Each year the University of Washington (UW), Windermere Real Estate and the Seattle Yacht Club team up to host one of the most unique racing experiences in the sport of rowing. The races start on the open, choppy water of Lake Washington where hundreds of boats filled with spectators line the first 1,000 metres. Coxswains then steer into a narrow and sheltered passage where thousands more spectators stand along the shore.

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Crews racing at the Windermere Cup on Montlake Cut in Seattle, Washington (USA)

“It's like rowing in a stadium and it's just fantastic. I've raced at Henley (Royal Regatta), but even that doesn't compare," says UW sophomore Henry Meek.

Noise often poses the largest challenge for coxswains who rely on the crowd’s energy to keep the crews going. UW junior and member of the women’s eight Ruth Whyman described it as completely insane, “When you're coming down you can barely hear the coxswain, you get really pumped up."

With blue skies and light wind, the conditions were ideal for the 110 crews that participated in seven masters events, eight junior events and ten university events. The racing culminated with the men’s and women’s eights race for the prestigious Windermere Cup. This year the University of Washington went up against two Ivy League universities, Cornell and Dartmouth.

The Washington crews came out on top, with UW head women’s coach Bob Ernst commenting, "Cornell and Dartmouth are good crews. I know how hard it is to travel 3,000 miles and have two days to get ready for a race, it's hard to do. They are courageous, I thought they had a good fight today and I'm glad that they had a super, super day to enjoy."

This regatta began 27 years ago when Ernst teamed up with John Jacobi, founder of Windermere Real Estate, to bring some of the top international crews to race the UW. They scheduled the race on the first day of boating season, a holiday celebrated in Seattle for more than 90 years. Since its birth in 1987, the Windermere Cup has hosted international teams such as the Soviet Union, China, Romania, Argentina and dozens more.

This was the first year without an international entry. Ernst, who wanted the opportunity to race the Ivy League, decided to invite both Cornell and Dartmouth. “It was their cup race, they were either going to race in Ithaca or Hanover, so we just moved the whole thing out here,” says Ernst.

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The University of Washington's men's crew in their final strokes of the 2013 Windermere Cup

The Windermere Cup falls in the middle of the US university racing season. The men's team is looking toward the IRA National Championship and the women to the NCAA National Championship, both to be held from 31 May to 2 June 2013. 
 
University rowing provides an opportunity for young athletes to train and study at the same time and for many athletes it creates a lasting rowing community. UW senior Alex Bunkers has raced at two World Rowing Under 23 Championships, but says that university rowing is different. "We live with these guys for four years, we practice with these guys for four years and we race with these guys for four years [...] it's pretty special."

Whyman and Meek, both international students, also appreciate the community created by university rowing. "It's just me out here, so the rowing community is my family. I rely on them, they're my teammates, they're my family, they're my sisters and I love them," says British born Whyman.

For full results from the Windermere Cup click here.

Special thanks to Gregg Bell, UW Director of Writing and author of the blog: Unleashed