Photo by AJ Canaria

The Windermere Cup got its start in 1987, when Windermere Real Estate founder, John Jacobi, joined up with the University of Washington to create an annual rowing event. They wanted to bring the best team in the world to Seattle's Montlake Cut, which at the time was the Soviet Union. That occasion marked one of the few athletic competitions for the Soviets inside the U.S. in 25 years, since relations were strained during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviet Union brought both its men's and women's crews and won both races in convincing fashion. After that, the precedent was set for what has become one of the world's premier rowing events, and certainly a staple of Seattle's rowing community.

This is the story of the people who turned a Cold War idea into an enduring, world-renowned rowing event.

The Windermere Cup

As the United States and the Soviet Union remained enemies in the late 1980s, an unlikely man had an idea to make Seattle’s opening-day rowing regatta grand. Unlikely because he was the founder of a real estate company who had never rowed competitively a day in his life.

Windermere Real Estate founder John Jacobi’s idea took form – almost overnight – through the help of an eclectic and dynamic cast. University of Washington coaches and administrators. State, local and national officials. U.S. congressmen. International, side-door diplomats. And, most of all, the rowers. They made the first, improbable Windermere Cup in 1987, the one that helped the Cold War thaw.

Author Gregg Bell describes that first historic event when the Soviet Union’s national crew team came to Seattle to race against the nationally ranked University of Washington Huskies. He tells stories of the Soviets suspecting UW coach Bob Ernst, their escort, was a CIA agent, of Russian athletes trading USSR team gear for American blue jeans and cassette tapes. He details the first race’s signature moment: the UW and Soviet rowers trading their jerseys and splitting their crews to row each team’s boat back to the boathouse after the finish to this new Windermere Cup.


The history and stories grew from there. Like how half of Romania’s national women’s crew deserted their team and country at the 2001 Windermere Cup to hide in Seattle and defect to new lives in America. Or the Lithuanian rower Kestas Serevia who escaped Soviet occupation in his native Lithuania to row for Washington, eventually making the U.S. his permanent home. There’s also the story of Croatian Ante Kusurin who left behind his country during its war with Serbia to row for the UW, and his adjustment to rowing alongside Serbian teammates. And in what is still considered the biggest upset in Windermere Cup history, the year the Australian Olympic veterans came to Seattle, partying the week away before an epic loss to the Washington men.

This book is for and about those athletes, the colorful characters and brilliant people the Windermere Cup has featured every first Saturday in May since 1987. Through interviews, original documents and pages upon pages of breathtaking photographs, Bell captures this event’s history, spirit, and soul.

All Time Results

all time results

About Our Partners

All in, for Seattle.

The Windermere Cup has grown into a cherished Northwest tradition. We feel fortunate to partner with other iconic Seattle-area businesses to bring this event to our community.

University of Washington 

A team of members from Washington Athletics and Washington Rowing, work with us to bring the best teams in the world to Seattle to compete in the Windermere Cup Regatta. Rowing is one of the oldest sports at the University, beginning in 1899 with support from the local business community. In 1903 Washington Rowing entered its first intercollegiate competition beating California, starting a longtime rivalry with the college and a culture of winning for the UW. In the 1936 Olympics, the Washington team won the Gold Medal defeating the German National Team as told in the #1 New York Times best-selling story, The Boys in the Boat. Washington Rowing has become one of the best rowing programs in the world. It’s state-of-the-art training facility, located on the UW campus and shores of Lake Washington, next to Seattle’s iconic Montlake Cut, attracts the best student-athletes from not only the Pacific Northwest but from around the world.


Seattle Yacht Club 

The Seattle Yacht Club (SYC) started the time- honored tradition of Seattle’s Opening Day of Boating Season more than 100 years ago. Hundreds of SYC volunteers work to produce the celebration each year. The SYC added crew races to the Opening Day festivities 50 years ago this year, and allowed Windermere Real Estate to sponsor the crew races beginning in 1987. Windermere Cup would not have been born without the Opening Day event that put a spotlight on the world-class arena that the Montlake Cut provides for rowing. The combination of the Windermere Cup races and Seattle Yacht Club’s Opening Day Boat Parade, creates a perfect “celebration of community & sport”.


Gentle Giants Moving Company

The Gentle Giant Moving Company is the official moving company of the Windermere Cup Regatta and the presenting sponsor of the Windermere Cup Shore Party. The award-winning moving company offers highly trained, professional movers who are adept at navigating all types of moves from apartments to condos to homes to commercial properties throughout Western Washington. Many of the “Giants” are former collegiate rowers, some Olympics qualified. They understand the importance of being a team as well as giving back to the community.


George Pocock Rowing Foundation

Windermere shares the belief that rowing can transform lives. The George Pocock Rowing Foundation (completely independent of the Pocock Rowing Center) was created in 1984 as a non-profit foundation in memory of George Pocock and his contributions to the sport of rowing, and to support the development of rowing throughout the Pacific Northwest. Operating with the belief that rowing has the capacity to transform lives, the Foundation works to provide everyone (regardless of income), the opportunity to experience the power of belonging to a team and having a seat amongst a crew. With a primary focus on youth participation, the GPRF programs and scholarships provide an inclusive, innovative, and intentional rowing community for any and all youth. The GPRF has been instrumental in the development of outreach programs including Lakeside LEEP, Girls Row, Orion Center, City of Seattle Special Populations program, Rainier Valley Rowing, Row to the Future, with their most recent initiative being a comprehensive physical education program 'Erg Ed' with the Seattle Public Schools.

The Home Depot

To add a fun children’s element to the festivities, the Home Depot brings a crew of employees to the shore and sets up a tent where kids can come and build and paint their own boat to enjoy for the coming summer months.   


Georgetown Brewing Company 

The Official Beer Sponsor of the Windermere Cup. Georgetown Brewing Company started in 2002 by two friends, Manny Chao and Roger Bialous who liked beer a lot. Today, Georgetown Brewing Company is the largest independent brewery in Washington State.


San Juan Seltzer

The Official Seltzer of the Windermere Cup. The idea for the #1 local, craft PNW spiked seltzer was born during a girl’s weekend in the San Juan Islands, where founder Katy Enger and friends agreed upon the need for a gluten-free, keto friendly, 0 sugar and 0 carb spiked seltzer. San Juan Seltzer is now available in 6 delicious PNW flavors: Huckleberry, Fuji Apple, Rainier Cherry, Raspberry-Cran, Peach Rosè and Dry Rosè!


Talking Rain 

The Official Sparkling Water of the Windermere Cup. Talking Rain, like Windermere, shares Pacific Northwest roots and a culture that’s approachable and transparent, emphasizing accountability and empowerment. What once started as a small team in Preston Washington is now a market leader in the U.S. with continuing expansion across the globe. They have been a generous partner of the Windermere Cup for the past decade.


Liquid IV

The Official Hydration Pack of the Windermere Cup. 

About Windermere Real Estate

When John Jacobi founded Windermere Real Estate in 1972, he had a vision for the way real estate should work: anticipate and respond to the needs of buyers and sellers, and support the communities you serve. While other real estate companies were focused on size and sales, his goal was to earn the respect of the communities where he and his agents worked and lived. More than four decades later, John Jacobi’s humble beginnings have gone from a single office with eight agents to a network of 300 offices and more than 6,500 agents throughout the Western United States. See our historical timeline to learn more about Windermere through the years.

Windermere's second-generation leadership: OB Jacobi, Jill Jacobi Wood, Geoff Wood
Windermere's second-generation leadership: OB Jacobi, Jill Jacobi Wood, Geoff Wood

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