Archive for Friday, October 12, 2007

At Washington, boatgating a tradition

Tennessee only other venue where fans take to the water before games

October 12, 2007

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Fans of the Washington and Ohio State teams ride the Good Time II Husky Boat past the Aurora Bridge on the way to the game Sept. 15 at Husky Stadium.

Fans of the Washington and Ohio State teams ride the Good Time II Husky Boat past the Aurora Bridge on the way to the game Sept. 15 at Husky Stadium.

— Brandie Hassing calls it her ballet, a choreographed symphony of boats being methodically maneuvered to create a floating community unlike any other in college football.

On Saturdays in the fall, the waters of Lake Washington on the southeastern edge of the University of Washington campus get morphed into a tailgating phenomena like no other.

"For me, it's almost addicting," said Hassing, who organizes the boat program that brings thousands of fans to each of Washington's home football games.

"It's an adrenaline rush when the boats start to come in."

Every school has it's own unique tailgating traditions, from lounging on The Grove at Mississippi to the Fifth Quarter at Wisconsin.

But Washington is one of only two venues in the country - along with Tennessee - where fans can take to the water and boatgate.

"I think it's pretty awesome," said Ginger Colburn, who takes a commercial charter boat to games. "It's a beautiful sight."

The landscape surrounding Husky Stadium on Saturday afternoon's isn't much different from tailgating elsewhere.

Grills smolder with the aroma of charcoal and fresh meat. Beers idly sit chilling inside coolers of ice.

Sure, there's a little Northwest flare - wild salmon is liable to be on the grill and handcrafted microbrews or a Chardonnay are often sipped.

But the drinks are being consumed at the stern of luxury boats. So, maybe it is a little different from brews and brats next to the Winnebago.

"It has always been popular," said Ken Winstead, who oversees the boat program for the Washington athletic department. "It grows as interest in the team grows."

About 250 boats have rights to a spot on the docks just outside the east entrance of Husky Stadium. Some make a weekend out of it, camping out overnight, then walking off their boats, over the wooden planks and into the stadium.

Others anchor farther out in the lake and take a university-run shuttle boat to shore.

The largest share of fans arriving by water come on of 10-15 boats chartered by various groups or companies.

And it's Hassing's job to oversee the operation, when she's not busy working as a full-time real estate agent or caring for her two kids.

"It's really hard to get the timing of the arrival of all the boats and the sizes and the boats keep getting bigger and bigger," Hassing said. "But the people work really well with us."

For Lane Hoss, vice president of marketing for Anthony's Restaurants, arriving at Husky Stadium by water is second nature.

Game days for her begin five hours before kickoff, helping decorate and prepare a rented charter boat the restaurant company uses to shuttle fans from its eatery at Seattle's Fisherman's Terminal.

"If I didn't work for (the company) I would ride this boat," she said.

Anthony's started running its boat in 1990. Owner Budd Gould was so intent on taking a boat to games that he purchased a defunct restaurant just to obtain a cruise boat permit that school officials said would be a 20-year wait. Gould never opened the restaurant.

The trip from Fisherman's Terminal lasts about an hour. It's a welcome option for fans who refuse to sit in the driving gridlock that engulfs the campus on game days, and those who want to enjoy the opportunity to relax on a self-proclaimed "floating bar."

It also gives fans a unique perspective of Seattle.

The trip starts at the home of the Washington commercial fishing fleet - with some of the Alaska crabbing boats made famous on television docked nearby - before heading out into the waterway that connects Puget Sound and Lake Washington.

Once in Lake Union, the boat passes many of the houseboats made famous by the movie "Sleepless in Seattle," before joining private boats coming from area marinas with Seattle skyscrapers as a backdrop. A flotilla of boats starts to form coming through the Montlake Cut near the university before joining the full community of vessels at the stadium.

"On beautiful days you have this whole lake full of private boats being shuttled in and you look up and see the stadium and start to hear the noise coming from the stadium. You get into the stadium and you look out and you see Lake Washington and you see the mountains and you see all the boats and it's a spectacular view," Hoss said.

Last month, when Ohio State visited, the boat was packed with 440 riders, many donning the scarlet and gray of the Buckeyes. That's typical. The novelty of boating to games draws a large number of out-of-town fans. Fans of Pac-10 schools that regularly make the trip to Seattle use the commercial boats as an opportunity to reconnect.

Of course, that leads to plenty of good-natured ribbing from the overwhelmingly Husky crowd.

"We're nice to the opposing teams to an extent," Hoss said.

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