Not only did the University of Washington (UW) sailing club dock boats on the Quad lawn, but they sailed them in the fountain, too. For over twenty years the University of Washington administration gave permission to the UW Yacht Club to demonstrate sailing in Drumheller Fountain, also known as the Frosh Pond. Besides initiating freshmen, the pond was used for log rolling contests by the Forestry department, and various engineering experiments. Just sailing around the pond was too calm for the adrenaline-powered UW sailors, so races were started. Sailing in a tight circle wasn’t the only challenge – with the fountains pouring water into the boat, the crew had to bail constantly while sailing.
The longest race was the Pond 500 in the spring of 1969. If a race car could do 500 laps around a track why couldn’t a dinghy sail around a pond that many times? 100 miles an hour vs. 4 miles an hour was the answer. After two hours, the race was called at 50 laps and the Bane team beat the Glug team. There were no dramatic crashes but the winning boat did capsize and start to sink!
The goal of the Pond 500 was that students would come to watch, get interested in sailing, and then attend the club’s Saturday open house on the bay below Husky Stadium. The first problem with this plan was that after the date was advertised in the UW Daily newspaper, somebody found out that the pond was going to be drained for maintenance that week. A “we’re sorry” announcement was placed in the paper and a new date was set. At the open house, students were to be introduced to the Husky sailboat, which was designed and built just for the University. The Penguins used in the pond were the design used in collegiate competition by 1970, but the Husky was the club’s winning boat when first raced in 1951.
The newspaper reported that the Open House was promised to go on as scheduled, “regardless of rain, sleet, or earthquakes.” The club was pretty sure that the bay would not be emptied like the pond was…
Back in the Frosh Pond, a boat filled with water from the fountains was only the start of the fiasco. The submerged pipes were also a significant hazard and required an attentive crew. The boat’s centerboard had to be raised to clear the pipes several times each lap of the pond.
Then, there were the geese. Besides being popular among students for pranks, ducks and geese loved the pond too. Of course, they left more than feathers in the pond. Swimmers itch had to be on each racer’s mind as he desperately tried not to capsize.
The last race in the pond was 1983 and the club had replaced the Penguins with Lasers. The single-handed Lasers would not sink, fortunately. Still fueled by adrenaline, the club’s skippers sailed a good part of the race standing up. The concrete seating rim of the pond was a hazard and there was potential damage to the fountain piping. With the pervasive fear of injury or negligence lawsuits, permission was no longer given after that year.
When sailors see the old movies and slides from that era, I’m sure, like me, they wish the Frosh Pond would open for sailing one more time.