With two races to go, Sehome's sailing team led Port Townsend by 12 points at the Northwest Interscholastic Sailing Association championships on Sunday, April 27. As long as the B boat, skippered by sophomore Liam Hood, could finish ahead of Port Townsend in both races, the Mariners would be NWISA champions.
But Hood and fellow Mariner sophomore Shea Walker got off to a slow start in the first race and wound up in 11th while Port Townsend took first.
It would all come down to the final race.
Sehome's A boat, skippered by senior Miles Johannessen, had already captured second in the A division for the Red Hawks. Johannessen, senior Elise Chambers and sophomore Riley Allsop finished just 11 points back from Port Townsend and were watching the final race from the shore.
"The first day (April 26) we had shifty conditions, but when the wind picked up we found our groove," Johannessen said in a phone interview. "We had a lead of a few points after the first day. The second day we threw it and finished in second. We had to fight our way back to the top."
After the A boat's second-place finish, it came down to the B boat's last race. Hood and Walker got off to a good start, seemingly putting the previous race's result behind them. The A-boat team stood helpless on the shore cheering B boat on.
"We were like, 'Come on Liam, just finish!'" Johannessen said. "We knew he had it locked up a quarter of the way through, though."
As Hood and Walker cruised to a first place finish in the final race, Port Townsend took 11th to lock up the title for Sehome. Hood, Walker and Jeffrey Werner had guided their B boat to a second-place finish and Sehome's first NWISA championship.
"It was nice that I won, especially because it was so close and I needed to do well on the last set," Hood said in a phone interview. "It was a big relief."
The Mariners, many of whom had been sailing since a young age at learn-to-sail programs at the Bellingham Yacht Club and Western Washington University Lakewood facility, had punched their ticket for the Interscholastic Sailing Association Championship in San Diego, California.
"Our game plan was to sail very safe and make smart decisions because we knew they were as fast as anyone in the district," Sehome coach Scott Wilson said in a phone interview. "Through 28 races you get very tired, but you still have to focus and do the chess match on the water. I'm very proud of them for putting in a lot of hard work."
The team takes its first trip to the ISA National Championship, held May 10-11 in San Diego, California, as the Northwest District's lone representative. Other districts send as many as five teams due to the higher levels of competition.
As the underdogs, Sehome plans to soak in the experience and take notes for a return trip next year.
"There are a lot more established programs on the east coast and in California," Johannessen said. "We have to be realistic in our expectations, so we're seeing it as a learning opportunity."
Johannessen and fellow senior Chambers will have to put that experience to use if they continue their sailing outside of high school competition. For the rest of the team, which is mostly made up of sophomores and juniors, it is an experience they can build off of for the Mariners' next championship run.
To learn more about the Sehome sailing team, or other Bellingham-area sailing teams, visit whatcomsailing.com. To find out more about donating to the team's trip to nationals, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Alex Peterson at email@example.com or call 360-715-2285.