Historic Vessel from NWMC Takes Center Stage in New Museum Exhibit

A historic boat from Northwest Maritime Center’s collection will be getting its time in the limelight with a new exhibit at Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI). The Husky Challenger, an eight-person wooden rowing shell, will be showcased in the “Pulling Together: A Brief History of Rowing in Seattle” exhibit opening later this month. The vessel will join a curated display of rare artifacts and photographs, all linked to the 1936 Olympic Gold medal-winning rowing team from the University of Washington. Visitors to the exhibit will have the unique opportunity to admire this remarkable piece of craftsmanship and learn about the indomitable spirit of rowing in the Pacific Northwest. 

The exhibit rides the wave of hype around the hotly anticipated “Boys in the Boat” film directed by Academy Award-winning actor and filmmaker George Clooney. Debuting on December 25, the film is based on the 2013 bestselling book by Daniel James Brown which tells the real-life story of the University of Washington’s 1936 rowing team and their underdog journey to gold at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Nazi-era Berlin. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the UW’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to beat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. 

While not a precise replica of the iconic 1936 winning vessel named the Husky Clipper, the Husky Challenger stands as a testament to the rich rowing heritage of Seattle. It was crafted in Seattle in 1956 by Stan Pocock, the son of George Pocock—a key figure in the history of rowing and who built the Husky Clipper especially for the 1936 Olympic games. At 60 feet in length, under two feet in width, and a one-eighth-inch hull thickness, the Husky Challenger is a true masterpiece of woodworking and closely mirrors the construction of its predecessor. In fact, it was even used to portray the original vessel in the filming of the PBS documentary about the race, “Boys of 36.” 

 Although the Husky Challenger is technically owned by the Northwest Maritime Center, its true spirit thrives under the skillful oars and devoted stewardship of the all-women rowing team Tuf as Nails. The team has painstakingly undertaken the vessel’s restoration, guided by the expertise of master shipwright Steve Chapin. They are committed to its ongoing upkeep and preservation, ensuring that its legacy lives on. When the Husky Challenger isn’t gliding gracefully across the water, it resides in our NWMC Boathouse among other beautifully crafted Pocock shells that have been restored and maintained by Rat Island Rowing, a local rowing club. Both Tuf as Nails and Rat Island Rowing are based out of our Boathouse at NWMC, using it as a meeting place and space to store their vessels.

Husky Challenger headed south last month and was specially delivered from its ancestral home at the University of Washington to MOHAI by the UW Husky rowing team outfitted in uniforms reflecting the attire of the 1936 crew. The “Pulling Together” exhibit will open November 24 and continue through June 2, 2024, offering a great opportunity to view the historic vessel in all of its glory and learn more about the ’36 gold medal winners, the legacy of the Pocock family, and Seattle rowing history. If you miss it, don’t worry; the Husky Challenger will be back in its NWMC Boathouse home in time for Wooden Boat Festival 2024. We’re excited to play a part in this regional celebration and share this incredible boat with museum-goers near and far!

Photos courtesy of MOHAI