WA360 Race Recap: Finding Community and Connection in Our Home Waters

Kelsey Brenner2021, All, WA360

What started as a substitute race for the second year of cancelling the Race to Alaska, became an adventure that blew away expectations and had racers and fans alike enamored in new ways of Washington’s home waters, the tenacity and skill of the teams, and how we might all be a little more connected than we know. 

The racing was fierce, surprising, and significantly muscle-powered. Unlike standard sailboat racing, WA360 allows for human powered propulsion when the wind dies—which it did for the first few days of the race. From the light wind start in Port Townsend, except for brief bits of wind, sailboats pedalled most of the way to Olympia, and then a significant portion of the way north. This led to surprise #1: for three of the first four days, a tandem kayak led the pack. A kayak! The second surprise was the lead change in the last few miles that allowed Team High Seas Drifters to eek out a come-from-behind victory, just 7 minutes ahead of the second place team, and only 12 minutes in front of 3rd. Mere minutes after 3 days? It was just about as exciting as anyone could have imagined.

Beyond the winners there were incredible stories of tenacity (human-powered win in just over 4 blister-filled, sleepless days), creative thinking (the woman who portaged her rowboat two miles from the Hood Canal to Case Inlet), and integrity (multiple boats stopped racing to search for a report of an overturned boat, another started its engine to get out of an emergency and self-reported that they had disqualified themselves). 

Perhaps the most surprising story that came out of the race wasn’t even about the racers themselves, but the community of people around the race course that went out of their way to cheer on the teams. People in Olympia paddle boarded out to cheer on crews, fans drove out to waterfront parks to honk their horns and cheer in encouragement, and the community of Point Roberts rolled out the red carpet; painting picnic tables and making racers breakfast, excited to be connected and a part of something. Many teams even commented on how it felt like the race linked together the people of all of the different coastal communities along the route.

The NWMC does these adventure races for a lot of reasons, but the chance to grow through challenge and build community are right up there, and at least on those scores, we’re calling it a success. 

We owe a huge thank you to the legion of volunteers, sponsors, and fans who lent their time and resources to make this happen. Thank you.