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AmericaOne New Zealand Chronicles:
"The Best Sailor in the World"

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by Larry Edwards, Quokka Sports

Friday, November 26, 1999 -


Auckland, NZ

John Kostecki may not have a college diploma, but in the sailing world, he's earned a doctorate degree.

The tactician for the AmericaOne Challenge, he is regarded by his peers as one of the top sailors at the top level of yacht racing. They would know. The "Professor" taught many of them a few lessons in how to win races, whether it's around the buoys or around the world.

Indeed, AmericaOne skipper Paul Cayard once introduced Kostecki as "the best sailor in the world." High praise from someone who is one of the world's best sailors himself.

Cayard recruited Kostecki not only because he knows Kostecki will help him win America's Cup races, but because he didn't want to race against him.

"John is quite possibly the best sailor in the world. His track record supports this conclusion," Cayard said. "Any boat he gets in is a threat to win the world championship immediately."

Indeed, the 35-year-old has won 10 world championships in eight classes. He helped boost Chessie Racing from being an also-ran to third place in the 1997-98 Whitbread Round the World Race; he was 1988 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year; and he received Sailing World magazine's 1997 Medal of Achievement.

The sterling record notwithstanding, his proudest moment, he said, came in a regatta he didn't win: his silver-medal finish at the 1998 Olympic Games in the Soling class.

"At the time, we were a little disappointed. We were hoping to win the gold," Kostecki recalled.

"But now that I'm a little older and I've gone through the Olympic trials several times, I know how difficult that really is, and how much time and effort it takes to go to the Olympics and win an Olympic medal," he confided.

Indeed, the 1996 Olympic trials became just that -- a trial -- for Kostecki. The series leader going into the final race, he capsized his Star-class boat in heavy air and big seas -- and made the ESPN highlights film.

"It's one of my most embarrassing moments," he said with a grin.

He can laugh about it now, but it wasn't funny at the time.

"We never trained in big waves and a lot of wind, and we were trying to do something we had never done before," he said. "We were out of commission for about five minutes, and we ended up losing the trials by one point."

That dunking did not dampen his enthusiasm for sailboat racing, however. He's never been able to get enough of it. It's his passion. It has been since he was a toddler when he inadvertently named his family's first boat.

He was three years old when his parents, who had moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from Pittsburg, Penn., purchased a Lido 14. Kostecki took to it, if you'll pardon the cliché, like a duck takes to water.

"I don't remember this because I was only three years old, but at the end of the day I would say, 'More, more!' So, my parents named the boat More More."

Once he left the nest, he began sailing an El Toro in the junior sailing programme at Richmond Yacht Club, then graduated to Lasers. His success in that fleet took him across San Francisco Bay.

"Basically, St. Francis Yacht Club recruited me," Kostecki said. "They offered to help with travel expenses, they gave me a Laser to race. That allowed me to travel and sail at a higher level while still in high school."

That higher level soon became the highest level. He won his first world championship at age 22. His passion had become his career, and his formal education was left in his wake.

Although Kostecki is considered a top helmsman in his own right, these days he's more often seen calling tactics. He enjoys the cerebral nature of a tactical yacht race. But it wasn't anything he planned.

"It just kind of evolved that way," he said. "As a professional sailor, you find your niche. That's where I've been focusing my efforts, so I'm probably a better tactician today than I am a helmsman. I really like being a tactician for great helmsmen, like a Paul Cayard or a Gavin Brady."

Which is just fine where Cayard is concerned.

"His sense of what the wind will do and, therefore, what side of the race course he wants is second to none," Cayard said. "He has also assumed a leadership role within the crew."

"I enjoy being a tactician. I also enjoy being a helmsman," Kostecki added. "But what I enjoy most is winning races. I tell Paul all the time, if I have to trim the mainsheet or grind, that's what I'll do, as long as we win."

There's little doubt that Kostecki will be winning yacht races on the Hauraki Gulf -- and giving a few more sailing lessons to his respectful peers.


  • 1997 Medal of Achievement / Sailing World magazine
  • 1988 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year
  • Silver Medal, 1988 Olympic Games / Soling class
  • 10 world championships in eight classes
  • Third Place, 1997-98 Whitbread Round The World Race


For full story go to: www.americascup.org

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