pecking order

Darrell Peck’s drive is fueled by competition on the water.

At age four, he had a tiller in hand. The past 31 years his name has been prominent in the Finn Class. Now 54, the resident of Gresham, outside of Portland, Ore., took a tour to Sarasota, Fla. for the Finn Nationals March 15-17.

Hopping into his Ford 2006 diesel pickup, with 180,000 miles, Peck accelerated to San Diego, placed three Finn boats on his trailer while Mike Entwistle, Lee Hope and Robert Kinney [of Newport Beach], climbed aboard. The next stop was Buccaneer Yacht Club in Mobile, Ala. to grab his Finn, a 2009 vintage, and two other Finns.

Peck’s skills were evident as he outmaneuvered the 34-boat field for a third, first and fifth on Friday,  and two firsts on Sunday. He was disqualified on the second race for OCS along with six others [rules allow to throw out the worst score]. Saturday’s the races were cancelled due to limited air.

“The first race [Friday] was a nice 10-15 mph winds,” he said. “With the Finn class, there’s great competitors from many classes and a lot of smart sailors. The Finn has every adjustment in the boat to make it controlled while in the hiking position.”

“The starting line was pretty intense and I pushed it hard,” said Peck. “In the second race I was over the line. Maintaining your lane and keeping clean air is critical so no boats get up on you and you can sail as fast as possible. Then you can tack in the wind shift closest to the windward mark.

“On the last race [fifth place], I got a good start, but the wind shifted south [not predicted] and I lost a lot of time [on the first leg]. Quinton Gallon [first in the fourth race] got ahead and nobody was going to catch him. The fourth leg was up wind and then downwind to the finish line. I passed about six boats.

“Sunday, I was little conservative. There was a nice geo-shift from the north. At the first windward mark, I worked to second at first. The rest of the day, it clocked to the northeast. I was head-head with another boat [who], rounding the windward mark. I went to the left side around the mark, the wind shifted, swinging toward the east with the air temperature dropping.”

Maintaining a 50-yard lead ahead of Derek Mess, Peck eased across the finish line.

The Finn was unveiled in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Since 1993, carbon fiber masts and technology advances are always improving.

Trophies from lakes around the country are part of Peck’s extensive resume.

North Championships include: Cascade Locks 2001, San Francisco Bay 2007, Burlington, Vermont, Lake Champlain, Texas Corinthian Yacht Club 2011, Mobile Bay 2013 and Casanovia, New York 2018. Peck won the US National Championships in 1997, 1998 and 2019.

Taking off from work, from 1997-2000, he trained for the Olympics where he ended up placing third in the trials among 50 boats [in 2000 and 2008]. The trials [in San Francisco Bay [2000] and Newport Beach, Calif. [2008], are two races that are six miles held over eight days.

He competed in twelve Finn World Championships from 1991-2004 with a top finish of 14th in 1994 in Estonia and 25th in 1999. The five-day competition had classes of 120.

Peck poses a keen eye and uncanny understanding of Finn rigging and nuances. Other sailors at regattas will seek his expertise before the race and six-eight time a year, he’ll coach from the rig bottom inflatable boat.

“I show up early, three days before competition starts and practice,” said Peck. “I’ll tune and adjust all settings on the boat for specific wind and wave conditions; that’s my specialty. It makes a difference when the end of the race is decided by a few boat lengths.

“The rigging on the Finn is well thought out. I’ll tweak the cunningham, outhaul, traveler and adjust the mask rake and mast positions in the boat. The inhaul is unique to the Finn and is one more way we can change gears and adjust for a wide range of conditions. You have to alter the hiking straps constantly during the race from the cleat on the side.

“The Finn is the most demanding single-handed boat,” said Peck, at 6-1, 250 is still in great physical shape. “You have to say on top of everything.”

In the summer of 2015, Peck spent six weeks as a consultant at Takapuna Boating Club in Auckland, New Zealand assisting sailors from Finland, Estonia, Australia and England who were preparing for the 2016 Olympics.

“Guys competing internationally now are 6-4 to 6-8 and need a heart rate of 170 for an hour,” he said.

When he’s at home, Peck sails his Lightnings, Thistles and Lasers on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings at the Willamette Sailing Club, [on the river] and at Vancouver Lake in Washington.

He practices with the Finn out of Cascade Locks from June-September. President of the Finn Class in America, Peter Frissell appreciates Peck’s expertise, on and off the water.

“Darrell is very smart, he picks up on all the wind shifts,” he said. “He’s very fast in light air. The Finn is the ultimate test. You have to feel the fine points of the tiller and it teaches you to steer properly. It’s a technical challenge.

“I’ve sailed Lightnings, Snipes and Lasers, but the Finn is very intriguing. It’s very sensitive; you have to have a good touch and feel to keep it going.”

– Seth Schwartz.