Boys Back in the Boat and First Across the Line


The opening day of boating season this year amounted to history repeating itself between a Washington and Italian crew. The scenes echo this winter’s movie, The Boys in the Boat, which features the 1936 Washington crew racing in the Berlin Olympics, edging out an Italian boat. The replay of the historical face-off came during the Windermere Cup celebrations on Lake Washington. 

Nearly every year since 1987 on the first Saturday of May, John Jacobi, the founder of Windermere Real Estate, and the University of Washington join forces to expand the Seattle Yacht Club’s annual Opening Day Regatta. This event hosts thousands of athletes and spectators, with one grand finale race against an international crew. Afterward the Montlake Bridge opens for the afternoon’s boat parade. 

While countless yachts and excited boaters wait on the western side of the Montlake Cut, the University of Washington’s men’s and women’s varsity-8 boats line up against athletes from across the world to defend their home course. 

This day may kick off boating season but for some (like me, a cox) it is the end of the wintery time devoted to being on the water when no one else wants to be. The cold and wet Seattle winters are time spent when many people reflect on their past boating seasons and look forward to the upcoming ones. But not the rowers. 

“Seattle is defined by water, and we are really lucky that we can row year-round here,” University of Washington assistant rowing coach Sergio Espinoza says. “The rowers develop more from being on the water, but it is a really hard thing to do through the winter.” These gloomy winter days are when the Seattle crews set themselves apart from their opponents come springtime. 

This year, the University of Washington hosted the Italian National Team to race for the Windermere Cup. 

“In the summer leading up to the upcoming year, the coaches will look at historical trends and see if there is something meaningful to the year,” Coach Espinoza said. “This year, with all that has happened with Boys in the Boat movie and its being an Olympic year, it became quite clear that the Italians would be the crew to race.” 

The 1936 crew featured in the Boys in the Boat narrowly beat the Italians to earn gold in Hitler’s Germany, so this year, with more eyes on the sport after the release of the movie, and in anticipation of another Olympic summer, it was time to line up against the Italians again. 

But unlike the Boys from 1936, for some Washington oarsmen, this event meant racing against their home country. Oftentimes during the recruitment process, coaches at American universities branch outside of the United States and look for rowers from around the world to fill their roster. Giulio Acernese is an Italian rower, currently rowing for the University of Washington. 

“Everything changed with recruitment after I won a world championship with Italy for the first time,” Acernese said. “That is when I became a top recruit.” Acernese is now in his fourth and final year at UW and faced his home country in one of the final races in his collegiate rowing career. 

That meant Acernese and his Washington team raced against Acernese’s lifelong friends. “As much as I am proud of having represented the Italian National Team before, I am now a Washington Oarsman,” Acernese said. “At the end of the day, I am here to win with Washington no matter who is on the other side.” 

The University of Washington crews are no longer filled with all Washington-born rowers like the crew from 1936. Even so, this year’s Washington oarsman still clocked another win over the Italians, thanks in part to that long Seattle winter.

Tess Kadian
Tess Kadian
Tess Kadian is a part of the UW Journalism News Lab. 


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