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.”

The Elmore: Dee and Sara Meek bring historic tug back to life

“The engine, all the
machinery, generator, water pumps—anything that went round and
round—had to be replaced.”

—Sara Meek

After a 37-year career as a veterinarian, Dee Meek yearned for
something to keep him “physically active and happy in retirement.”
He found it—and a new lifestyle—in an historic tugboat.

In 1990, he and his wife, Sara, purchased the Elmore and
began restoring her. By coincidence, the 78-by-20-foot wooden
vessel was built in 1890, the same year Washington State University
was founded. Meek earned his D.V.M. at WSU in 1962. Now, the couple
gives the Elmore the same degree of attention Meek provided
animals at the Animal Medical Center in Richland before selling the
practice to devote more time to the boat. For 40 weekends a year
from 1990 to 1998, they would leave the Tri-Cities on Friday
afternoon and drive to Bainbridge Island to work on the boat. On
Sunday evening they’d return home.

“Work on a boat like this—or any boat—is never done,” Meek says.
“It’s just a series of projects in progress. If you looked at it as
a whole, it would be overwhelming.”

On this particular Saturday morning—May 4, 2001—the
Elmore is moored to a pier on Seattle’s Lake Union. Meek
sits on the boat’s low railing. He’s waiting for eight other boats
in the Cougar Yacht Club to form a flotilla as part of the opening
day of boating season celebration in Seattle. As he waits, he
shares the Elmore’s history.

More than 100 years ago, she plied the Columbia and Tillamook
rivers between Astoria and Tillamook, carrying cargo and
passengers. For two seasons during the Gold Rush, she ferried
passengers and equipment from Puget Sound to Alaska, one of two
known boats still afloat that can claim that distinction. Later,
under new owners, she provided service between Nome and Colvin Bay.
For a while, she was located at Ketchikan, and then returned to
Puget Sound. Her cabin was rebuilt, and she became the flagship of
the American Tug Boat Co. in Everett.

According to one account, a fire in the early 1920s destroyed
her cabin and deck. She was extensively rebuilt in 1922, emerging
as a fish carrier and the present tug Elmore. Beginning in
1930, she was used exclusively as a tug, working Puget Sound and
British Columbia waters. In 1970, the Puget Sound Tug and Barge Co.
purchased her, and a decade later was making preparations to
scuttle her. But the once grand boat was spared. David Updike of
Seattle purchased her. He refurbished the Elmore, converting
her to a live-aboard on the Snohomish River. Eventually she was
sold to Everett shipwright Floyd Waite.

The hull and engine were still sound when the Meeks acquired
her. They redecked the upper and lower decks with Douglas fir and
replaced the cabin’s beams.

When the Elmore’s crankshaft broke during an outing in
1993, the Meeks had the 500-horsepower Caterpillar engine
dismantled and lifted out piece by piece.

“The engine, all the machinery, generator, water pumps—anything
that went round and round—had to be replaced,” said Sara.

The tug was fitted with a smaller 110-horsepower Atlas Imperial
engine built in 1940.

“The Atlas Imperial better fits her history,” Sara said. “You
can see the pistons go up and down.” The engine is more economical,
too. Rather than using 17 gallons of diesel fuel per hour towing,
it uses five gallons.

The Elmore cruises at 325 rpms, idles at 160 rpms, turns
a 50-inch propeller, and draws 10 feet of water. From waterline to
the top of the maroon stack bearing the large white numerals
“1890,” she measures 42 feet. She sleeps six, “more in a pinch.”
The boat can carry 3,500 gallons of diesel fuel, “enough to get us
to Japan, if we wanted to,” Meek says, and 1,000 gallons of water.
An on-board watermaker converts seawater to fresh water.

Meek is at home in the engine room, where tools and wrenches of
every description hang on the wall. Nearby is a drill press and
welding equipment. “Occasionally we need to manufacture our own
parts.”

About three years ago, the Meeks moved the Elmore to Port
Hadlock on the Olympic Peninsula. In the summer of 2000, they spent
four months in Alaska, traveling almost as far north as Juneau. The
previous year, they journeyed in northern British Columbia
waters.

“It’s wonderful,” says Sara.

Her husband adds, “Life as ‘live-aboards’ is 20 percent work, 80
percent pleasure.”