A light mist rises over the waters as a grey outline of a four-person boat glides its way across the waters of Fidalgo Bay. No, this is not a scene from the popular film, “Boys In The Boat,” but expert rowers from the Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society (OARS), whose mission is, “Rowing together to enjoy, honor, and promote wooden boats and small craft traditions.”

Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society Crew members practicing a crew overboard drill. Photo courtesy: Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society

Four Decades of Rowing History in Anacortes

Established in 1978 by local wooden boat enthusiasts, Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society has grown to 152-plus members who maintain the fleet, engage in building wooden boat projects like their Island Star, and actively participate in community events.

The current president, John Okerman, joined three years ago after seeing an advertisement in the local paper. It read, “Try out a free row.” He did and has been rowing ever since. After a few months, he worked towards his Master Rowing Certification. Usually sitting in the coxswain seat, he heads out on a row every Wednesday, some weeks making time for a second or third row. “It’s fun and a great way to get outdoors and stay active,” says 80-year-old Okerman. “And it helps keep me young.”

Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society members working one of the boats docked at Cap Sante Marina. Photo courtesy: Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society

Row with Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society

Beyond rowing, the group takes pride in supporting the Anacortes Waterfront Alliance and offers inclusive programs for all, emphasizing a shared passion for wooden boats and maritime heritage. “Come out and try it,” says Okerman. “Regardless of your boating skills, the people are friendly and it is great exercise.”

No special skills or training is required to get started with Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society. They offer free introductory rows for those curious about the experience. A crew typically rows for an hour, departing from Cap Sante Marina and exploring Fidalgo Bay. Boats are conveniently housed under an all-weather shed for year-round access.

In their wooden boats called gigs and wherries, four rowers each wield a single oar, guided by a coxswain. It is common to encounter marine wildlife like harbor seals, otters, ospreys and bald eagles during your rows. Enjoy close-up views of fishing boats, yachts, tugs, and ships at the Port of Anacortes dock, as well as the bustling boatyards on the Guemes Channel.

This invigorating hour at sea emphasizes fun and camaraderie, with crews rowing at their own pace. “It is the people I like the best,” shares Okerman about why he rows. OARS focuses on the joy of rowing rather than competitive racing, and while there are opportunities for those interested in training, they don’t provide racing shells for crews.

the Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society Women Racing Team Photo courtesy: Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society

The Old Wooden Boats Of OARS in Anacortes

Experience the timeless charm of Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society through their collection of classic wooden boats. According to Okerman, they take great pride in maintaining and showcasing these vessels at local parades and events. As a member, you quickly develop an appreciation for the craftsmanship evident in these beautiful boats, connecting them to a rich nautical history. The club delves into the past, mastering boat parts, tying centuries-old knots, and using traditional commands like “Give Way Together,” meaning they row together in a forward direction.

OARS boasts a fleet of six distinctive boats:

  • Three classic wooden gigs: Erica, Glide, and Island Star.
  • A modern composite wherry named Annie C.
  • A rowing and sailing wooden longboat – the Elizabeth Bonaventure.
  • A Queen’s gig, designed for a single rower using a single pair of oars – the Rescue.

The large gigs and the wherry, featuring four rowers each with a single oar, are the daily go-tos, guided by a coxswain. These are the ones you will see gliding along Fidalgo Bay. The longboat, equipped with eight oars and three masts, plays a vital role in marine education programs for secondary students.

“Come on out and try it!” says Okerman. “You will discover it is fun, friendly, and all at a great price.” For more information, visit the Old Anacortes Rowing and Sailing Society website.

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