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Race Week PNW in Anacortes Saddened by Tragedy

June 21-25 was the first running of Race Week PNW, a replacement regatta for the former Whidbey Island Race Week. Unfortunately, tragedy struck during this inaugural event when experienced sailor Greg Meuller died during a race while managing the foredeck on the J/120 With Grace. The reporting below, from the Seattle Times, provides more insight:

Seattle sailor Greg Mueller, 58, crewing on the J/120 With Grace, died on Tuesday afternoon [June 22] after falling overboard while racing.

Mueller was the team’s foredeck, and according to With Grace skipper Chris Johnson, Mueller had stepped into a line that looped around his foot just as the spinnaker filled. Mueller was jerked off the boat where he dangled upside down by his foot, about 8 to 10 feet in the air, before plunging into the water where he was dragged alongside the boat, still connected by the line.

Crew members rushed to bring him back on board, where they took turns performing CPR, while another teammate of the eight-person crew called the race committee to get help.

Several team members aboard the vessel had completed Safety at Sea training provided by the Coast Guard, Johnson said, but there was little more they could do except call for medical attention.

Johnson said Mueller had spent two to three minutes in the water by the time his crew could slow the boat enough to bring him back aboard the ship. Though he was wearing a personal flotation device, it was of little use because of the way he was positioned in the water.

Two boats from the race committee arrived to assist, but they had no medical personnel on board, according to crew members. Eventually, a speedboat came to take Mueller to Guemes Island, where a medical team received him.

The crew was uncertain whether Mueller still was alive when the speedboat arrived. They received a call shortly afterward with the news he had died.

The Skagit County coroner’s office said an autopsy was scheduled for June 25 and that it would release information on the cause of death by June 28.

Johnson said Mueller had been a member of the With Grace crew since the purchase of the boat in 2014.

“Greg was a very key part of our team,” said crewmate Ken Jones. “He knew exactly when the sail should be changed and what size to use. He could predict problems and gave us clear directions. There are a lot of lines that have to be led just perfectly. Most of us had no idea what he did; everything was done for us, and we really relied on him.”

A longtime member of the Washington Yacht Club, Mueller was an avid racer in the region.

“Sailing accidents can happen to anybody,” said WYC member Raz Barnea. “When they happen to someone as skilled as Greg, it really puts it into perspective that something can go wrong.”

Latitude 38 editor Chris Weaver, who’s currently covering the Singlehanded Transpacific Race, learned that Mueller had been scheduled to do the delivery from Hawaii to Seattle with SHTP competitor John Wilkerson aboard his Express 37 Perplexity.

6 Comments

  1. Brooke Anderson 12 months ago

    MAN OVERBOARD TRAINING !!!

    Please…everyone who sails a boat or sails aboard a boat…PLEASE participate..in what should be a MANDATORY training for ALL sailors… and yes, I’m speaking of a course that has been frequently offered here in the Bay Area….”Man Overboard Training”.

    Having participated in several Man Overboard Courses my self…with my partner and sailing buddies…and having myself sailed from San Francisco to the Mediterranean Sea/Italy and back…aboard our Peterson/Formosa 46…and having ourselves, had over-boards during that 7 year period, I can tell you from experience that the man overboard course enabled us to know how to instantaneously STOP the boat so as to not drown the sailor being dragged alongside by an attached sheet or line. And having learned the manoeuvers to bring them back aboard made for a speedy recovery regardless of the sea state.

    This sad outcome of the sailor being dragged along-side the boat for up to three minutes whilst the boat was still underway…is likely the cause for drowning. The outcome for this sailor may have been different if the boat had been instantaneously stopped so that he had not been dragged to death.

    Please…everyone…find a place to take the Man Overboard Course…or at the very least…practice on your own boat with your own crew…the tactics, logistics and manoeuvers to stop your boat immediately…and to then get the sailor safely back on board.

    May it be so…

    • John Arndt 12 months ago

      Brooke – we appreciate your note and input on this tragedy. We have to admit to being hesitant to publish letters suggesting any of us could do better if we’d been in the exact same circumstance. We know there were friends aboard who lost a very good friend despite their very best efforts. There may have been mistakes though we can’t be sure we wouldn’t have made them too – or made different ones or how we or anyone would have behaved in those moments that could have changed this very unfortunate outcome.

      We do know that all of us would be wise to pay attention to the lessons to be learned. You’re right to advise us all to do the training and take time to practice yet we recognize that, despite everyone’s best efforts, things can go wrong out there. It’s happened to very skilled and well-trained Volvo Ocean Race sailors and it can happen to anyone. We sail because we enjoy the challenges and we appreciate the relationships that develop when we overcome them together. We like to think we could all be as capable, skilled, practiced, clear-headed and even lucky if and when the need arises.

      We are very sorry for the friends and family of Greg Mueller and hope we can all take away something to help us avoid similar tragedies in the future.

  2. Ken Brinkley 12 months ago

    RIP .Sometimes bad things happen for no apparent reason. To the crew ,you did as much if not more, than anyone else could have .

  3. Helen Horn 12 months ago

    A few years ago a similar tragedy occurred during a Farallones race but the crew didn’t understand the full dilemma. The sailor overboard was towed by the boat attached by a line to his pfd, and could not break loose, and pulled face first under to drown. Under such tremendous water force you can’t free yourself, and there was talk of improving the snap releases on pfds . In being towed by your foot there’s no way you can free yourself, even if you had a knife which he probably did. Every crew member should have a knife, go forward, immediately cut that line, as well as spot the man while other crew can throw the lifering,while dousing sails and bringing the boat around. Latitude has that incident in archives. With his pfd on he might have been conscious unless he was knocked out, but retrievable.
    Secondly, sometimes skippers don’t expect that they will be the one to go over and wiil be in charge . There are classes offered by USPower Squadron, Coast Guard Aux units that teach “suddenly solo” or “skipper
    saver” classes regularly, in addition to basic man overboard skills.
    Boating stores sell knives that fold and can easily attached to a lanyard. Great crew gift. Our club gave them to the beer can racers after a race night bbq. Find peace and be prepared.

  4. Murphy Sackett 12 months ago

    Carry a knife, everyone.
    My thoughts to his family.

  5. Suzi B 12 months ago

    Oh SO Tragic. All I could think of was Knife Knife Knife! I am sad to read this. Take care out there sailors.

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