Vale Jim Hardy

Sir James Hardy, perhaps the best-known Australian yachtsman of the 20th Century, has died peacefully in Adelaide aged 90.

The three-time America’s Cup helmsman, Olympian, world champion and Admiral’s Cup winner embodied the Corinthian ideals of the sport during a time when sailors from ‘Down Under’ were prominent and popular at the world’s major events.

The sea-going ancestral roots of the family go back to Thomas Masterman (‘Kiss me’) Hardy who was Nelson’s captain on HMS Victory at the battle of Trafalgar. 

Jim’s father Tom, a keen yachtsman and chairman of the Thomas Hardy & Sons wine company, died in a plane crash in October 1938 when Jim was just six years old

Jim worked at a local market garden after school to pay for the materials to build his first real racing boat, a 12-foot Cadet dinghy. He won the world championship in the 505 class in 1966 defeating four-time Olympic champion Paul Elvström. That victory prompted an invitation to join the crews training in Sydney for Australia’s second challenge for the America’s Cup.

His close defeat as helmsman in the controversial Gretel II challenge in 1970 was a crushing blow. He only shed that disappointment after surviving the horrific Fastnet Ocean Race of 1979 when a violent storm in the Irish Sea cost 15 sailors their lives. “Going through an experience like that sort of washes out your soul”, he said. 

Hardy was the skipper in a further two America’s Cup campaigns (1974, 1980) and back-up helmsman and advisor to John Bertrand when Australia II finally won the Cup in 1983. He continued to compete in Etchells and the major offshore races, principally in his own yachts Nyamba and Police Car, but also sailing as a helmsman for other owners in local and international events.

While his manners were immaculate – even slightly old-fashioned – the tone of Hardy’s conversation was relaxed and engaging. Anyone within earshot felt included and their contributions were always valued. As guest crew he would never take the helm unless invited, even though his skill at steering yachts was peerless and remained undiminished well into his 80s.

‘Gentleman’ Jim Hardy’s name will endure as a yachting champion and through the company’s well-respected wine brands. The Hardy Cup is an annual match-racing competition he endowed to encourage Australia’s most talented young sailors. Sir James was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame in 1994.

David Salter