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America's Cup: John Marshall (USA) reflects on his America's Cup career as he joins Syd Fisc

COWES, IOW (#1094) – John Marshall (USA) played a major role in nine America’s Cup campaigns, winning it once as a sailor and twice more on the design side. He even lost it once, which provided him valuable insight on how to win it back. Marshall heads this year’s America’s Cup Hall of Fame class, which was inducted at a black-tie dinner at the Royal Yacht Squadron sponsored by Prada here on Friday night.

“This is a very big thing for me because I’ve been not only involved in the Cup for a long time, but really been an addict of the Cup,” Marshall said a few hours before the ceremony. “It’s been a big part of my life.”

Marshall was quick to give a nod to the influences in his career, including a quartet of San Diego legends: Gerry Driscoll, Lowell North, Malin Burnham and Dennis Conner.

“I’m very proud about the honor tonight at Cowes, but I think in reality that goes to all the people I think were mentors and instructors,” Marshall said.

Also in this Hall of Fame class of inductees are Syd Fischer (AUS), the late Doug Peterson (USA), and Ken McAlpine (AUS).

Marshall was mainsail trimmer aboard victorious FREEDOM in 1980. His biggest victory was as design coordinator for Conner’s STARS & STRIPES’ comeback win in 1987 in Australia. In 1988, he earned his third Cup victory as the design coordinator for the STARS & STRIPES catamaran.

Marshall is quick to mention that he was mainsail trimmer on Conner’s LIBERTY, which lost to the wing-keeled AUSTRALIA II in 1983 to end the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year winning streak.

“So I’ve seen it from both sides,” he said. “Honestly, you benefit from both sides. It feels great to win but if you don't win then you have a chance to think, ‘Why not?’ and ‘What can we do better?’ Everyone in the ’83 team felt they could do better. On the design side, I was not involved directly, but collectively we were a little complacent in America. Australia came up with a better boat. Our job was to go to Australia and win it back with an American design that was one step further still. STARS & STRIPES was a great campaign on the water with Dennis and Tom Whidden, and Jack Sutphen sailing the tune-up boat. The design team did a great job. I was very fortunate to be part of that.”

Being at Cowes, where the America’s Cup began in 1851, has given Marshall a chance to reflect on his long career. Naturally, his thoughts go beyond actually sailing a Cup boat.

“As a young person I had a good technical education, but I wasn’t an engineer or designer or computer scientist. There wasn’t anything in designing STARS & STRIPES ‘87 I could do. My job was bringing together the brightest people and helping them work together as a team.”

Marshall is also proud of having helped manage the group of yacht designers from five countries that put together the rule for the International America’s Cup Class that debuted in the 1992 Cup in San Diego. That rule was in place for a total of five America’s Cups.

“I thought getting all the important America’s Cup countries working together cooperatively to do something for the sport was good,” he said. “We produced a good, tough rule, a rule that ultimately produced closely matched boats and close racing. It was very fulfilling, a very good thing for the Cup, especially after the controversy of ’88. We pulled everybody together and did something positive.”

Peterson was a two-time America’s Cup winner as a designer, first for Bill Koch's America Cubed in 1992 and then Team New Zealand in 1995. He also designed boats for Prada challenge in 2000 and 2003. He died in 2017.

Peterson’s talent was best exemplified by his work as a lead designer of Team New Zealand's BLACK MAGIC (NZL-32), one of the most dominant yachts in America's Cup history. BLACK MAGIC’s boat speed, estimated to be about 3 ½ minutes faster on the Cup course than the American defender, helped Team New Zealand deliver a 5-0 victory against Conner and his borrowed yacht, YOUNG AMERICA, in the 1995 match.

Team New Zealand achieved an incredible 42-1 record with an average margin of victory of 3:06. BLACK MAGIC’S advantage in speed was due in part to Peterson’s decision to design her with a narrow beam and a mast positioned farther aft than her conventional counterparts, establishing a new paradigm in America's Cup Class yacht design. Peterson further attributed the success of the boat to using a total approach to design: "We started on a path with the hull, but then interconnected other components like mast and sails, always looking at it as a whole. That is our strength.”

Fischer stands with the legendary Sir Thomas Lipton (IRL/GBR) and Prada's Patrizio Bertelli (ITA) as the only yachtsmen to have mounted five challenges for the America’s Cup.

Now 90, Fischer is also noted for launching the America's Cup careers of some of today's most famous Australian yachtsmen, in particular Jimmy Spithill, Iain Murray and Hugh Treharne, who was tactician aboard the 1983 Cup winner, AUSTRALIA II.

McAlpine has been at the heart of the America’s Cup for more than 30 years, witnessing it evolve from the 12 Meter Class through the America’s Cup Class to the foiling catamarans of the 35th America’s Cup. During this period, he measured more yachts than any other person in the Cup history. In this role, he demonstrated an intimate knowledge of the class rules, and diplomatic skills that won the respect of the entire Cup community. McAlpine also assisted in the development of the 12 Meter Class rule and the AC Class rule.

John Marshall (USA) was inducted into the AC Hall of Fame at a black-tie dinner at the Royal Yacht Squadron Friday night in Cowes, along with Syd Fischer (AUS), Ken McAlpine (AUS) and Doug Peterson (USA).

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