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A tough skipper to run a fast 'Dame'
Ray Robertson
September 11, 1967
Jock Sturrock, skipper of 'Gretel' and 'Dame Pattie' and one of the few America's Cup challengers ever to get a second chance, plans to sail his own boat this time around with no interference from any owner
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September 11, 1967

A Tough Skipper To Run A Fast 'dame'

Jock Sturrock, skipper of 'Gretel' and 'Dame Pattie' and one of the few America's Cup challengers ever to get a second chance, plans to sail his own boat this time around with no interference from any owner

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There's no guarantee of a return bout for America's Cup skippers. When one of them steps into the arena off Brenton Reef to challenge for the cup or to defend it he does so in the almost certain knowledge that it must be now or never. There are, however, two notable exceptions to this rule: Jock Sturrock and Bus Mosbacher, the skippers who face each other this week in Dame Pattie and Intrepid.

When Jock came over to challenge with Gretel five years ago, Bus was at the helm of Weatherly. Jock went on to become one of the very few intruders ever to win even a single race when he sent Gretel sliding down the seas, like a California surfer, to nose out his rival just under the wire on the second day of racing. But if the memory of that great day means anything to Australia's topmost helmsman, he is not going on about it. Alexander Stuart Sturrock is not a man likely to waste much time on dead victories or dead defeats. He is the kind of sailor who thinks about the next race, not the last one. What does he think of his new command, the Dame Pattie? "A very fast boat, all along," says Jock.

Sturrock, considered the top helmsman of them all in Australia, was appointed skipper-designate of the Dame even before Naval Architect Warwick Hood began to sketch her lines on a drawing board. "In all," Sturrock says of the finished product after a full year of sailing, "she is the best balanced boat of any class I've ever handled."

At 52, Jock looks the part of one of the world's top match-race skippers. Sun and wind have given his face a deeper tan than a jackeroo's. Countless hours of sailing have etched crow's-foot lines (or should it be gull's-foot?) beside his eyes. Beneath a nose with a deep-tinted prow, Sturrock's lips look always ready to smile—or to take delivery of a few beers or whiskies after a long day's dehydration. Close to 6' tall and well covered amidships, Jock admits to weighing 14 stone (196 pounds) in a tone that implies he's glad it's no more.

Sturrock gives the lion's share of credit for Australia's emergence as an important challenging nation to Newspaper Magnate Sir Frank Packer, owner of his first cup command, Gretel. Packer put up about $750,000 to campaign Gretel and put Australia on the cup map for the first time. One result was that the America's Cup and its fate became a matter of interest not only to yachtsmen, but to land-legged Australians who hardly knew a burgee from a bougee.

As a skipper, Sturrock is calm and authoritative, leaving no room for question in any order he gives. He calls upon his store of locker-room language when it is vitally necessary but, unlike many of his countrymen, he is not a habitual cusser and hardly ever has recourse to the so-called Great Australian Adjective. Once Sturrock and two crewmen, after tough hours in a Dragon on Port Phillip Bay, walked into the Brighton Club bar and sagged against the counter. An order for three beers—then silence. Suddenly Jock turned to his companions, grinned and said, "Let's be friends again."

Sturrock's forebears came to Australia from Edinburgh, Scotland. Jock, a fourth-generation Australian who is a director of a Victorian timber company founded by his grandfather, has been sailing since he was knee-high to a gunn'l. From the age of 7 he lived on the Brighton bayfront, south of Melbourne, where his father sailed a 21-foot open boat. Idler. Even at Brighton Grammar School, well back from the shore, Jock could sniff the sea—especially if the tide had piled up enough odoriferous seaweed on the beach. At the age of 8 he rigged a dinghy for his father's yacht, and he has carried on from there. At 12, Jock and his mates rigged a Cadet dinghy with makeshift sails and steered with an oar. As it had no keel or center-board, they half filled it with water to keep it going to windward instead of sideways. At 14, he got his bowsprit in the door, so to say, by winning the first of five Victorian Cadet dinghy championships. At 17, he won the Australian title in Red Jacket, sailing against a New South Wales opponent, Norman Booth, who is now his shipmate.

As owner-skipper of one of the first three Australian-built International Star-class yachts, Sturrock won Australian championships for six years running, until war service interrupted in 1940. Those in peril on the sea have a prayerful hymn written for them, but the nearest Sturrock has come to losing his life was as a soldier. An air force officer in New Guinea in 1943, he was in an aircraft, piloted by an American, that crashed into a mountain, pushing the engine almost into his lap. "I was lucky," he recalls, "to get out of it with cuts and bruises."

Coming out of the service with a mustache, he sailed in the Star class and won the first two postwar Australian titles. He was still wearing the mustache in 1948 when he and Brighton-clubmate Len Fenton were chosen for the first postwar Olympic Games in Britain. It was the first time any Australian yachtsmen had been named to an Olympic team. They had a stiff beat to get up their fares to London, not to mention freight for their boat, Moorina. But hearing this, Australia's (and the world's) outstanding English billiards player, Walter Lindrum, came to the rescue with a special "night" at Brighton Town Hall, near Melbourne. Yachtsmen from all over Australia came to bet on Lindrum's near-incredible shots, and he raised $2,000 toward the trip's costs. "Walter was a wonderful man," says Sturrock, who 14 years later was awarded the annual Lindy Trophy by the Sportsmen's Association—a trophy commemorating the wizard of the cue.

By finishing seventh in a field of 17 in 1948 Sturrock and Fenton served notice on the descendants of Drake and Nelson that in the future Australia would be a threat in international yachting. A shortage of finances compelled them to charter a Finnish yacht for the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. It turned out to be a heavy old bomb, but they pushed it into 12th place. Four years later, in the 1956 games, Sturrock sailed 5.5-meter Buraddoo on Port Phillip Bay to win a bronze medal.

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