Seattle sailor Greg Mueller, a member of the With Grace sailing team, died on Tuesday afternoon in a boating accident. Mueller, 58, fell overboard during a race in the Race Week 2021 regatta held in Anacortes this week.
Mueller was the team’s foredeck, the crew member responsible for controlling sail hoists and drops and preparing for spinnaker hoists, gybes and drops. According to Chris Johnson, the With Grace skipper, Mueller accidentally stepped into a line that looped around his foot right as the spinnaker filled. As the sheet filled with air, Johnson said, it jerked Mueller 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.
Race Week event producer Schelleen Rathkopf confirmed Mueller’s death on Tuesday with a post on the notice board for Race Week Anacortes on yachtscoring.com.
“We are all deeply saddened to have lost a fellow racer, and my condolences go out to the crew’s family, friends, and fellow racing comrades,” Rathkopf said in a news release issued Thursday.
The Skagit County coroner’s office said an autopsy was scheduled for Friday and that it would release information on the cause of death Monday afternoon.
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.”
According to Jones, the With Grace team was made up of highly skilled sailors. There had been no mishap or breakage on the boat Tuesday; he said what happened was a complete accident.
“I appreciated his contribution to the team,” Johnson said. “He always showed up for races and was very consistent, even in terrible weather.”
A longtime member of the Washington Yacht Club, Mueller was an avid racer, and he participated in frequent races throughout the Seattle area, including the famed annual Duck Dodge on Lake Union.
His preferred vessel was the keelboat, which is a typically longer boat ranging from 20 to 30 feet long. Mueller also enjoyed cycling and would ride to the dock for races, often wearing shorts on deck, having come straight from his bike, his crewmates said.
Leo Sergio Morales, a fellow member of the Washington Yacht Club, said Mueller loved bringing new members to the club and he taught students to sail keelboats. He would often take the club’s J22 boat out to race on Lake Washington, bringing along students who wanted more race experience.
“He was great about including other people,” said Raz Barnea, another Washington Yacht Club friend. “The club really places emphasis on students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to sail, and Greg helped a lot of people get their sea legs.”
Mueller’s ability to perform well in races on the J22, a heavy boat not always intended for the sort of races he’d enter, was a testament to his skills, his friends said.
“It’s a shock and a loss,” said Morales. “He was a fixture in the sailing community here in Seattle.”
Friends and crewmates described Mueller as a highly competent sailor and a quiet, unassuming person in a sport that can draw some big egos.
“Sailing accidents can happen to anybody,” said Barnea. “When they happen to someone as skilled as Greg, it really puts it into perspective that something can go wrong.”
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.