Eight Bells: Derek Campbell

Published on January 27th, 2021

Derek Campbell

The Pacific Northwest sailing community lost one of its finest members when Derek M. Campbell, 61, passed away peacefully in 2020 on December 23 in Seattle, WA. While in the presence of his loving wife Rana, daughter Kailey, and son Brent, Derek succumbed to a relentless battle with Multiple System Atrophy, a rare and insidious neurodegenerative disorder.

Derek graduated from the University of Washington in 1983 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Structural Engineering, which he then presented to The Boeing Company. He was immediately recognized as a born leader and team builder; ironically, Derek built a 30 year career in engineering doing almost everything other than structural engineering.

Over time he rose to Program Management and Chief Engineer positions wherein he managed complex Defense and Commercial projects including the AWACS Cockpit Retrofit Program, a variety of Airborne Early Warning System projects, and the 747 Modification Program (a complete retrofit of the aircraft).

His career spanned all stages of the product lifecycle, and involved multi-national travel to Ireland, Italy South Africa, Qatar, the UAE, and locations across the USA. Derek’s charismatic leadership fostered successful teams and maximized the skills and capabilities of every team member; all the time he was working hard, having fun, and enjoying the ride.

Soccer was a big part of Derek’s life; he spent decades competing with multiple men’s soccer teams, often playing more than three days a week. Derek paid his enthusiasm forward by coaching Ballard Youth Soccer teams for over 10 years, again building successful programs, helping young people realize their goals and develop their passions.

His UW sailing cronies recall that soccer was the perfect complement to sailing; when the wind died the soccer ball was revealed, and a pick-up game always followed. While Derek was not a runner, per se, but when a soccer or basketball was introduced, he would run all day.

Derek was a passionate sailor and formidable competitor; his illustrious sailing history includes campaigns ranging from dinghies to sleds. He is highly respected by world class sailors for his successful effort to establish the 49er Fleet in Seattle, and for his participation with Scott Smith in the 1997 49er Worlds.

He was an inspirational leader, a highly proficient race program organizer, a dedicated crew member, a collaborative team player, and an accomplished helmsman on board numerous winning big boat programs in the Pacific Northwest, including the following:

• Paddy Wagon (Ross 40) – 2nd Place 1991 Whidbey Island Race Week
• Delicate Balance (X-One Ton) – 48° North Boat of the Year 1987, plus two First Overall Long Course finishes of West Vancouver Yacht Club’s Southern Straits Race
• Oaxaca (Santa Cruz 50) – Seattle Yacht Club Grand Prix Champion
• Delicate Balance (Andrews 56)
• Icon (Perry 65)

Derek was the 1973 OK Dinghy National Champion, but his true love for dinghies was the 505, in which he campaigned in numerous Continental and World Championships.

Living the mantra, “The family that sails together stays together,” Derek and Rana were active members in the Tasar Class; together, they sailed the Tasar Worlds in Vancouver, BC when Kailey was one year old. Later, Derek, Rana, Kailey, and Brent campaigned a number of their boats as a family, including Banshee (Melges 24), Banshee (Melges 32), and Terremoto! (Riptide 35).

The Campbells also enjoyed many cruises to the San Juan Islands, the Canadian Gulf Islands, and Desolation Sound on board their Back Cove 29. The family dream was to cruise to Alaska, which son Brent accomplished in a very different manner, winning the 2019 Race To Alaska, on board Team Angry Beaver — Skiff Sailing Foundation.

Peter Shorett shares, “I met Derek early in the 1970s when he came to the OK Dinghy fleet; although two years younger, he rocketed to the top of the Class. Years later, in a borrowed Melges 24, we were fast and often first to the weather mark, but we struggled downwind until Derek started pumping the spinnaker; we never lost a downwind leg after that. He was super energetic, great to sail with, and especially skilled at nicknaming boats – “Tack On Ya” for ‘Tachyon’, and “Mad Rana” for ‘Madrona’ (although I’ve never seen Rana mad!). Derek’s sailing acumen and penchant for detail took “Terremoto!” to the next level of performance.”

Jay Renehan continues, “Derek was a person who made everyone better. Whether it was sailing dinghies or keelboats, on the soccer pitch, or coaching kids’ soccer, he got the best performance out of everyone. His approach to sailing was to seek perfection in the art and science of the task at hand, preparing his boat, understanding the weather and his crew, with the uncommon keen eye to detect and address flaws or potential flaws. I’ve never seen his boats or teams unprepared for a race or event. After preparation, Derek went full speed, no holding back, no compromises, enjoying the ride. The time we were ripping along at 22 knots in Terremoto in a southerly, about 3 miles out, lined up for the finish off of Shilshole marina with the crew perfectly set ready for the big puff, grinning, hooting, and hollering typifies the joy in the art of sailing he brought to me and others. Sure, he was demanding as a helm, team captain, coach, teammate, and friend, but his infectious intensity and ceaseless effort brought joy and satisfaction to all those he touched and inspired. Derek’s spirit will live with me and my family forever.”

Charlie McKee reflects, “Derek was an exceptionally well-rounded sailor, and kind of our guru when it came to big boat knowledge, but he truly loved sailing dinghies. In many ways Derek was the “spark” that helped create 49er sailing in the USA. He rallied people to get boats, to learn to sail them in the evenings after work and weekends in the Gorge, and to all go together as a group to Perth for the first 49er Worlds. He would get a gleam in his eye; then, you knew he was going to make something happen. Knowing Derek, you knew it was going to be done right, and since he was involved it was going to be fun. We are all fortunate to have been touched by him.”

Carl Buchan adds, “I really appreciated Derek’s leadership, whether he was focused on a sailing project like getting Seattle’s 49er fleet going, organizing a soccer game when there was not enough wind to sail, or getting the power-lines in his neighborhood moved from overhead to underground. With Derek around things were never dull; his enthusiasm was contagious, and he will be deeply missed by all who knew him.”

Derek was predeceased by his parents, Dave Campbell and Patricia Dowd Campbell, and is survived by his immediate family and his sister Carol Turek.

Charitable donations made to the Defeat MSA Alliance, a US based 501(c) (3), will be deeply appreciated by the Campbell family. Visit: www.defeatmsa.org

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