How faith, grit and determination led one local to overcome the odds and claim unexpected—and joyous—victory in the 2016 Newport to Ensenada Yacht Race.
As Bob and Seana Siemon gazed at the snapping sails of boats jockeying for position at the start of the 2015 Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race, Bob hatched the plan that would not only consume and define him over the next 12 months, but would set off a ripple effect that he feels to this day.
“This experience is going to fill my life with challenges, lessons and interesting people and places,” the 65-year-old Pelican Hill resident remembers thinking. “That’s why they call it an adventure.”
It was the deliberate choice to set and meet a lifelong goal that inspired Bob to tackle Newport to Ensenada. This 125-nautical-mile run from Newport Beach to Ensenada, Mexico, has been braved by sailors since 1948. In its heyday, the competition fleet numbered more than 625 boats. N2E, as it is known to insiders, can be as fickle as the sea itself. In 2015 the wind-dead race had skippers turning back even before they reached San Diego. The 2012 competition ended in tragedy as four sailors lost their lives in the wee hours of a moonless night.
When Bob set his sights on N2E 2016, he adopted a tried-and-true approach: He identified the endpoint first. “You have to envision what you want,” he said. “A dream is just a dream until you assign it a time and a date. Then it becomes a goal. A sailing race is a great metaphor for that process.”
By the age of 5, Bob had launched his business career. He sold tree trunk whitewashing services to neighbors; convinced his teacher to donate her surplus Weekly Reader issues and then sold subscriptions door to door, and, at age 8, took on two paper routes. At 12, he became enchanted with the Sabot sailboats in the bay. “My dad made me a deal: If I saved up half the money for a boat, he would match it.” The year was 1962 and a brand new Sabot ran $400. Making good on the adage that the definition of a race is any two sailboats heading in the same direction, Bob saw every boat as a conquest. “I’d never sailed in my life, but anybody in that bay needed to watch out because I was going to race them.” The Sabot still sits in Bob’s garage.
As he focused on building a business and a family, sailing fell by the wayside—until the day he and Seana decided to jump into the sport together. The next step seemed perfectly natural: Go out and win a race.
In late 2014, Bob commissioned a Beneteau Oceanis 38 sloop from Jody and Tamara Krimstock of South Coast Yachts in Newport Beach. They named her Sundaze after the golden weekends they’d spent with their children. Less than a year later he assembled a crew of six—a blend of experience and eagerness that made for the perfect sailing alchemy. Jody, Bob, Alex Ballesteros and Bob’s longtime friend Ray Lee looked to Roger Floyd, a veteran of Transpac (a sailing race from Long Beach to Honolulu) for strategic expertise. Bob’s 41-year-old son, Caleb, a celebrated glassblower who had been a junior crewmember on a 105-foot schooner in high school, rounded out Team Sundaze, while from the shore, Seana was an ever-present inspiration and cheerleader.
“Bob is Mr. Safety,” said Jody. “He bought every piece of safety equipment he could lay his hands on.” He also filled his calendar with punch list items, attended safety and strategy meetings and equipped the boat with everything the crew might need to win and win safely.
“The skipper is responsible for all the souls on the boat,” said Bob. “It’s serious stuff. Not having what I needed to protect my crew would be a dereliction on my part.” Invoking a Benjamin Franklin quip that has come to be known among friends as a ‘Bobism,’ he added: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
This philosophy has held Bob in good stead all his life. Even today, he marks the first of the year by attaching names and dates to what he wants to accomplish. At age 16 he started making jewelry; by his early 20s he’d created a robust company that crafts inspirational and spiritual jewelry. Over the next four decades, Bob’s jewelry would adorn the fingers, wrists and necks of tens of thousands of customers worldwide. Yet Bob remains humble, believing that great things can be accomplished only through teamwork.
“It’s all about ‘we,’ ” he asserts. “If you think about the great things that have been accomplished in this world, it usually isn’t because of just one person. It takes a team to do something really great.”
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED… AND THEN SOME
During the months leading up to the race, Bob left no stone unturned. He implemented every advantage he could find. The crew practiced at night, under different sea conditions and assuming different positions on the boat. He even had Sundaze hauled out and, from the waterline down, painted with a protective, rarely used spray.
The N2E 2016 had a field of over 240 vessels. Sundaze squared off against 10 division competitors and finished the race in a little over 19 hours and 15 minutes. Even after a penalty for an incomplete finishers’ packet, Sundaze prevailed by more than 41 minutes.
Bob accomplished what thousands of racers never have: He earned a spot in the winner’s circle and took home the trophy. Never a victim of circumstance, Bob takes responsibility for every aspect of his life and hopes that the way he meets adversity can be a model for others. “I want to inspire people. No matter your age, you still need to make plans, dream big and, most importantly, set goals. And believe me: Those dreams do come true.
“The greater adventure that we are on is no different than the race. You’ve got to do all the right things, all the things that give you the extra advantage. The memory of that race is still so sweet from so many perspectives. It changed my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Our special thanks to Pelican Hill Magazine for sharing this inspirational story with us!