Greg Hoffman fell from the Martin 242 he was skippering last Saturday after what’s thought to have been a sudden heart attack.
An accomplished sailor, Hoffman was leading in the Les Storrs race, sailing Patience, when he abruptly fell backward out of the 24-foot sailboat into the ocean as he and his crew neared the weather mark.
“We were close-hauled, sailing at about five knots,” said Patience crewman Ted Winer. “We were tweaking the traveler and the jib trying to keep things in the groove.
“Greg was giving us feedback about speed and helm — then right before the incident occurred we heard him say ‘I’m losing it.’
“We interpreted that as him saying that we were losing our edge, or groove or speed. We didn’t realize that he meant he was losing it physically.
“Greg’s a very mild mannered person.
“He doesn’t scream or yell — he was talking in his normal tone of voice. The next thing we knew, the boat was heading up into the wind and since we were all on the rail — the boat leaned over and he fell out.”
As soon as he fell in, crewman Roland Vollmann from the trailing boat, Sandbox, immediately jumped into the icy waters of Santa Monica Bay to rescue Hoffman.
“We were sailing along on starboard tack about 50 feet below [Patience], so we were relatively close,” said Sandbox skipper Mark Sands. “Then one of my crewmembers — Roland — heard someone call out ‘man overboard’.
“He yelled for me to turn the boat. I turned up and around and there was a man lying in the water — face down with outstretched arms.”
Vollmann got hold of Hoffman within 30 seconds of hitting the water and swam him first back to Patience, but then to the lower, faster Boston whaler mark-set boat that was situated nearby.
“I jumped in and tried to get his face out of the water,” said Vollmann. “In the meantime, the crew of Patience was getting the boat back and they did a very good job returning back quickly.”
In a short time Hoffman was aboard the Whaler and heading for the shore.
Other nearby racers called Baywatch Marina del Rey and the local lifeguards met the group about halfway between the site of the incident and the breakwater, where, according to a lifeguard authority, Hoffman’s heart was still in a “shockable rhythm.”
They applied an automatic external defibrillator and performed CPR for the rest of the trip, but he was unresponsive.
Hoffman was passionate about sailing and was respected by his peers in the sport.
In the highly competitive Martin 242 class, he often won and was always a likely top finisher.
On Saturday, he was borrowing Patience for the day, as he had sacrificed his own boat, which he co-owned with sailing partner Christel Billhofer, to make a mold for a new Martin that was due to be ready in the next two weeks.
“Greg was a laid-back, nice guy,” said Billhofer. “We always set up realistic goals for the sailing season. Number one was to always have a good time and then to be competitive.
“It was great — there were never any problems. He really loved going out sailing.”
“Greg was a wonderful, generous human being,” says Ted Winer, Hoffman’s crewman, friend and co-worker at Aerospace Corporation, where Hoffman was a software systems engineer. “As a racer he was very competitive and an excellent sailor.
“At work he was truly one of the go-to people on our project. It’s a tremendous loss.”
Hoffman is survived by his wife Carol, daughter Colleen, 17, and son Brett, 12.