Sailing Vessel Warrior

Well-traveled Warrior Returns
by John Bailey - Boating Writer
Tacoma News Tribune
April 18 1988 page C2
Tacoma’s Warrior is back in the battle and has proved to be a formidable opponent.
In the Straits of Georgia Race the Saturday before Easter, the 50-foot Warrior was first in class and first overall in the Pacific Handicap Racing Fleet on corrected time, beating 70-foot Meridian out of Seattle’s Corinthian by a mere 15 seconds.

The Straits of Georgia Race is the first in a series of three that Warrior will sail under the auspices of People to People, a tax-exempt non-profit organization that promotes international competition in sports events. People to People will sanction Warrior in the Swiftsure Classic over the Memorial Day weekend and the Victoria-Maui in July to complete the series.

This sponsorship, an unusual arrangement in yacht racing, was devised by Warrior’s owner, Rich O’Neill, to offset the high cost of campaigning a boat of that size. Rich rounded up nine friends to crew Warrior and formed a group they called "Warrior A Challenge" with Tom Bageant as head of the group. Each member made a $5,000 donation to People to People. In return, People to People leased Warrior for six months, to sail in local races as practice and for tuning in preparation for the three international races.

Despite a fire that "destroyed" her in 1980 and a threatened sinking from damage that occurred during an apparent collision at sea in the Vic-Maui race in 1986, Warrior has made an astounding comeback for an 18-year old boat.

Warrior was designed in 1969 by Brittan Chance, who later was one of the three members of the design team that developed the America’s Cup winner Stars and Stripes.

Built in Bremen, West Germany, for Al Cassell, who owned a firm that made sailboat spars in California, Warrior was launched in 1970. The hull is cold-molded tight grain, old growth fir from the northwest that came from the Tacoma area--- possibly from the old Vickmen mill. The first layer is quarter-inch, with the two following layers each 15/32nds of an inch. On an overall length of 50 feet with a 44-foot waterline, a 13-foot 9-inch beam and a 9-foot draft, Warrior displaces 32,000 pounds. The masthead is 67 feet off the deck.

After launching, Warrior was sailed to Florida to compete in the 1971 Southern Ocean Racing Conference series of five races and proved to be an able competitor.
From there she went "home" to California and fared well in big boat series races to Mexico with a number of first-to-finish honors. She was first to finish in the 1973 Trans-Pac in Class A.

In 1974, Warrior was sold to the Hedrick family in Seattle and came to Puget Sound. The Hedricks are widely known in the boating fraternity – son Bruce was involved in Cal Marine and HCH Yacht Brockerage and now is manager of the North sail loft, and his younger brother Greg, is skipper of Pyewacket, owned by Roy Disney, Walt’s nephew. Warrior was first to finish in Swiftsure in 1975 and again in 1980, won the 1979 Islard Series with first to finish in all three races and was overall winner of the Straits of Georgia Race, beating America’s Cup winner Weatherly on corrected time.

During that time, Warrior was the boat to beat on Puget Sound. Then disaster struck. In September 1980, while Warrior was undergoing repairs in a Seattle boat yard, fire broke out aboard, apparently started by an electric heater. Traveling upward and astern from the head, the blaze burned off the bubble cabin of foam-core fiberglass, burned the underside of the plywood deck and charred the first layer of the hull in the area where the fire started. The insurance carrier declared Warrior a total loss.

Warrior was saved by Jim Cole of Eagle Harbor, who spent more than two years repairing the damage. Although he had spent a lifetime salvaging burned and sunken boats, Warrior was the first sailboat he had undertaken.

Rich O’Neill entered the picture about this time. Raised in the Gig Harbor area, he worked on finishing boats as a youth and had spent eight years as a Tacoma firefighter. As a fireman, he was instrumental in raising the funds that created the Fire Fighters Burn Center at St. Joseph Hospital. Then, on a whim, he took off for Alaska and spent 12 years driving a truck in the oil fields. While on the Alaska job, Rich worked four weeks and then had two weeks off. During his off time, he began looking for a boat and searched across the country without finding what he wanted. The he stumbled across Warrior by accident. Rich had intended to use Warrior as a cruiser and live aboard. After he married Leann, they cruised together in the San Juans for six weeks. Then the crew of the Black Watch persuaded Rich to enter Warrior in a "fun race" by offering to crew for him. That did it, and Rich was "hooked on racing".
Greg Hedrick and Scott Rohrer helped him with the deck layout and rig for efficient sail handling, and in June 1986 Rich started the Vic-Maui race, as he says, "on a limited budget" with 30 bags of sails that came with the boat – most of them pretty badly worn.

At 4:30 a.m. the fourth night out, the crew rousted Rich from his bunk and he piled out into knee deep water, although there had been no water in the boat when he turned in at 1 a.m. Quickly checking the through hull fittings and the shaft log, Rich could not find the source of the leak although it was severe enough to require 12 hours of pumping with two manual pumps and a bucket brigade.

Warrior was pounding to weather at eight to nine knots on a close reach into winds of 20 to 25 knots as they worked, but the source was not found until they moved sailbags from around the mast and pulled the floorboards and saw geysers of water gushing into the boat. Calking stopped the leaks by 75 to 80 percent, and the crew voted 9 to 0, with Rich abstaining, to continue the race.

Heading further west, they finished the race on a run, blowing out the six spinnakers along the way, in a total of 14 days, 5 hours, 45 minutes and 33 seconds, taking second place in Division 1 on corrected time.

In Hawaii, a diver found grooves in the bottom of the keel two inches deep from a collision that had tried to force the 18,000-pound lead keel up through the bottom of the boat. For the sake of a story, although none of the crew had felt an impact, Rich says they hit a Soviet submarine. Rich sent Warrior home on a barge, stripped out the interior and served as general contractor for restoration. Dale Hoff and Andreassen Boatworks did most of the work replacing some 40 percent of the planking and strengthening the hull to repair the damage. The final price tag paid by insurance was $100,000.

Since then, Rich has been replacing the interior and is in the process of getting new sails in anticipation of the upcoming races. Some arrived in time for the Straits of Georgia Race and Rich says they were a factor in helping Warrior’s speed along the 130-mile course to victory.