LOS ANGELES—Grant Baldwin, the radio “voice of Transpac” for the last 14 races over 26 years, has died after a long fight with cancer. He was 79.
Baldwin passed away at his home in Balboa, Calif. In the harbor at Waikiki at the end of last summer’s Centennial Transpacific Yacht Race he announced on board the communications vessel Alaska Eagle that it was his last race as chief communications officer.
“This is my swan song,” he said. “I’ve been doing this since ’79, mostly on this boat. It’s time for somebody whose voice isn’t as scratchy and who doesn’t talk back [to the racers].”
Every skipper and crew that sailed Transpac since 1979 was intimately familiar with Baldwin’s deep, clear, crisp voice, accompanied by his dry sense of humor. They heard it once or twice a day asking for position reports or just as host of a lighthearted evening “happy hour” chat session among the boats that made lonely sailors feel less alone in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
But he always made it clear that he was not sailing on a “rescue” or even an “escort” vessel. “We’re not there to save anybody,” he said. “That’s why the requirements for emergency equipment and safety at sea training are so strict.”
Baldwin, born in Ann Arbor, Mich., was a member of Newport Harbor Yacht Club. He sailed his first Transpac as a crew member on Grace and Richard Steele’s Odyssey in 1961. He also was a certified international racing judge.
As for communications, he warned potential competitors, “If you haven’t used your single sideband radio in a year and you wonder if it still works, it probably doesn’t.”
With fluky breeze, the 2005 Transpac was a tough sail, and Baldwin didn’t try to sugarcoat the conditions in his assessment of the race: “Very light [wind], practically no [rough] seas, a few squalls. The people who got low [south] and got low early did better, like [record setter] Morning Glory and [Cal 40 class winner] Ralphie.”
That sized it up in a nutshell.
Along the way he reported to race headquarters that the “weather continues to be dismal with the leaders reporting wimpy trade winds in the 10 to 12-knot range. Still no sun.”
Earlier he reported: “Another long cold night with northwest winds 20-25 knots, 100% overcast, still no sun. The entire fleet now seems to be in the breeze. Rather unpleasant night with lots of wind and lumpy seas. Some ate dinner twice.”
Bill Lee, the noted race boat designer and current entry chairman, noted that Baldwin “was entry chairman when we set the record with Merlin in 1977 . . . all before e-mail,
faxes, etc. FedEx was just invented. Grant was a great guy, by the numbers, fair and square.”
If Merlin, Lee’s long, skinny and radical creation, had its doubters, Baldwin “was very neutral,” he said. “He just made sure that all the papers were made out right, the entry fee was paid and that we mailed in two glossy photos of the boat.”
Later, Baldwin would serve as commodore of the 1989 race, while continuing to oversee race communications.
Wendy Siegal, who led the Cal 40 class revival in recent Transpacs, said, “In 1999 Willow Wind broke her boom about halfway to Hawaii. I called Grant on the radio and he was instrumental in assisting us in obtaining a boom for our homeward trip. I will greatly miss him.”
Baldwin is survived by his wife Jody, seven children and 10 grandchildren. Arrangements for a memorial service were pending.
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