle Yacht Club brass] and what is the tradition behind it?

The trio is made up of an “Admiral”, “Vice-Admiral” and “Admiralette”. The two admirals are chosen by the Seattle Yacht Club (SYC) Commodore and Vice-Commodore respectively. The Admiralette is chosen by a vote of past Admiralettes and the Women’s group at SYC. While they have fancy titles, they are really the co-chairs of the Opening Day Committee. That is a group of approximately 225 people who started planning this year’s event last June.

The tradition of an Admiral of the day dates to the late 1940s. The Admiralette was added in the late 50s. The first themed year was 1959, when the theme was “Hell’s a Poppin!”

How did the theme Great Escape emerge and what can we expect?

Once the trio is announced, the trio begins planning the theme, which involves many false starts and advice from a copyright attorney.

This year’s theme hopes to capture the joy that we find by “escaping” onto our boats and leaving stress, bosses, traffic, etc. behind. Sometimes it is simply releasing the dock lines to achieve that escape. Sometimes it means arriving at a favorite anchorage. Everyone gets to find their own escape. Part of the fun is seeing what comes down the Montlake Cut on the first Saturday in May. The trio encourages everyone to define the theme in their own fashion.

What is the best part of Opening Day?

The best part of Opening Day is the chance to meet members of clubs from West Vancouver to Olympia. Dock Zero on Friday afternoon is a real circus where you can really see the many different ways people use their boats in the Salish Sea.

Why should boaters be especially excited this year?

Because they are boaters. And whether they are doing Sloop Tavern Yacht Club’s (STYC) “Race to the Straits” or the parade through the Cut with SYC’s celebration of Opening Day, they can make a “Great Escape” in some of the best boating waters found anywhere.

Photo: Mike Penney

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