Editor’s note: We often hear about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in numbers of cases and deaths. But each data point represents a human life whose loss is felt by countless other people. We are chronicling some of them in an obituary series called Lives Remembered. If you know someone who has died of COVID-19, please tell us about them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Lives Remembered,” or by filling out the form at the bottom of this page.
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Sandy Pratt was 7 years old the first time he climbed into a boat on Lake Washington and watched its sail unfurl and capture the breeze.
Chasing the wind would become his obsession for the next eight decades before COVID-19 took the longtime Bellevue resident’s life on March 26. He was 92.
Little Sandy was fascinated by the way the wind moved across the sail, pulling the craft through the water. He quickly learned to race sailboats, and was part of the racing fleet at the University of Washington, before putting his passion for aerodynamics to work in wing production as a manufacturing engineer at Boeing. He worked on a variety of wing designs, including the 747, for 38 years before retiring in 1992.
An accomplished racer at the Corinthian Yacht Club (CYC) of Seattle, Pratt attacked the sport with the mind of an engineer and the rigor of a professional athlete. He was a master at coaxing every knot out of his craft. As fellow competitor Wendy Hinman noted nautically in a remembrance, “He could ghost along in light air better than anyone.”
High praise, indeed.
“He was very focused, very jovial and fun to chat with,” Hinman said in an interview. “He was always looking for a way to get more speed out of the boat, find a way to do things better. He was always right there.”
Pratt built and raced his first boat, a Starcraft dubbed My Sin, in the 1950s with his wife Letha, who died in 2016 after more than 60 years of marriage.
“I have this really incredible old black and white photo – well, it’s sepia now – of them sailing on Lake Washington,” said Barbara Pratt, their daughter. “He loved Lake Washington.”
When Barbara and her brother Brad were born, Letha Pratt asked her husband to switch to a boat that was a more appropriate size for a family, according to a remembrance written by Hinman.
The Pratt children were raised in the hulls of the boats that came next, starting with a 26-foot Thunderbird he hand-built in 1967 from a design created by the American Plywood Association and dubbed LeBar.
They’d race weekly during the season and take annual summer vacations for two weeks around Puget Sound. When they weren’t on the water, they were in the garage working on Pratt’s next boat, learning the properties of good lumber and the Zen of marine maintenance.
“As a little girl I spent time sitting in there, planing the wood and making all these little curly Qs, learning about all the tools,” Barbara Pratt said.
“We were always doing something on the boat. Always. And racing was the biggest thing. I can’t remember a time when we weren’t actually winning. We were always ahead of the pack. There was a period of time where you just couldn’t touch him.”
Hinman said Pratt won the Thunderbird International Championship in 1975 and many races locally before he moved on to fiberglass designs, continuing to winnow every bit of speed he could from his boats. A lifelong learner, Pratt was always open to new things, Hinman said. She took special delight in introducing him to Bob Marley.
“When we were hauled out next to him, we were both working on our boats,” Hinman said. “We were playing Bob Marley and I’ll never forget how delighted he was to discover Bob Marley. Like, ‘Wow, this is really great stuff. Who is this?’ And every time we’d play it, you could just see him kind of rocking out to it. And it was something I didn’t expect, but it was quite funny to see his reaction and how much joy he got out of that music.”
Pratt was a regular fixture at CYC races until he turned 90. He wasn’t ready to hang up his captain’s hat, but he lost his crew and had trouble finding replacements. He’s survived by his children, four grandchildren and his partner, Marta Glasenapp, whom he met after moving to an assisted living facility in Issaquah in recent years.
Barbara Pratt said his death came as something of a surprise because he remained so vital. Brad Pratt was especially sad his father died alone in isolation due to the disease after spending his life being delighted by his family and friends.
“It’s kind of a tough way to go where you can’t see him,” Brad Pratt said. “But he had a great life, you know, I don’t think he left anything on the table really. Not too much at least.”