The Varsity Boat Club was established in 1910 under Coach Hiram Conibear. That year, Conibear had taken over the Coast Guard exhibit on Lake Union after the Alaska Yukon Expedition had closed— “secured by Coach Conibear as training quarters for the crew…” according to the VBC logs—and the men needed an organization to cover the shared costs. Thus was born the VBC.
The team lived there through 1918, weathering the Pacific Northwest winters together in a building originally built as a temporary exhibit (and the thin walls reflected it) for the fair. Next door, in the former Tokyo Tea Room, George Pocock built shells and the women’s locker room was set up.
Throughout these times the team grew in strength and numbers. Strong, lifelong bonds were made, bonds that would lead to Rusty Callow saving Conibear’s job at one point, and bonds that ultimately would save the program from extinction following Conibear’s untimely death.
That same affinity exists today. The renovation of the shellhouse in 2004 would not have happened if not for the vast network of men and women VBC members who offered help. The current strength of the alumni organization supporting the team is a testament to the strength of the VBC, and the lifelong connection that is made while rowing at Washington. The VBC is at the same time a reflection of that shared experience, and an organization that preserves it.
Membership in the VBC is voluntary. All men and women participants at Washington are eligible for membership after rowing four quarters. Student officers include men’s and women’s Commodore, Purser, Logger, and other positions, with community service encouraged for members. The new member ceremony takes place at the annual VBC Banquet.