Men's Crew:


With Cal and Washington finishing within a deck of each other after four miles at the 1939 IRA, and both crews smashing the course record, the stage was set for this powerful rivalry to blossom into the next decade. Both Al Ulbrickson and Ky Ebright were confident of their chances as the thirties gave way to the forties.

And well they should have been. This decade will be remembered for some of the fastest, most dominant crews ever produced by the two universities. In fact, it is the only recorded time that both schools would win gold medals in the same Olympics. Unfortunately it is also a decade marked by war – a war that would impact the lives of everyone on campus – and in the end begin a new era in collegiate athletics, and the sport of rowing.


With renewed focus and a powerful sophomore class, turnout in the fall was spirited. Competition was wide open for the varsity and the junior varsity shells, and the afternoon workouts reflected it. After a pause in December, the crews were back on the water in January as Ulbrickson began to find the men that would fill his eights in the coming weeks. 

By April, he had settled on a sophomore dominated varsity boat, with Captain Paul Soules and coxswain Fred Colbert the only seniors in the boat. Ebright, on the other hand, was having trouble finding the line up he wanted – the day before the race he switched his JV’s to the varsity and vice versa. It probably didn’t matter; a testament to the depth and conditioning of the Washington squad, the Huskies went on to win both races on Lake Washington by open water, falling only in the freshman race.

The weather at Poughkeepsie was sunny and nice – until June 16th, the day of the races. Although neither Washington nor Cal entered the freshmen race in an effort to save money, both had entered the JV race, and at the start both made it about ten strokes from the stake boats before swamping – along with almost every crew on the water. The event was postponed until after the varsity race.

That would have been fine if the varsity race had gone off on time, but it too was postponed as the wind really began kicking up in the late afternoon. Finally, at 8 p.m., with the light of dusk quickly fading, the event was started. The race was a grueling ‘survival of the fittest’, with the crews rowing against the tide and the headwind; Washington prevailed by fighting off Cornell in the final strokes. It was a monumental victory against the waves, the wind, the fading light and ultimately, the strength of the competition.

The JV event was subsequently launched, but by now it was dark. Not just dusk dark – it was pitch black. There were no stake boats; the crews just lined up in the current and did their best to stay even before the start. Once started, only the sounds of the blades and the coxswains could it be known from shore that there was a crew race on. The finish line was marked by a naval destroyer’s search light cutting across the river. One by one the dark shadow of a shell would cross the high powered beam as the crews finished. By the time the three miles were over, the shells were strewn across the river, finishing next to others that had started lanes over. The judges would never have known who had won had it been a close finish; fortunately, the deep Washington JV squad crossed the line five lengths to the good over their closest rival, Navy. (Listen: Hear Vic Fomo describe this race from a 2006 interview – 1940 JV Final (mp3 file, 3 minutes).

The Loyal Shoudy banquet was one for the ages. The two top Washington crews had swept the river. The varsity had done it in the new shell the Loyal Shoudy, named for the man who had meant so much to Washington Rowing for decades. The JV’s had won in the dark. And the program, waning only fourteen months prior, was back on top with a vengeance.

The 1940 Tokyo Olympics had been cancelled earlier due to the threat of boycott and, ultimately, by the Japanese government (Japan was already at war in Asia). However, the games were then re-scheduled for Helsinki. As the German armies marched across Europe in the spring of 1940, those games too were cancelled, but not until mere weeks before the U.S. trials. The Games would not return for eight years.

Washington Rowing: 1940
The lightweight team of 1940, starting top left (left to right): Boney, Brugman, Cartwright, Coe, Cook, Fisher; Geisman, Hughes, Jenseth, LaMaine, LeCocq, Merrill; Miller, Monro, Morris, Overby, Pappas, Rutherford; Schwarz, Siceloff, Turner (capt.), Vidos, Whitney, Yantis. Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1940
The 1940 JV, left to right, bow to stern: Thompson, Simdars, Thomas, Gordon, Neill, Vincent, Douglas, Michalson, Fomo (cox). Regarding the race at night on the Hudson, Fomo said "...twenty strokes and we were out of there - I have never been in a boat that was so smooth and powerful." Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1940

Sources: The Tyee, 1931 pgs. 161-166;  VBC Log Book, 1926-1936, MSCUA.  Ready All!  George Yeoman Pocock and  Crew Racing, pg. 139 (1). 

Washington Rowing: 1941
The Varsity practicing on the Hudson. Archives and Special Collections at Marist
Washington Rowing: 1941
One of the best photos of the UW's Poughkeepsie Boathouse; every year the men would come back to this boathouse... what this historian would give to have some photos of the inside. But also a fantastic photo of the 1941 Varsity 8, without question one of the very best Washington crews of all time. Archives and Special Collections at Marist


Ulbrickson knew what he had in ’41 and was not afraid of pushing the men to meet his expectations. The men were hardly thrilled with it, as tough workouts and longer sessions became the norm even early in the year. By the spring however, the varsity had rowed one of the fastest 2000 meter time trials ever (the time to this day remains a mystery, as Ulbrickson would only say it was under six minutes). 

The crew was ready to defend their Pacific Coast titles and did so in resounding fashion, breaking the Estuary course record in both the varsity and JV events. Both races were competitive, with California boating strong crews. The JV event was the best race of the day, with the crews together down the course, Washington separating at the end for a one length win. For the second year in a row, the California freshmen defeated the Husky yearlings.

On to Poughkeepsie two months later, Ulbrickson confident in his team. The JV race played out similarly as the Dual, except that the roles were reversed: California got ahead and stayed ahead, winning the Kennedy Cup for the first time in the school’s history by about a length. The varsity race also played out similarly, only it was Washington with a repeat performance. The strength and endurance of Ulbrickson’s ’41 varsity was remarkable; they took a quick lead, Cal moved back to even by halfway – then Washington just pulled away. The crew won the Challenge Cup by two and a half lengths.

The 1941 varsity was one of the strongest ever boated by Ulbrickson. California had an excellent crew in 1941, and had to settle for second not once, but twice – and both times by open water. The New York Times sports section noted “Washington Wins IRA Regatta – Cornell wins Eastern Division” (1), a testament to the dominance west coast rowing held. In fact, since 1932, only Navy had snuck in a win (1938), between four Challenge Cup victories by Washington, and four by California.

It is unlikely the participants at the 1941 IRA could have foreseen the impending events of 1941 that would forever change our nation. Not much escaped change during the war years – in fact, the IRA, after being cancelled in 1942, would return in 1947 with a new format. The four mile varsity race was a casualty of those changes, and so the 1941 Washington varsity also holds the distinction of being the last crew to win the four mile collegiate IRA race.

Sources: The Tyee, 1931 pgs. 161-166;  VBC Log Book, 1926-1936, MSCUA.  Ready All!  George Yeoman Pocock and  Crew Racing, pg. 139 (1). 


The priorities on campus changed on December 7, 1941. Even so, as the young men prepared to enter the service, competition on the water remained intense. The veteran senior stroke Ted Garhart early in the season welcomed three newcomers into the varsity shell – Dave Roderick, Carl Schroeder, and Charles May – by turning around in his seat and saying “if you want to stay, you better get in shape – because we don’t lose.” (1)

California came north with another strong squad to row on the old Leschi to Madison Park course (the Sheridan Beach course was closed due to restrictions at the Sand Point Naval Air Station). This course, known for rough and windy conditions and famous for many earlier sinkings, was like glass on April 12th when the crews lined up.

The freshmen began the day by winning their two mile race by six lengths, defeating the Bears for the first time in three years. The JV’s followed with one of the closest races ever recorded on the three-mile course, winning by scant feet and once again defeating a highly regarded Cal team. The varsity finished the sweep with a win over the strong Bears by three lengths. All three crews set new records for the course (last raced on in 1930), with the JV’s most impressive, crushing the old record by thirty-one seconds and finishing about a second slower than the Varsity in their race.

With the 1942 IRA’s cancelled, the season ended with the Dual. Had the races been held, it is likely that Cal and Washington would have fought it out once again. Both of these squads were strong and deep. As it was, most of the graduating class went on to serve in the military. Ted Garhart, on his way to becoming a marine corps officer in the South Pacific, won the 1943 Seattle P-I Man of the Year award. He, along with teammates John Bracken and Vic Fomo, never lost a race as Huskies. 

Washington Rowing: 1942
The 1942 VBC Ball, with Paramount Pictures singer Evelyn Dinsmoor providing the entertainment. Per the Tyee: "Complying with the rule of no off-campus dances, chairman Jack Wilson took over the ROTC Armory. The Loyal Shoudy, the four years unbeaten racing shell, was part of the traditional nautical decorations. Crewmen turned all out for a final fling on the eve of training season." Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1942
One of the closest races ever on the Lake Washington three-mile course, the JV's inch out Cal at the line. The underdog Huskies were challenged every foot of the three miles by their coxswain Keith (Paul) Brown, who answered every move by Cal with a move of his own. (2) Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1943
The 1943 lightweight first boat, left to right: Stan Pocock, Jack Kriebel, Jack Kelsall, Don Ostrom, Phil Boguch, Bob Hutton, Roger Rice, Bill Wickman, Jerry Luther (cox). The lightweights won both of their races of the season - both against UBC - one at home, and the other on the Fraser River in British Columbia. Tyee photo.


With the war raging in Europe and the Pacific, enrollment at the University dropped dramatically. Gone to war were virtually all of the men out of the varsity and JV boats from the previous year, as well as many of the other oarsmen at the boathouse. The varsity was so depleted that by the spring of ’43, freshmen were rowing in the JV boat so that Ulbrickson could man two boats at practice. 

Thus the crew only sent two boats south (on a packed military train) to race the Bears on the Estuary, the varsity and a freshmen eight. The varsity was mowed down early, ultimately losing the three-miler by eight lengths. The freshmen eked out a win by bare inches to avoid the sweep.

The men came back home to Seattle to continue their education and military training. That fall, with the rowing program now cancelled for the duration of the war, Al Ulbrickson accepted the position as Athletic Director at the University (for the ASUW).


Even with the rowing program cancelled, the boathouse remained open for intramural rowing, and also a military program. Three days a week, Captain Paul Moore, head of the Marine Corp attachment at the University and a veteran of the war (he was stateside after a brush with death at Guadalcanal), “coached” a group of men in the V12 program out on the lake.

Two races were organized in these years – one against a group of coast guardsmen who were handily defeated, and another against UBC, who defeated the men representing Washington by a few feet.

But the focus was clearly on the war. The V12 was an organized program set up by the government to train new Naval officers. Upon graduation, those officers would report to duty overseas. The crew races – in fact all sport at the time – was a brief, welcome distraction from the all-consuming effort to win the war.

Gerald G. Luther, 1942 and 1943 Varsity Lightweight coxswain, was killed in action on January 7th, 1945, less than a month after being deployed to the French/German border with the 70th Infantry Division of the US Army (General Patton’s 3rd Army) in December of 1944. He was 22 when he lost his life.

Awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for valor and heroism, Sergeant Luther, engaged in close combat with German soldiers and “utterly disregarding the hazard of exposing himself to heavy enemy 88mm (artillery) and small arms fire, skillfully led his squad from house to house, pushing forward until his mission was successfully completed,” according to the Seattle Times article above. Two days later, he was killed saving three of his men from a grenade that landed in their foxhole. 

Washington Rowing: 1944
The 1944 Varsity Boat Club. Of those that were not already on active duty, training in the V12 was intense, demanding, and year-around. Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1946
The 1946 varsity, with the starboards to the starboard side of coxswain Bob Payne, and the ports to his port side (left to right): Bob McFarlane, Dave Thompson, John Anderson, Jim Tupper, Bob Payne (cox), Grant Bishop, Jim Horsley, Bill Works, Ted Gibson. Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1946
Nero was the boat of choice in March and April for Ulbrickson. It had been three years since formal turnouts at the boathouse and there were a lot of new faces - and a lot of remedial rowing required for the old faces. Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1946
The crew managers of 1946: freshmen managers front row left to right: Chuck Degginger, John Mucklestone, Roland Dick, Jack Gwinn, Ed Natchwey, Mitchell Montchalin, Joel Toothacker. Upperclass managers back row left to right: Bill Brooks, Bob Blancher, Phil Runkel, Bill Torrance, Bill Ellison, Bob Myer, Bruce Walter (senior manager). Tyee photo.


With victory in Europe on May 8th, followed by victory over Japan on August 6th, 1945, WWII came to an end. By the winter of 1945 – 46, men were trickling back to campuses across the country under the GI Bill.

Meanwhile Al Ulbrickson, offered the AD job again, politely declined and went back to his passion, rowing, in the early spring of ’46. Getting the boathouse back in condition was not easy, and it was not until March of 1946 that workouts began. Since most of those entering school had never held an oar, let alone sat in a shell, rowing was confined to Nero, and the wherries and barges. (1)

Down at Cal things were more serious. Once again, following in the wake of a forced hiatus due to war, a faction within the ASUC executive committee was bent on eliminating rowing. The reasons were complicated and yet they were not; since the beginning of intercollegiate rowing on the west coast there were those who were unhappy with the lack of revenue generated by the sport. It took quick action by a reinvigorated Ky Ebright to mobilize the students to maintain the program. Hence Cal also got a very late start on the season, boating crews in mid-spring. (2)

With no Dual race scheduled and the IRA’s remaining mothballed, the veteran supporters of rowing (led by former coxswain Curly Harris) and the Chamber of Commerce in Seattle began to talk about an all-comers regatta on Lake Washington. Through a fund raising drive that netted about $50,000, the hastily organized regatta attracted tens of thousands of spectators (some estimates put it at 100,000) to the shores of Lake Washington on June 22, 1946.

Entries included Washington, California, Harvard, Wisconsin, MIT, Cornell, Rutgers, and UBC. The course was 2000 meters, starting south of the floating bridge and finishing in the protected waters of Andrews Bay at the isthmus of Seward Park. On a windy day, Cornell won the race, with MIT second and Washington third. The boats furthest outside were awash in white caps early in the race and took on a lot of water, but that would be the least of their problems. After the regatta, as the countless watercraft went home, the combined wakes created a chaos of wash that sank every shell on the water. Every oarsman and coxswain swam that day, and only through the extraordinary effort of some boaters was no one injured.

Sunk crews or not, the final analysis of the regatta was a resounding success. It reinvigorated the community and created a national stir. Yes, it was very different from the IRA – shorter and on the opposite coast. But it was a good metaphor for the times. Sporting events could be enjoyed again. And things were different now – not yet definable, but different.

Time magazine covers this race noting the Conibear coaching legacies that came to Seattle that year – TIME Magazine Archive Article — A Sweep for Conibear — Jul. 01, 1946.


By the fall of 1946, young men fresh from the service were now flocking to universities across the country on the GI Bill. Similar to the years immediately following WWI, the “freshmen” entering the University were older, more physically mature, had recently experienced war first hand, and had returned home as heroes. A passion for life and a sense of great achievement bred a confidence rarely seen in whole generations. This generation now had it. 

The freshmen turnout outnumbered the varsity, and in that turnout were some imposing figures. So imposing in fact that by March the first freshmen boat was consistently beating not just the JV eight but the varsity as well. This trend would continue for the remainder of the year.

Cal came north for the first time since 1942 to resume the Dual on Lake Washington in April on the new Andrews Bay course, the course starting at the floating bridge and ending at Seward Park, a distance of about two and three-quarter miles (the freshmen race was two miles). The freshmen dominated their race from start to finish, and the JV’s won as well, coming back after a poor start to win by open water. The varsity started well and gradually drew out to a commanding open water lead. At about the two mile mark, the Washington stroke rate began to drop, and despite the pleadings of coxswain Bob Lee, the rate fell from a 32 to a 30, to a 28, and finally to 24 strokes per minute. California, maintaining a race stroke, passed the Huskies with about 100m to go, flying by a Washington varsity that drifted across the finish line. Ulbrickson attributed the loss to heat exhaustion in the unseasonably warm weather of a hot April day, with two men (including captain Bill Works) taken out of shells, one rushed to the hospital.

With the IRA’s scheduled for the first time since 1941, the crew looked for revenge. The varsity and JV traveled by rail first class (the first and only recorded time) thanks to the influence of Gordon Callow, following in his Dad’s footsteps as ASUW president. (1) The freshmen, left behind to finish class work, became the first Washington crew to travel by air, joining their teammates at Poughkeepsie.

On race day, the powerful freshmen never lost a beat, driving home a multiple length winner in the Steward’s Cup. The JV’s, having swapped out their stern pair for the varsity stern pair, fell to a re-made Cal JV; Ebright had taken five of his best frosh (Cal was a beneficiary of the GI Bill as well), combined them with three JV members, and produced a very fast hybrid JV boat at the IRA. The varsity, never able to gain the confidence critical to fast crews, fell to a fine Navy crew on the new three mile course, finishing third behind Cornell (but fulfilling Ulbrickson’s prediction that the varsity would beat Cal at Poughkeepsie) (2).

At the Loyal Shoudy banquet that followed the races, Ulbrickson also announced that he would race the undefeated freshmen as his varsity in the second annual Seattle Sprint race scheduled one week later (this was based on a six minute time trial he had run on the Hudson with all three crews, the freshmen once again coming out on top). On a special early run of the new Great Northern Railroad’s Olympian Hiawatha, eleven university crews got aboard in New York and went west together to race 2000 meters on Lake Washington (1).

With the full armada and a crowd now estimated at over 150,000, Lake Washington was a jewel on June 28th, 1947. With a north wind helping push the crews down the course, Yale jumped to a quick lead, with Cornell, Washington, Harvard, and Penn forming the lead group. At 1000m, Harvard powered to draw even with Yale, and at 1500 meters Washington began to move. On the sprint, Harvard moved ahead, followed by Yale and a now closing Washington crew. Harvard won in the fastest recorded 2000m race to date in 5:49.1, followed by Yale about a length back and Washington a deck shy of Yale.

It was a spectacular way to end a not so spectacular season. Eight freshmen earned varsity letters that day. The writing was on the wall for Ulbrickson – not since the classes of ’37 and ’41 did he have such a talented and deep group of freshmen.

And the long Olympic drought was finally over. Twelve years was a long time to wait – for every rowing program in the nation. But maybe even longer for Ulbrickson, who swallowed the bitter pill of watching the Olympics cancelled days before the 1940 trials, with his undefeated national champion varsity that year chomping at the bit. What a waste that was, and what an opportunity was at hand.

Washington Rowing: 1947
Ulbrickson addresses a huge group of men returning from the war on the G.I. Bill. The 1946 fall turnout was one of the largest on record. Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1947
Ulbrickson back at the helm for the first full season following the war. Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1947
Coaching down the Cut. Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1947
The 1947 freshmen: National IRA Champions and the Varsity boat (minus Bill Wall) in the Lake Washington Regatta. Left to right: Manford McNeil, Bill Wall, Bob Young, Dave Dixon, Norm Buvick, Bob Harris, Rod Johnson, Warren Westlund, and coxswain Al Morgan. Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1948
The University of Washington campus in 1948. Husky Rowing Foundation photo.
Washington Rowing: 1948
The JV's returning their shell to the boathouse after a practice spin on the course.
Washington Rowing: 1948
The stern four of the undefeated UW JV 8 and now the 1948 Olympic U.S.A. Four w/Coxswain, standing in front of the Princeton boathouse after winning the 4+ Trials on July 10th, 1948, left to right: Gus Giovanelli, Bob Will, Bob Martin, Warren Westlund, and coxswain Al Morgan. Photo from the Bob Martin collection - thank you David Koste.
Washington Rowing: 1948
The medal ceremony, standing as the American Flag is raised. The men reported later that they were so tired after this race that standing upright for the National Anthem was not easy. Photo from the Bob Martin collection - thank you David Koste.
Washington Rowing: 1948
Al Morgan with the best swim of his life, hitting the Thames as Olympic Champion. HRF photo


With Bud Raney leaving for Columbia, Gosta “Gus” Eriksen and Stan Pocock assumed the assistant coaching positions in the fall of 1947, Eriksen coaching the freshmen, and Pocock the lightweights. Eriksen, already a rowing legend from the thirties and previously the skiing and swimming coach at the University, had at least 200 freshmen turning out in the fall.

The varsity was equally as deep – young, but deep. As the winter gave way to the spring the crews became intensely competitive, an environment that Ulbrickson, over the years, had consistently fostered. Unfortunately, by the end of the year, he had a JV and Varsity crew that would not talk to each other.

But the results on the water on May 22nd would speak volumes for the talent on this team. On the Estuary, the freshmen began the day with a two length win over the Bears; the JV’s followed up with a three length win; the varsity finished the day with a three length win. In all three races Cal took the early lead, and in the JV and Varsity events were ahead through the mile and a quarter mark, before Washington’s strength and endurance carried the crews past their competition.

About a week later on Lake Washington, the Huskies earned multiple length victories over a visiting Wisconsin JV and varsity crew. With that tune-up the men headed east for the Hudson.

On June 22nd, the freshmen again led the charge at the IRA’s with a resounding victory in the Steward’s Cup. After a boat stopping crab in the first ten strokes, the crew settled down to overtake every other crew in the race, finally driving past the favored Navy crew to win going away by two lengths. The strong JV’s, favored to win, did so from start to finish, winning by three lengths. The varsity started well and settled to a 32, then mid-race began to move through the leaders. They passed the final crew, Navy, at two miles and finished the race in a sprint to win by two lengths, completing the third sweep for the Huskies at the IRA (the two previous were ’36 and ’37).

The next week was spent at Lake Carnegie quickly re-training for the 2000m Olympic trials. Both the varsity eight and the stern four of the JV eight went to Princeton to race, with the varsity heavily favored based on their undefeated season. In their first heat, the varsity defeated MIT and Wisconsin handily, moving to the semi-final against Cal.

On July 2nd, the varsity lined up against Cal. Cal had stayed with Washington in the first mile of each previous three-mile race, so the Huskies knew the crew had early strength. What they did not know is Cal felt convinced they could win this race based on a sub-par performance at the IRA. Cal took an early lead in the race, with Washington staying within reach, but with 500m to go Washington was behind by 3/4 length. A furious finishing sprint brought the crew back rapidly, but California won by a stunning three feet.

On July 10th, the Husky 4+ bested eleven other entrants at the Trials to become the U.S. representative in the fours competition. The crew sailed to London without Al Ulbrickson; he had declined the invitation to be small boats coach, ceding the job to George Pocock, who was already slated as rigger for the team. The SS America was equipped on deck with four ergometers, which the athletes shared with their new California teammates daily.

The course was at Henley. There were over 200 other crews and boats there practicing for the multiple Olympic events, and it was crowded. No launches were permitted on the course, meaning coaches on bicycles, speaking countless languages, competed for space on a three-foot wide path. Pocock, the former English sculling champion born and raised on the Thames near Eton, knew where they needed to go; eight miles down the river was a boathouse at Marlow with four miles of open water for training – and no limitations on launches. Ky Ebright did not hesitate: the two found a launch, the crews rowed the eight miles (and two locks) down the river, and there the California eight and the Washington four trained for an intense and private week as teammates.

The four began competition by defeating Finland by two lengths to advance into one of the three semis; but due to the narrowness of the Henley course, only the winner of the semis would advance to the final. In a narrow and shaky win over France that same afternoon (high stroking the first half and almost running out of gas at the finish), they won their semi to row in the medal final. Two days later, on Monday, August 9, 1948, the team lined up on the “Berks” (club) side of the river, with Switzerland to their right and Denmark a lane over from there. The men knew the other crews would jump ahead; but this time, sticking to their Pocock race plan for swing and patience (and understroking the competition), by midway through the Thames course they had pulled even with the excellent Danish squad; by 500 meters to go, the five young men from Seattle had taken the lead. In a powerful sprint – with plenty left in the tank this time around – the Husky 4+ finished two lengths ahead of second place Switzerland to win the Olympic gold, Denmark finishing third.

Later that day, California won the third Olympic gold medal of Ky Ebright’s career in the eights competition. The eight and the four were the only U.S. crews that won gold that day (the rest did not medal except the four without coxswain, which won bronze).

1948 was a watershed year for rowing at Washington. The gold medal in the four would bring on the support needed to build a new, state of the art rowing facility at Washington. The IRA sweep was a monumental achievement of Ulbrickson and his staff, and the publicity surrounding this golden year would resonate for years in Seattle.

Yet history would suggest that it was also a turning point in Ulbrickson’s career. The loss at the trials of the eight, most observers would agree, was crushing. For his highly favored and undefeated crew to lose to Ky Ebright – a man he respected as his ultimate competitor – made it worse. By three feet. The man of few words became the man of no words.

Meanwhile, the post-war economy was booming. University athletic budgets were growing. Ulbrickson, at his summer home on Orcas Island, was preparing for the next season. And although the coach would continue on for another ten years and savor the glory of victory on international waters again, 1948 remains a season that marks a turning point for the program. A new era in Washington rowing – and collegiate rowing – was beginning.


The season started in October for the men, with another huge turnout of freshmen for Gus Eriksen and a slew of experienced, champion oarsmen returning to Ulbrickson. With the Olympic results and IRA victories still fresh in the mind of everyone surrounding the program, turnouts were spirited.

Meanwhile, Curly Harris, former coxswain and booster (he was the main force behind the ’46 and ’47 Seattle regattas, and served as the Director of the Alumni Association from 1936 to 1964) was busy in Olympia selling the legislature on a new crewhouse. Placed into an appropriations bill and receiving broad support, the University was provided $365,000 to build a new facility for the team – Conibear Shellhouse. The plan included a large shop for George Pocock, dining facilities for the team, a large lounge area, and space for 42 shells (the dormitory rooms on both wings were added in 1965). By the spring of 1949 the building was under construction. By the fall, it was nearing completion. From proposal to reality – from funding to design to completion – took about twelve months.

The idea of having one central location for the team was a dream come true – going back to the Conibear days. The VBC had not rented out a house since prior to the war, so the opportunity to live together was new to this generation and overdue. Once ground was broken in the spring, the prospect of this new building boosted morale that much more. And morale was important, since miserable weather in the spring of ’49 had prevented the crews from ever getting in a three mile time trial.

California came north on a beautiful spring day. Eriksen’s freshmen once again defeated their rivals, but the JV’s were whipped by California. The varsity was confident, and cruised out to a length lead on the Seward Park 2.75 mile course. Cruising down the course and in command of the race with about ten strokes to go, a starboard oar caught a crab, and in prying it out jammed the shell to port where the entire port side crabbed. The shell turned perpendicular to the course. California just rowed on by.

Bent on revenge, the crews focused on the IRA. Stopping at Madison on the way east, the crews defeated Wisconsin, with a vastly improved JV squad winning by seven lengths over their Badger foes. In fact, by the time the crews had reached Poughkeepsie, Ulbrickson had (again) decided to pit his two upper class crews against each other for the right to row in the varsity race. The varsity boat prevailed, but not without a fierce challenge from the JV squad.

The 1949 IRA regatta would be the last one ever held at Poughkeepsie. The race, due to the rapidly gaining popularity of rowing, was simply outgrowing the venue. Furthermore, there was no shortage of other cities interested in hosting a national championship regatta. The current, the tides, the wind and weather – all of these were tolerable when there were six or eight crews lined up; but in 1949, there were twelve boats across the river in the Challenge Cup. Who had the best current? What about the wind? Add to those questions the rapid and dramatic post-war changes transforming the country, and the prevailing sentiment was that it was time for change.

So, true to form, race day turned ugly. In a downpour so heavy the crews disappeared from sight, all of the freshmen contestants had to row back to the docks to empty the rainwater from their shells. Once back on the water and started, the damp Huskies jumped to an early lead and never relinquished, winning by a half length of open water over Cornell.

Not unlike previous events on the Hudson, the JV race was subsequently postponed to get in the varsity race before dusk. With dark clouds hanging over the course and lightning striking all around (a strike hit the bridge a half mile from the finish during the race), the twelve crews fought down the river, with California prevailing over the Huskies by a half length.

In the following JV race, amid the gathering darkness, a false start created such confusion that Washington and Penn, fighting neck and neck, did not stop until over a mile into the race. Once restarted, Washington jumped out quickly and Penn had no answer, falling to fourth as the Huskies won going away by three lengths.

That summer, the team would begin the move out of the old Navy hangar that had served as home since Ed Leader had taken over the crew from his mentor, Hiram Conibear back in 1919. They took with them the Kennedy Cup and the Stewards Cup to go in the new trophy case – and left room for the coveted piece of hardware that had alluded them in the gloom of Poughkeepsie.

Washington Rowing: 1949
Ulbrickson striking the "crew coach" pose in his office while talking with the guys. Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1949
Conibear Shellhouse around completion, in the fall of 1949. Note the absence of docks (it will become an issue). Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1949
Some of the guys posing on the deck of the new crewhouse. Tyee photo.
Washington Rowing: 1949
An aerial shot of the new building. What you don't see in this picture is the massive, active landfill (garbage dump) directly to the north and east of the crewhouse. The dump was filled over in the sixties; prior to that, on a warm day with a north wind, look out. And on any day, the rats. Tyee photo.

Sources for the 40’s: University of Washington, The Tyee, 1941 -1950;  VBC Log Book, 1936-1955, MSCUA;  The Log of Rowing at the University of California, 1870-1987, Jim Lemmon;  Ready All!  George Yeoman Pocock and  Crew Racing, Gordon Newell;  “Way Enough”, Recollections of a Life in Rowing;  Stan Pocock; Masters Thesis: The History of Intercollegiate Rowing at the University of Washington through 1963, Al Ulbrickson Jr.;  The Seattle Post Intelligencer, various articles (specifics available on request); The Seattle Daily Times, various articles (specifics available on request);  A Short History of American Rowing, Thomas Mendenhall;  Interviews with Ted Alderson, Vic Fomo, Bob Payne, and Jim Tupper, 12/02.