August 2007

Transpac's Wendy Siegal Will Be Missed

By Rich Roberts
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Wendy Siegal, a schoolteacher as well as a strong competitor and influential force in the success of the Transpacific Yacht Race in recent years, was found drowned last month near her Cal 40 Willow Wind in the Alamitos Bay Marina. 

Her death came four days before the first boats, including three of her beloved Cal 40s, were to start the 2007 race off Point Fermin in San Pedro. Now a driving member of the Transpacific Yacht Club Board of Directors, she was not planning to compete, having taken over the responsibility of managing the mass of trophies the race distributes.

At press time, no other details were available, but Long Beach police said there were no signs of foul play. Apparently, Siegal had been alone working on her boat and had been in the water a considerable length of time before her body was discovered at 3:50 p.m., floating in an empty slip on the next gangway over. 

 Siegal, 55, was originally from Detroit and later lived in Seattle and San Diego, where she met her companion Duncan Harrison. They lived in Seal Beach. She taught sixth grade at Stephen M. White Middle School in Carson.

In the 2001 Transpac, Siegal, feisty but friendly by nature, was skipper and Harrison navigator when they and four other crew members won the Aloha class — only the second woman skipper since Sally Blair Ames in 1959 to win a class of the race.

So she could prepare to sail the race, Siegal had taken leave of teaching and worked part-time at a department store. She said afterward, "I’m not a rich sailor. I sell clothes at Nordstrom’s. I quit my job to do this race. I don’t know if I’ll get it back. But this is the ultimate."

That success inspired her to throw herself into recruiting nine other Cal 40 owners for their "40th anniversary" in the 2003 Transpac, harkening back to their glory days when they dominated the race in the 1960s — the first time in 42 races that Transpac had designated a special class for boats of a single design. She rounded up a total of 14 in 2005.

Siegal's contributions to Transpac are noted in the highlights of this decade inscribed on one of the 11 historic monuments dedicated at Rainbow Harbor in downtown Long Beach.

Siegal had surgery last March to remove a brain tumor and seemed to be progressing well, even returning to teach through the end of the spring semester.

 Harrison said, "So many of our friends I've talked to have said that she changed their lives significantly. They wouldn't have done things without her encouragement. The people in the Cal 40s are saying that. Then I realized how I had changed. I'm a different person for knowing her."

Before the smallest boats, including three Cal 40s, took the first of the race's three starts, Siegal's friends — including some sailing Cal 40s — scattered flowers over the starting area in her memory. 

Transpac Commodore Al Garnier said, "With her energy and enthusiasm, Wendy represented what Transpac was about. She loved racing her Cal 40 and worked hard to get others to do it, and she carried that spirit over to her work on the board of directors. We'll all miss her."