Gary Jobson: An American Sailing Story

Gary Jobson
Dan Nerney ©
An old proverb suggests it's best to live in uninteresting times. That depends on where you stand. Gary Jobson had the good fortune to hit his stride just when the relatively arcane sport he'd built his life around reached a fascinating peak, and he's made the most of it.

Mr. Jobson is a sailor, and a very good one. Twice he was College Sailor of the Year in the early 1970s at the State University of New York's Maritime College. That won him an introduction to the budding media magnate and keen sailor Ted Turner, who liked the young man from the Jersey Shore enough to make him tactician on Courageous, his upstart 1977 America's Cup entrant.

The Mouth of the South flummoxed the New York Yacht Club by taking an old boat and beating two icons, Ted Hood and Lowell North, for the right to defend the America's Cup. And Mr. Jobson was alongside Mr. Turner when he got so looped after winning it—four races to none over the Australian challenger—that he disappeared under the dais at the postrace press conference.

Over the next 10 years, the America's Cup grew into one of the hottest sporting events, and Mr. Jobson climbed with it.

In this memoir, he chronicles his journalistic role in fanning the nation's interest as first the cup was lost in 1983 by Dennis Conner, ending the New York Yacht Club's 132-year stranglehold on the trophy. (Mr. Jobson was the only person on the press boat who saw it coming in the seventh race and kindly shook the rest of us awake so we wouldn't miss the turning point.) Then he was there when Mr. Conner won it back in 1987 in the wild winds off Fremantle, Australia. Mr. Conner got a ticker-tape parade in New York and a reception at the White House. Mr. Jobson, who brought the saga home to folks who stayed up all night to watch on ESPN, became the voice of American sailing.

He has been on the spot for most key events in grand prix sailing over the past three decades. He steered the winning boat through 55-knot winds in England's 1979 Fastnet Race, the most lethal yacht race ever, with 15 sailors killed. He was in San Diego when a band of unheralded New Zealanders snatched the America's Cup from the world's richest nation in 1995, and he went to Auckland twice to watch the Kiwis defend it. He knows everybody in sailing, and they all know him. He's America's eye on the sport, as close to a sailing celebrity as there is.

That's quite an accomplishment for a newspaperman's son from Barnegat Bay, and Mr. Jobson tells the tale reasonably well in 'An American Sailing Story.' The book, co-authored with Cynthia Goss, is a bit disjointed, jumping back and forth in time, peppered with photographs and prose that runs the gamut from soaring to pedestrian (and sometimes makes you wince). In the end, you get a solid, unvarnished portrait of a full and productive life that owes most of its success to grit and hard work.

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