Vashon Island Rowing Club Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Vashon Island Rowing Club Celebrates 25th Anniversary

The ad read: “Women starting rowing club. Need coach, boat & enthusiastic women.  Call [number] if interested in participating. No experience necessary.”  Twenty five years ago Celia Congdon decided she needed something to fill the hole that her husband, Rich Bard, left each summer during his forays to coastal Alaska.  With that ad the Vashon Island Women’s Rowing Club was born.  Fourteen intrepid women formed the first crew team on the island obtaining used shells from other area clubs and rowing from the waterfront yard of Marion and Ron Robbins off Governor’s Lane.    In 1995 several husbands and other men joined in and it morphed from a women’s club to the Vashon Island Rowing Club we know today.   In 1996 a junior program was added and slowly the club has grown to its current level of about 110 masters and juniors rowers.

Coaching has evolved as the club has grown.  Claire Lichtenfels and Meg Schoch anchored the coaching chores in the early days.  In the first decade of the new millennium the club found a coaching formula with a succession of former University of Washington national champions rotating through the position.  And for the past four years seasoned international veteran Richard Parr has brought the entire club to a new level of rowing performance and regatta success.

More than 500 island masters and juniors have participated in the sport on the Island with more than 50 juniors and 20 masters going on to row at the national and world championship levels.  Such a presence at this level of competition is truly remarkable for so small a demographic.  It truly must be something in the water!!

In 2000 after stints rowing from Gary and Grace Christopherson’s Quartermaster Drive property and Camp Burton, support from the state’s Aquatic Lands Enhancement Act (ALEA) program and the Vashon Park District allowed the design and construction of a permanent boathouse at Jensen Point.  At this location the club’s fleet of rowing shells has grown to more than 20.

You may have noticed the curious architecture of the boathouse that, as viewed from the Burton loop, appears to be only two thirds built (with the southern third missing).   In fact that is exactly what happened.  After the boathouse was designed reviews by the county fire marshal determined that a building of that size required a sprinkler system. That wasn’t feasible, so the building was reduced to the maximum size allowed without a sprinkler system.

Fast-forward to 2015 and the current fire marshal has ruled that a monitored fire alarm will provide sufficient protection for the building to be completed.  At the 25th Anniversary celebration at Jensen Point Club President Colby Atwood announced that plans to complete the boathouse are underway financed by a combination of grants and private donations.   Although it seems incongruous viewed from the start of the club 25 years ago rowing out of back yards with one or two shells in the fleet, it is a very positive step for the club to have additional space to be able to expand its juniors program and extend more rowing opportunities to others in the community.  In fact a major source of growth of the masters program in recent years has come through parents of juniors learning to row.

On Saturday July 25th more than 100 former, current and prospective Island rowers gathered for a salmon bake and potluck at Jensen Point to celebrate a remarkable 25 years and look ahead to the next 25.  If you are interested in learning to row or are a former rower looking to reconnect with the sport go to for more information.

Article by Pat Call.

Leave a Reply