Sometimes it takes a legend to replace a legend.
Fifty years ago, a band of self-taught rowers from Pacific Lutheran University pulled the Husky Clipper to a victory on American Lake against the University of Puget Sound and Seattle University. It would be the final race for the Husky Clipper, the rowing shell the University of Washington famously rowed to a gold a medal at the 1936 Olympics. The accomplishment is the subject of Daniel James Brown’s 2013 book, “The Boys in the Boat.”
In the 1960s, UW lent shells to several colleges to promote rowing and the Husky Clipper — adorned with red, white and blue chevrons signifying its gold medal history — was among those loaners. But shortly after the Husky Clipper’s last victory, the UW decided it wanted the boat back so the piece of history could hang from the ceiling of the school’s shell house.
The Huskies had another boat the Lutes could have called the Loyal Shoudy. The only catch: The Lutes would have to figure out how to get the boat from Seattle to their boathouse on American Lake. And that’s how the most legendary rowing outing in school history came to be.
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On Dec. 18, 1967, the Lutes rowed the boat 43 miles to Steilacoom. The trip made headlines around the Northwest and forged a bond among the men who remain friends to this day. “This is a sport that encourages teamwork and closeness, “ crew member Jim Ojala told The News Tribune in 2015. “When you’re part of a crew that successfully comes together, it’s an experience you don’t forget.”
This week the men are reuniting in Tacoma and on Wednesday they will relive their rowdown by retracing the route in a 75-foot yacht.
The men plan to start the day with breakfast at Tacoma’s Hotel Murano and then take the Sounder train to UW. They will tour the Conibear Shellhouse and view the Husky Clipper, which hangs over the dining room. Then the men will board the yacht for what they expect to be a 4 1/2-hour cruise to the Dock Street Marina on the Thea Foss Waterway.
The catered trip will be significantly different from the 1967 outing. Fifty years ago, the men departed in the frigid predawn hours. They were escorted by two small powerboats that carried a small media delegation and some backup rowers.
Racing shells aren’t made for the choppy open water of Puget Sound, so the trip wasn’t easy on the Loyal Shoudy. Waves splashed into the boat and at one point half of the eight crew members were bailing instead of rowing. The journey took about nine hours.
According to “Playground to the Pros,” a book detailing Pierce County’s sports history, the pounding from Puget Sound left the boat unusable for racing, so the Loyal Shoudy became a practice boat for the Lutes. The Lutes went on to build a proud rowing history that would include wins over UW and Harvard and eventually produce four Olympic rowers.