Opening Day, the official opening of Seattle's boating season sponsored by Seattle Yacht Club, includes a celebration of many kinds of water activities. This year's festivities will include a morning of crew races, a sailboat race, and, of course, the grand Opening Day boat parade on Saturday, May 2, 2020.
From its earliest days Seattle has celebrated important occasions with water festivities.
One particularly notable early celebration was scheduled for the Fourth of July 1895. The papers reported that the Elliott Bay Yacht Club, the forerunner of the Seattle Yacht Club, held a regatta including several classes of boats in Elliott Bay. The grand climax was to be an illuminated naval parade at 9:00 p.m. on the bay followed by a naval sham battle. The Post Intelligencer described the scheduled events: " . . .a monitor is to be bombarded and then blown up. . . The parade will consist of two lines of yachts, brilliantly illuminated with Japanese lanterns and armed with Roman candles instead of cannons. The monitor will run the gauntlet, spitting red and blue balls at the fleet, which in return will bombard the monitor until her magazine catches fire and she blows up, throwing out myriads of stars, balls and rockets." Alas, the wind was too great for the event, extinguishing the candles, and the yachtsman and spectators went home disappointed.
In May 1908, the battleship brigade, later known as the Great White Fleet, stopped in Seattle on its round the world tour. Seattle organizers festooned the city, held land and water parades, dances and receptions to honor the fleet. Area yachtsman organized a welcoming committee to sail out and meet the visiting armada as it sailed into Elliott Bay.
The following year Seattle hosted the Alaskan-Yukon Exposition on the University of Washington campus. The Seattle Yacht Club acted as the official host to visiting boatmen. As part of the festivities, the Commodore and his club members arranged a public "Potlatch Parade" which took place at the Seattle Yacht Club clubhouse, which was still located in West Seattle.
According to the 1964 reminiscences of a Seattle Yacht Club member, the first Opening Day took place in early May 1913. He recalled a parade and a regatta in Elliott Bay.
The first Opening Day parade through the Montlake Cut was in 1920 after the Seattle Yacht Club moved to its new (and present) facilities in Portage Bay. Spectators lined both sides of the Cut to view the 25 or 30 boats as they paraded by, flying their dress flags. The boats finished the celebration with a regatta in Lake Washington sponsored by the Queen City Yacht Club.
The Opening Day Parade and Regatta became a spring tradition, which survived the war years. Opening Day 1946, was the biggest and most festive ever. It included members of every yacht club in Puget Sound and the Royal Vancouver and the Royal Victoria Yacht Clubs from British Columbia, Canada.
A theme was first used for the 1959 Opening Day, Hell's a Poppin, and, since then, participants have decorated their boats around a theme. Prizes are awarded to the best-decorated and best-dressed boats in several categories.
Over the years, Opening Day activities have changed. Events such as the University of Washington crew races have become a part of the day's traditional festivities. Many spectators watch these popular races through the Montlake Cut from the shore, boats or TV. Opening Day 2018 marks the 32nd anniversary of the Windermere Cup.
The commissioning ceremony on the Seattle Yacht Club lawn is attended by the Commodores of participating yacht clubs and starts off the Opening Day festivities. The clubs' burgees are hoisted, dignitaries are recognized, the Chaplin says a prayer, and the band plays!
As always, the Opening Day Parade starts at noon the first Saturday in May with the blast of a cannon and the raising of the Montlake Bridge. Seattle Yacht Club's Opening Day has become the nation's largest regional celebration of water, spring and the opening of boating season.
Participating yachts will be decorated to illustrate this year's theme for Opening Day, "Boating Through the Decades".
And, if tradition is honored, there will be sunshine, breezes and, maybe, a few showers.
Opening Day in Seattle is a family affair; families decorate their boats for the festivities and parades; families spread blankets on the shoreline and spend hours watching and picnicking. Families dream of the boats they someday will own.
The boating season officially never ends in the Seattle area. It tapers off during the blustery, wet days of winter, but the faithful keep sailing and cruising. Opening Day, however, kicks off a busy spring and summer of boating for many avid boaters in the Seattle area.
Opening Day offers some outstanding photo and story opportunities. You'll not find anything like it in the U.S. or, to our knowledge, in the world. The only thing comparable is an annual parade of commercial vessels in Venice, Italy.