Grace Under Pressure

Published on February 9th, 2015

Inducted into the U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame, Jim Kilroy’s ocean racing yachts, all name Kialoa, amassed a record of victories that remains unrivaled in the highest levels of Grand Prix racing. Equally successful in business, Kilroy’s autobiography Kialoa US-1 – Dare to Win provides the no-hold-barred, behind the scenes story of commerce and competition.

Here’s an excerpt by Andy Rose from an incident during the 1977 Southern Cross Series in Australia…

As we approached the leeward mark, Windward Passage was threatening to get an “inside overlap” on us which would have required us to give them room to round the mark and would have resulted in them passing us. My crewmate from the America’s Cup on Australia, Michael Summerton was on the bow of Passage and both boats were going about 13-14 knots. As we approached the “two boat length circle” by which time the overlap would have had to be established, they did not get quite close enough to establish it. I stood on the back of the boat and yelled to Mike that there was no overlap and he agreed.

As Jim turned up into the wind, I happened to look back and saw that Mike was waving his helmsman to come “up” to a course that would put them between us and the mark. Or, as it turned out, it was a course that would put them right through our cockpit.

One of our grinders was a doctor, and when he looked back and saw their bow in our cockpit, our wheel bent, and no sign of Jim. His first thought was that Jim was dead. Meanwhile, on the bow, Jim’s son, John Kilroy, Jr., was thrown overboard by the force of the collision.

A couple of us tried and eventually succeeded in pushing Passage out of our cockpit and freed the boats, which allowed Jim to struggle up from where he was huddled under the badly bent wheel to leeward. Not only was he not dead, he wasn’t even hurt. His first words to me were something like, “Well Andy, I told you I’d do anything you told me to do.”

At that moment I decided that I would sail around the world backward with a blindfold on if Jim asked me to. Talk about grace under pressure!

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