As the evening sun began to meet the horizon Wednesday, September 7th, the Marina del Rey main channel was full of sailboats big and small, with what was left of the day’s wind behind them.
It was the last meeting of Marina del Rey’s most enduring and popular race, the Wednesday evening Sunset Series.
This beautiful summer evening was the last time until next April that all of these men and women sailing in eight different classes would compete against each other in this friendly informal series.
The Sunset Series is considered by many of the participants as a yearly tradition where the competitive spirit takes a back seat to the sentiments of simply getting together with friends and enjoying a summer evening racing on the bay.
Although it’s by no means void of rivalries, for the most part, the Sunset Series is about the evening itself, than the place of the finish.
“Wednesday nights are a good chance to bring new people on the boat and go out and have fun in a less competitive race environment,” said racer David Brown.
“Although there still seems to be plenty of excitement.”
This year, those sensibilities were especially heightened due to the dramatic and tragic conditions surrounding the very first race of the series back in April.
On a particularly windy Wednesday, several severe circumstances were all occurring simultaneously on the course.
On one end, a frenzied crew laboriously worked to rescue a man overboard in the blustery conditions.
In another area, three men were left bobbing in the ocean in their life jackets, shocked that their boat had, in what seemed like an instant, just sunk from beneath them, torpedoing to the bottom of the bay.
And most tragically of all, in yet another section, longtime Marina del Rey sailor and Catalina yacht broker Charlie Segal was fighting for his life after falling over backwards into the icy April waters.
Sadly, Segal died at age 46 in the accident, stunning the race community.
The tragedy of the event juxtaposed against the safety and mild-mannered personality of the race, sent waves of controversy through the yacht clubs and heated, opinionated discussions amongst racers.
Safety and the possibility of rule changes were spoken of often in racing circles for months, but eventually, as the season wore on, things settled back to normality.
Fortunately, the traumatic beginning to the Sunset Series was just that — a traumatic beginning.
As the weeks went by, skippers and crews fell back into their routines and carried on with their lives.
This year was a successful one in terms of participation and weather conditions.
The California Yacht Club, host for the series, reported that 155 boats took part in the Sunset Series this year, with an average of 91 boats per night.
“Winds were good to us this summer,” said race chair Ann Ach.
“This year we put more information on the Sunset Web page, which the racers appreciated.
“Next year Denise George and I will co-chair the series and we foresee no major changes on the horizon.
“We may adjust the class splits a bit, but we’ll decide that next April.”
Some racers believed that this year was superior to those in the past.
“Actually, I think the Sunset Series went better this year than most,” said Sunset regular Mike Georgia, who sails Mighty Mouse. “The wind never really died.
“There were light days but I was never forced to turn the engine on because I wasn’t going to make the 8:30 p.m. cutoff finish time.
“I also think the race committee did a great job of shortening or lengthening the course to allow for the differences in wind strength.”
The misfortune of that April day will always live in the memories of the Marina sailors.
It is a vivid reminder that sailing is a pleasant recreational sport that in the blink of an eye can become a very dangerous endeavor to be taken most seriously.
Charlie’s death helped the community remember this fact and the memory of his love and lifelong dedication to the boating world will always be a testament to what the Sunset Series is all about — camaraderie, friendly competition and most of all, sailing.