Washington State Magazine

Spring 2007

Spring 2007

In This Issue...


Bright plumage against green foliage: the grandeur and beauty of evolution :: Some have told me that evolutionary explanation robs nature of beauty. This attitude puzzles me, because all the evolutionary biologists whom I know are driven by a love for nature, and to them nothing is more exciting than to uncover some hidden aspect of a natural system. by Michael Webster

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Story: A Conversation about Art and Biology with Ellen Dissanayake '57 }

Ray Troll: A story of fish, fossils, and funky art :: Ray Troll '81 has a species of ratfish named after him, Hydrolagus trolli. He calls Darwin "Chuckie D" and paints pictures of him driving around in an Evolvo. This is a man who has embraced his past and paints it wildly and beautifully. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Video: Strollin' and Trollin': A tour of Ray Troll's Ketchikan, with music unlike anything you've ever heard before. :: He draws. He paints. He writes songs and—oh lord—he sings them! Hear him for yourself as you tour the world of Ray Troll '81 via an audio slide show produced especially for Washington State Magazine Online. }

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Activity: Flying With the Dragon :: Know anyone with crayons? If so, we have a coloring treat for you: an Evon Zerbetz '82 original, uncolored. }

Darwin was just the beginning: A sampler of evolutionary biology at WSU :: All of modern biology and medicine is based on the theory of evolution, and every life scientist arguably is an evolutionary biologist. So where to start in exploring evolutionary biology at WSU? How about with dung beetles, African violets, and promiscuous wrens? by Cherie Winner

Zoology 61: Teaching eugenics at WSU :: Eugenics was the dark side of our understanding of human evolution. American eugenicists were united by the idea that the human race was degenerating because inferior people were breeding more quickly than those who were "well born." Zoology 61, Genetics and Eugenics, was finally dropped from the course catalog at Washington State College in 1950. by Stephen Jones

Why Doubt? Skepticism as a basis for change and understanding :: Skepticism can forestall a too-willing acquiescence to the-way-things-are; it can distance us from dogmatism and ward us away from zealotry; it can expose our mistakes. by Will Hamlin



:: SPORTS: Vaulting ambition

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Video: Forgetting gravity :: WSU student Todd Griffiths performing gymnastics atop a stationary, then a cantering, horse. }


{ WEB EXCLUSIVE—Music: Horace Alexander Young plays "That Kind of Girl" :: Listen to a performance by WSU music faculty member Horace Alexander Young on a track from his CD, Acoustic Contemporary Jazz. }

Cover: One Small Step for a Fish, One Giant Leap for Fishkind, 1995, pastel on paper. "Every mammal, reptile and amphibian alive on the earth today descended from the lobefinned fish that left the water 375 million years ago." —Ray Troll

The <em>Kahuna</em> at sea near the finish line.


The Kahuna at sea near the finish line. Photo courtesy Phil Ohl

John Leitzinger aboard the <em>Kahuna</em> during the 2006 Vic-Maul race.


John Leitzinger aboard the Kahuna during the 2006 Vic-Maul race. Photo courtesy Phil Ohl

Leitzinger plots out the next day's course.

Leitzinger plots out the next day's course. Photo courtesy Phil Ohl

Phil Ohl, Ken Marks, Scott Brown, and John Leitzinger celebrate 'Cougar Day' during the race.


Phil Ohl, Ken Marks, Scott Brown, and John Leitzinger celebrate 'Cougar Day' during the race. Photo courtesy Phil Ohl

John Leitzinger: Racing with the wind

by | © Washington State University

On a small boat with six other guys, with about two weeks to travel 2,300 nautical miles, you really want to be with agreeable people.

That was John Leitzinger's philosophy when he was looking for teammates to sail with him in the 2006 Vic-Maui International Yacht Race, a trip between Victoria, Canada, and Lahaina, Maui.

Fortunately, he long ago found a good sailing partner in his college friend, Ken Marks. After finishing their education degrees from Washington State University in 1987, the pair moved to Tacoma, where they worked as substitute teachers, lived together, and bought a boat from another Cougar classmate's dad. "It was sort of a goofy, romantic notion: Let's buy a boat and we can go sail around," says John. "Well we bought it for about $1,000, scraped the barnacles off of it, and then started with Wednesday night races."

The two caught the bug for speed and a couple of years later invested in the Ozone, a 30-footer that they kept on a trailer and drove to races up and down the coast. They also partnered up with Cougar classmate Phil Ohl '87, a Tri-Cities engineer, Scott Brown, a 1990 alum who works in sales, and a few non-Coug friends. With team Ozone, they won the Olson 30 National Championship in 2001.

When it was time to go for yet more speed and longer ocean races, they invested in the Kahuna, a 37-footer with four berths. They set their sights on the Vic-Maui, a Northwest tradition that started in 1968 and has since attracted hundreds of crews. It's not an easy route, starting in the chilly, and sometimes rough, waters of the Pacific Northwest and ending in sweltering tropical heat.

The team trained for the 2004 race, but at the last minute John was forced to drop out. A congenital heart defect had turned serious, and his doctor was insistent he undergo an immediate valve replacement. The crew, with WSU alum Eric Nelson at the helm, and Ken and Phil on board, raced without him.

So 2006 was the first year for the team to race with the Kahuna's true skipper. John and his wife, Virginia Rehberg, even planned the birth of their child to fit with the race schedule. It worked. Baby Libby was born three weeks before race day.

The yacht race has the 19 competing boats sailing down the Pacific coast toward San Francisco, then turning west to Hawaii. To man the helm for 24 hours a day, the crew split into two watches, alternating six-hour shifts during daylight and four-hour shifts at night. While one watch was working, the others slept on the four beds below deck, prepared meals, gathered weather data, and planned and replanned the route. Often wind and weather conditions obliged them to scramble on deck to change sails, and more than once the small bark capsized, forcing them to right it.

It wasn't all work, though. There were daily happy hours, poetry readings, and sing-alongs of The Who.

Ken, the gourmet, served up lasagna, beef stroganoff, and enchiladas. He made good use of a tuna they caught, marinating it in red wine, coating it with sesame seeds, and presenting it with a strawberry reduction.

July 12 was their official "Cougar Day," and all four WSU alums wore their crimson gear. It was also the day they had 1,000 miles left to go.

Out there in the open sea trying to capture the winds and get up to speeds of 20 knots, they fretted about where they were in relation to the other boats, and watched their provisions dwindle. They actually wanted their provisions to dwindle, in order to get the boat down to "fighting weight" for the last few hundred miles of the trip. And sure enough, their efforts paid off when, eight days later, just after nine o'clock in the morning, they sailed the Kahuna into port at Lahaina as the new division winners.

"It's a lot of fun," says John, who's looking forward to his next big race. "There's competition. It's an adventure. There's not a lot to see out on the ocean, but it seems that every day things are a little bit different."

Categories: Athletics, Alumni | Tags: Yacht racing, Sailing

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