WA360: More than a race

Published on June 24th, 2021

In what had to have been born on a bar stool, the organizers of the WA360 did what the rest of us never do. They took a cocktail napkin idea from concept to conclusion, attracting the hearty of the Pacific Northwest to discover a 360 nm course through the ponds of the Puget Sound.

Starting June 7, any craft was welcome and all forms of engine-less propulsion permitted, and as long as competitors completed the course within two weeks and without planned support, their finish would live in infamy.

So off they went, fully sober and eyes wide open, beginning in Port Townsend and sending it south to Olympia, back up to Skagit Bay and a choice between the rapids of Deception Pass or the shifting mud of the Swinomish Channel.

After rounding a buoy in Bellingham Bay and running past the most northern Washington territory of Point Roberts, the course turned south through the San Juan Islands to the finish line in Port Townsend. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

With time expired and coffee-inspired, event organizer Northwest Maritime Center rubs words together to assess what occurred:

How do you neatly wrap up a race that involved one team walking their boat by the halyard towards Olympia, another crossing overland on wheels that worked better once the tires were ripped off, crew who left the course to work a few days then came back to finish, human-powered craft leading for three out of the four waypoints?

There was a capsize on day two, swamping on day four, five and we think six, two teams risked disqualification to do the right thing, and one called to inform us they were disqualified because they did the wrong thing, which was the right thing (we know, confusing).

First and second place were decided in the last 90 minutes before the finish line—finishing seven minutes apart—from teams in different classes.

South Sound was predictably tricky and mostly windless, then a cold front came through and gave every team in the region at least an hour of hull speed sailing or sent them running for the lee. And what the hell happened at Goat Island? Deception Pass gently ushered teams through while Swinomish Slough savaged half the fleet. Team Fun While Lost actually walked his boat up part of the Slough.

Thirty percent of the teams didn’t finish, and a 4-year old got more likes by sailing through the Pass with her dinosaur stickers than all our writing staff combined, yet we don’t hold a grudge. Did we forget to mention two SUP teams rang that finish bell, too?

We put it all through a Symmerge algorithm, looking for some thread, only to realize our mathematician was a total liar and only here for the free nachos and leftover lamb. It was with this defeat we turned to our phones and sought inspiration in our happy place. And lo, right when we were beginning our third beauty makeover on TikTok, an email came in from Heidi and Tor.

Heidi and Tor are the prolific media volunteers and tireless ambassadors for all of the generous and supportive town of Point Roberts. And the people of that town just may represent what this race is about.

If you are reading this, then you probably understand what it means to be drawn to the sea, pulled to the edge of where you can comfortably stand before an environment we are not designed to live in, but drawn to by its beauty, or its rhythm, its vast unknown. A place you return to because it begins to define a part of you, gives your mind and body a reboot, or has become intertwined with how you live and thrive.

By trade, we may raise families, make things, counsel others, tap computers, deliver whatever, buy and sell; but we return, mind and body to the shore—shorelines assembled in contiguity along our race route. Over the time of WA360, along this margin, our community has grown.

The folks of Point Roberts cleared lawns for camping next to tables for eating, just up from a dock the Point Roberts Marina offered free to racers. Rides were given and cookies baked. We’re guessing friendly sheep may have even been pet.

No different, we think, than the crowds cheering from Deception Pass Bridge or random lawns offered just ashore of rocky beaches or the hot dog bonanza in Bellingham; people gave of themselves where they could and what they could, to racers.

We may hail from different places, believe in the pedal over the paddle, prefer three over one hull, but within the bounds of these two race weeks a challenge was pioneered unique to every team but remarkably similar; they all started with a call to the water.

And these coastal communities, celebrating in the answer to that call, brought distant and often unremarked shores into colorful focus.

At the sound of the Soviet National Anthem start, 360 subjectively arranged miles separated Port Townsend from Port Townsend, but by Day Three the entire course felt compressed into a pulsing shoreline of activity not measured in miles, but stories. Our stories.

Is there anyone who will think of these coastal waters the same?

Will you adamantly claim South Sound is actually 500 miles in length because that’s the only reason it would have taken that long? Will you forever compare the Strait of Juan de Fuca to a cruel child and you their play toy?

Hasn’t every racer come to know a boulder, a tree, a dock more by passing it at speeds that ranged somewhere between 1 and -3 knots? What tracker junkie can’t identify at least five new place names along the route, even if it was only to make sure a team was at anchor and not walking inland in frustration?

And all we can say is: Thank you for answering the call. Sharing your story. Being part of ours. We’ve brought these shores together, made them into a 360. It’s been an honor.

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