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Heart attack claims San Juans' 'Greatest Sailor'; Fred Hoeppner dead at 93

Fred Hoeppner of San Juan Island died Monday morning of an apparent heart attack. He was 93. Known by many as the island
Fred Hoeppner of San Juan Island died Monday morning of an apparent heart attack. He was 93. Known by many as the island's 'Greatest Sailor', Hoeppner was a WW II veteran, Pearl Harbor survivor, retired Navy captain, and the author of the column, 'Around the Waterfront', published by the Journal.
— image credit: File photo

He was known in local sailing circles as the San Juan's "Greatest Sailor".

Not so much because his technical prowess, but largely because at the age of 93, Fred Hoeppner, a WW II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, was still out on the water and racing, his hands firmly on the wheel. A pretty amazing feat in its own right, given that one would often find Hoeppner racing the Marinna, his 41-foot-long ketch, which weighs in at about 16 tons, by himself.

Hoeppner passed away early Monday of natural causes. According to friends, he died of an apparent heart attack after collapsing on beach near his home on Mitchell Bay. The San Juan County Sheriff's Department received a phone call requesting help on Hoeppner's behalf at about 11 a.m., Undersheriff Jon Zerby said.

A retired Navy captain, Hoeppnner was the elder statesman among the fleet of local racers and a stalwart of the sailing community. One of the Navy's so-called "90-day wonders", he was fast-tracked into a commission as an ensign in the naval reserves, graduated from the Annapolis naval academy, and was onboard the battleship USS California, a bridge signal officer at the time, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He would later retire as a Navy captain.

"We're all saddened by it," said Wes George, a friend who raced often with Hoeppner, either as captain or crew. "I guess we'd all like to go the way he did, though, on the beach, after a day of sailing."

In recent years, Hoeppner also became known for his sailing column, "Around the waterfront", published regularly in the Journal of the San Juan Island and on SanJuanJournal.com. More often than not, Hoeppner would write about the many sailing races in the islands, the ups and downs, and the ins and outs, of those contests, after frequently competing in the races that he would later write about.

In his most recent column (Journal, Aug. 31, pg. 9), Hoeppner detailed the challenges and the results of the Friday Harbor Sailing Club's annual Single-Handed Race, a solo competition which, naturally, included the Mariana, along with Hoeppner at the helm. Excerpt below:

"... single handed means a skipper only; no crew. Sailing thusly is like rubbing your belly while patting your head. No one else to blame for flogging sails or tactical errors." (Around the Waterfront: Lewis Snags FHSC's single-handed crown).

Hoeppner on sailboat racing and pushing the limits:

"You have to race in order to learn how to sail," Hoeppner said. "People who are just cruising along out there are sailing at about 60 percent of their capacity. When you're racing along side another boat every little move you make makes a big difference."  (Excerpt from Hoeppner's 2007 interview with the Journal, following Hoeppner's victory, along with first-mate Wes George, in FHSC's annual Rumb Regatta).

— Scott Rasmussen

 

 

 

 

 

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