The Washington men held off Oxford Brookes by a 0.457 seconds and the women finish just behind the Dutch National Team by 1.225 seconds. Those are the second closest races (for men and women) in the history of the event.

Share story

Barnburners. A pair of them.

Saturday’s 32nd annual Windermere Cup, an event traditionally viewed as a genial exhibition to supplement the party vibe of boating season’s opening day, instead treated thousands of energetic onlookers along Montlake Cut to a pair of full-tilt competitions that resulted in two of the closest finishes in Cup history.

The top-ranked Washington men’s varsity 8 held off a late surge by the reigning British collegiate champions, Oxford Brookes University, to win by a mere 0.457 seconds (5:35.782 to 5:36.239), about the length of a racing boat’s deck.

In the finale, the No. 2-ranked UW women, with their varsity 8 and second V8 lineups mingled between two boats, rowed furiously in a course-long, neck-and-neck battle with the Dutch National Team, which features six past Olympians and is renowned for its finishing sprint.

The Netherlands’ final kick was enough to outrace UW’s “purple” boat by 1.225 seconds (6:18.394 to 6:19.619), roughly two seats. UW’s “gold” boat, which led half the race, finished less than a second later (6:20.569).

The combined margins of victory between the first- and second-place crews, 1.682 seconds, is the smallest in Windermere Cup history in the event’s two feature races.

“That was one of the greatest races I’ve ever seen on Montlake Cut,” said Michael Callahan, in his 11th season as UW men’s coach. “It’s the most highly contested Windermere Cup I’ve seen as a coach. It was a fantastic show for our hometown fans. This is Row Town USA.”

UW women’s coach Yasmin Farooq, competing against Netherlands coach Josy Verdonkschot, a longtime friend, called her rower’s battle “a three-boat drag race.”

Seven of the Dutch rowers, who range in age from 22 to 32, were part of the crew that took sixth at rowing’s World Championships last year.

“They row so beautifully,” Farooq said. “They just have such incredible skill. When they lifted for the sprint, that’s where they got it.

“Credit to our girls for pushing them all the way to the end. If you ask any woman in that race if it took a maximum effort, if that was a full pull, every single person would say ‘Yeah, that race took everything they had.’ ”

Both coaches think Saturday’s experience will benefit their squads as they head into postseason competition. Both will race at the Pac-12 championships May 13 near Sacramento.

The women’s NCAA championships, where UW will seek to defend the title it won last year during Farooq’s first season, are May 25-27. The men will compete at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships June 1-3.

“When we go to the Pac-12 championships, it’s going to be seven boats across in a one-shot deal, just like this,” Farooq said. “To have three boats race side-by-side for 2,000 meters, it’s the best preparation you could possibly have for that race.”

Farooq continues to evaluate her lineups as she prepares for the races ahead. Her purple boat was coxed by Phoebe Marks-Nicholes of Ballard with Holy Names grad Katy Gillingham in the bow seat. Against the current No. 1 team, California, on April 21, her second varsity and varsity four boats won by three-plus seconds, but her varsity eight lost by three.

“We decided if we moved some people around, we might be able to get both boats (V8 and 2V8) to row better,” she said. “Our goal is to get the fastest boats for the Pac-12 championships. We put people together with other people who can help them get a better lock and rhythm in the boat.”

Callahan liked what he saw out of his V8, coxed by Rielly Milne of Woodinville with Sam Halbert (Woodinville) in the six seat and Elijah Maesner (Eastlake) in the bow.

“We’ve really focused on being a more mature crew,” he said, “and to win a close race going into our championship season really is important to us. It builds confidence in the guys that we can win close ones. When Oxford started pushing on us through the Cut, we had an answer. You can fold pretty easily there, but we had a call to their challenge. It was a real arm-wrestling match out there.”


• Under mostly blue skies with morning temps in the low 60s, Callahan was grateful for and impressed by the large and animated turnout. “This crowd was just epic,” he said. “Entering the Cut, it sounded like a goal-line stand inside Husky Stadium.” Harry Brightmore, cox for Oxford Brookes, noticed. “When we were about 300 meters from the line, we couldn’t hear anything,” he said. “It was an incredible experience.”

• The UW women rowed in a new boat, one donated by UW rowers from the 1970s and named Title IX Sisterhood.

“They’re the one’s who literally kick-started this program,” Farooq said, noting that racing shells typically cost around $60,000.

Close calls

Narrowest margins of victory in Windermere Cup history:
Year Winner Time Runner-up Margin
1990 China 5:56.87 Navy, 5:57.16 0.29*
2018 UW 5:35.782 Oxford Brookes, 5:36.239 0.457
1991 UW 5:42.27 Cornell, 5:42.75 0.48
1988 Australia 6:04.14 UW, 6:05.61 1.47
2003 Belarus 6:46.45 UW, 6:46.71 1.16
2018 Netherlands 6:18.394 UW, 6:19.619 1.225
1995 UW 6:39.71 Princeton, 6:41.57 1.86
1992 UW 6:23.52 Lithuania, 6:25.76 2.24
* UW finished third (5:57.29), 0.42 behind first-place China.