It all started in 1974 when Ron Lloyd bought a Blanchard Senior Knockabout from Bruce Gilbert.
Bruce turned around and bought an International 10. While Bruce showed Ron how to sail his new boat, Bruce kidded with Ron about why he shouldn’t have sold the boat because it was faster than his new boat. This led to the first race. They had so much fun they made up flyers and posted them around Lake Union and 30 boats showed up the second week.
Initially, it was called the Lake Union Beer Can Regatta, but the rule was if you made a duck move or change course, the penalty was your boat had to make two turns, 720º worth (it has been inaccurately reported it was 320º). Hence the name…The Duck Dodge.
There weren’t many marks for the course so for one of the marks they sailed until their mast was under the Aurora Bridge. Then they started using the Red Nun off of Ivar’s as one of the marks. It’s very shallow up there and many ran aground. Between that and the lack of wind in the Ship Canal, there was always a jam that blocked the regular boat traffic making the Harbor Patrol a little unhappy. They have since set temporary marks a little further south and made some other concessions that have made the Harbor Patrol a little happier.
The committee boat leaves at 10:30 P.M. and since that is usually the leader on the raft it starts to break up the party (which also makes the houseboat dwellers happy). As the race began to grow (they had up to 60 boats with one start) they divided the starts into classes to be able to accommodate the sometimes 100 boats. They have started one to five classes over the years and are currently at four starts (see reverse side). The season runs May through September. In all, it runs fifteen weeks (taking a week off during the Whidbey Island Race Week because there is no one around).
There have been some famous boats that have raced in the Duck Dodge. One is Sorcery, the 80-foot maxi boat that raced in 1986. Another is Stars & Stripes, the twelve-meter of Dennis Conner’s America Cups fame, which raced in 1987. Every start a duck decal is awarded for first, second, and third place. These ducks are a coveted award.
The Duck Dodge has theme nights throughout the year. Trying new ones each year and keeping ones that works. Some of the themes have been “Hat Night”, where people showed up with hats made of various items including one boat (Turning Point) whose hats were kitchen appliances. Another theme, “Ladies Night” has seen crews (of men) dressed in pink negligees. Although sometimes it looks so chaotic from our decks around Lake Union, the Duck Dodge is really a well-organized race. And, although the duck decals are proudly displayed after placing in the race it really is successful because it is just plain fun.
The Duck Dodge is now starting its 41st season and has become a Tuesday night tradition for all of us living around Lake Union!