Before Major league sports in Seattle, boat racing was king and the Sammamish Slough Race was one of the premier Northwest events. Every April, thousands of spectators watched drivers jump logs and dodge bridge pilings on the narrow and winding 13-mile slough from Lake Washington to Lake Sammamish.
Steve Greaves, a four-time slough racer and national champion boat racer, will share the history and memories of this era at 10:30 a.m. on April 12 at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center, 16600 N.E. 80th St. He is speaking as part of the Redmond Historical Society Saturday Speaker Series and will be joined by a panel of other former racers: Dave Culley, John Laird, Lee Sutter and Drew Thompson, as well as former race official Penny Anderson. A boat will also be on display outside. There is a suggested $5 donation for non-members.
“It was a challenging race as it had 63 turns and a lot of unpredictable obstacles. I remember coming around a bend going through Redmond and having to dodge a cow getting a drink in the water,” recalls Greaves, who participated in his first race at age 14 and went on to set more than 30 world and national water speed records.
The races ran from 1933 to 1976. Unofficial estimates of 40,000 or more fans lined the river banks and bridges. The boats were loud and the action was only 15 feet away from spectators. Photographers positioned themselves to capture crashes and helicopters flew overhead for local radio coverage. The event ended after 1976 as permitting and insurance costs became a burden for the organizers.
According to Greaves, “Many nationally known boat racers honed their skills in the Sammamish Slough Race. There was really nothing like it in country. Even today most will tell you it was one of their favorites. It was certainly the craziest.”
The races return with the Kenmore Hydroplane Cup, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. this Saturday at the north end of Lake Washington at the newly remodeled Kenmore Boat Launch. The timed exhibition race will feature a variety of boats including two cylinder and three-and-up cylinder boats, Native American war canoes, junior hydroplanes and RC hydroplane demonstration. Competitors will race one or two boats at a time up the Sammamish River, navigate around the challenging oval course and back to the Kenmore Boat Launch. The racing will feature competitors from the Seattle Outboard Association.
Saturday Speaker Series topics range from local, state and Pacific Northwest historical interest.
The Redmond Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that receives support from the City of Redmond, 4 Culture, Nintendo, the Bellevue Collection and Humanities Washington as well as from other donors and members.