Early on the first Saturday of May spectators begin to line the banks and walkways along Seattle’s Montlake Cut. The narrow waterway bordering the University of Washington campus links Lake Union with Lake Washington to the east. Above the cut, the Montlake Bridge’s giant green arms lift skyward at 1 p.m., signaling the Opening Day of boating season in Seattle.
Hundreds of pleasure boats, high-mast sailboats, and novelty crafts pass through the cut to Lake Washington during the three-hour regatta. Nine boats represent the Cougar Yacht Club (CYC). Decorated in shimmering crimson and gray streamers, they give Washington State University a prominent presence on Opening Day 2001. The historic tug Elmore leads the WSU flotilla with the 30-member Alumni Band aboard. As they navigate the canal, 120 WSU sailors aboard CYC boats sing the Cougar “Fight Song” to the band’s accompaniment. Many spectators along the cut join in and applaud.
The Elliot Bay Yacht Club (EBYC) sponsored the first Opening Day in 1909. Later that year, the EBYC and Seattle Yacht Club (SYC) merged under the latter name. In 1920, the SYC and the University of Washington became cosponsors of what would become an annual event.
WSU alumni Paul Sunich and Larry Culver are the push behind the CYC, which has 200 members in the Puget Sound area. Another 100 WSU boat owners have expressed an interest, says Sunich (’59 Const. Mgmt.), a Bremerton native, now of Bellevue.
A resident of nearby Newport Shores, Culver (’64 Hotel & Rest. Adm.) came to Washington from Kansas. As early members of the WSU Events Committee, he and Sunich helped plan activities for King County-area alumni.
“We kept looking at Opening Day as another opportunity to get Cougars together,” Culver said. “It seemed like a natural fit to promote WSU in a positive way on the west side.
Sunich took the lead. In 1984, he dolled up his 36-foot trawler, Solace, with Cougar colors. WSU’s lone entry in the regatta was judged the best-decorated powerboat. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “We were well accepted. No one threw eggs or tomatoes.”
During the first year of his two-year (1994 and 1995) reign as the SYC’s admiral of Opening Day, Sunich saw the need for more spirit in the regatta. “WSU was foremost in my mind to provide it,” he says. Culver and other boaters joined in the festivities. Every year since then, WSU has won the spirit classification hands down.
“It’s gotten to the point now where people expect to see us each year,” says Sunich.
Culver fondly recalls the CYC’s debut in the nautical review. “It was a great success. To our surprise, we were only ‘mooned’ a couple of times in the Montlake Cut.”
He adds, “The Cougar Yacht Club has brought together people we might have missed in some of our Alumni Association and WSU Foundation activities. They are going to be sending their kids to WSU and financially supporting the University. It’s been a great way to reunite Cougars. And we have fun doing it.”