San Diego's Ocean Beach

Friends Honor Capt. Jack Sutphen

Jack Sutphen

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

By Jim Kelly

HONORED - Jack Sutphen takes a moment to reflect on his life after being inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame at a private party hosted as a tribute to him.

On Oct. 19 San Diego Yacht Club’s Pacific Class (PC) Fleet honored Capt. Jack Sutphen, for his entry into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame.

The event was held at the home of Maria and Michael Herman in Point Loma with 100-plus invited guests in attendance.

Friends gathered, ate, drank, and were quietly merry as they celebrated the life of one of the sailing world’s most beloved men.

Sutphen, known for his modesty as well as his maritime skills, narrated a slide show with photos of his America’s Cup adventures giving all the credit (of course) to others who had sailed with him. When asked how he achieved all his successes in life, Sutphen replied, “I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Even a casual observer would know this is not the case. Sutphen’s life is a testimony to hard work and courage, and a roadmap of honor for those who know him.

Early Start To Sailing

He began life as a sailor at the age of 9 when his parents sent him to a Larchmont Yacht Club’s junior sailing program in his home state of New York. A short five years later, in 1935, he crewed aboard one of two American dinghies during an international gold cup between the United States and Britain.

During these years he built a reputation in the sailing world in the summer and, in the winter, he worked hard to become a top-notch hockey player. These two loves were not abandoned when one even greater came into his life.

At 19, he married Jean McGeachin, his high school sweetheart and a national-champion swimmer. “She was beautiful,” Sutphen said. “and a better athlete than I was.” Jean shared 61 years of happiness with Jack as a companion and as a crewmate until he lost her in 2001.

During World War II, Sutphen skippered an 85-foot air/sea rescue boat for the Air Force (yes, the Air Force) and returned to sailing after the war.

Decades Of Competition

While living on the East Coast, the Sutphens competed in Winter Frostbite Racing. While sailing in these frigid regattas, they tested their skills against such notables as Arthur Knapp, Corny Shields, George Hinman and Bus Mosbacher.

In the fifties, Jack joined Colin Ratsey on Golliwogg in the Bermuda Races and was hired by Ratsey & Lapthorn Sailmakers. He became involved in his first America’s Cup activity by helping Ratsey develop Weatherly’s inventory for the 1958 competitions.

In 1961, Sutphen skippered a 12-meter trial horse in a series of Long Island Sound races against Columbia, Weatherly, and Easterner. He continued working with America’s Cup teams, mainly as a sail maker, until the mid-seventies when he was asked to crew on Courageous in the 1974 campaign.

Sutphen Meets Connor

During this cup competition he met Dennis Connor, an up-and-coming star in the racing world.

“In 1978, prior to the Freedom campaign, Dennis invited me to help with the sails and to crew on the trial horse Enterprise,” Sutphen said.

The invitation brought Jack and Jean to San Diego where he joined the San Diego Yacht Club.

“Connor was brilliant,” Sutphen said. “When we raced, we would keep things the same on the trial horse and Dennis would make changes, day after day, to his boat. To my knowledge, it was the first time anyone thought to do this.”

Sutphen returned with Connor to the East Coast in 1980 and helped him win the America’s Cup. Prior to the competition the 12-meter boats were invited by the governor of Rhode Island to compete in a pre-Cup race. Connor opted out of the race, and Sutphen’s crew sailed the trial horse Enterprise to a first-place finish.

After skippering the trial horse through two more America’s Cup wins, Sutphen eventually retired from the competition.

Still Actively Involved

But Sutphen didn’t give up racing. He is still actively involved in restoring, racing and winning championships in the Pacific Class (PC) Nationals in San Diego. His last winning season was in 2004 when he took first place for the seventh season in a row. In 2005 he came in second.

During the party honoring him, Sutphen showed his true colors to BoatingNews. While the photographer was taking a photo of him he said, “Take pictures of these other people. They’re the important ones.”