John first raced here more than forty years ago when I crewed for him with his daughter Nicky on board Shona. Our results were modest to begin with, we provided the dull background against which the stars like Bill Jennings shone, but we all thoroughly enjoyed the sport. We had various unexpected episodes during our summers.
One day, crossing the bay we saw two big dorsal fins. Happily John did not try to sail between them because when we passed in front we saw it was the tail and dorsal fin of an enormous basking shark whose back was about a yard wide.
On another race in the bay we lost both spinnaker sheets and so the sail flew from the masthead like a giant burgee. We tried letting out the halyard slowly but it just flew horizontally from the masthead and the same thing happened when we let the halyard out quickly. I was on the foredeck jumping up and down with the boathook fruitlessly trying to catch hold of the errant sail. Suddenly I felt the urge to laugh at our ridiculous situation but was afraid to when I saw the grim faces in the cockpit. Being a coward I hid my face behind the mast to laugh safely. Almost by accident we caught the sail and carried on.
In rough conditions when a sudden squall flattened us we heard a crash from below and we realised the battery had broken free from its anchorage and it was upside down pouring its acid contents into the bilges. David, the strongest member of the crew, went down to sort out the mess and re-install the heavy battery. I looked down below and saw him on his knees with his head at floorboard level as he reached into the deep central bilge mopping up the dangerous smelly mess. After about quarter of an hour of being upside down breathing in acid fumes he tottered up the cockpit gangway carrying a bucket full of smelly waste and promptly threw up over the side.
On another lively day in the bay a speed boat roared past us crashing from one wave to the next with a large boom on each re-entry. John's diagnosis as a working doctor was that it sounded a fine way to punch one's guts out through one's anus, a point of view that the rest of us had not considered.
It was only after I left that John's helming talents started to get their just rewards. I am not sure why. He changed his boats over the years to Qui-est?, Gunslinger, Mistofiliees and finally Macavity, a Corby 25, but he kept a stable group who became a friendly and efficient crew, especially with Macavity. It was in this boat that John not only won races but also series, and he became a serious collector of silverware.
He nearly always remained calm although he has been known to say though gritted teeth, “Get the bloody spinnaker down” when the wind became too forceful. His crew recognised by his white knuckles that another nicotine fix was needed as he reached for his pipe.
He has decided that now is the time to sell his boat and take a rest, and so Macavity will be driven by John Hicks next season. We all wish him well and hope to see him sometimes next year enjoying the after-racing suppers.