Carrying the Fight
America has never embraced sailing as a hero-making sport.
It's insufficiently violent, too convoluted in its rules, and too
intellectually demanding in its tactics to grab the kind of attention
accorded its bone-crushing brethren. Or at least that's how it was
until Gary Jobson came along. When it comes to sailboat racing in
America, since he burst onto the scene as a college kid from the shores
of New Jersey, Jobson has become the sport's megawatt face, voice, and
cheerleader. During his four years at SUNY Maritime College, three
times he was named an All-American sailor, and twice he was the
collegiate Sailor of the Year. At the ripe age of 27, Jobson was
selected by Ted Turner to become tactician on Courageous
in Turner's nationally galvanizing 1977 America's Cup win. In addition,
Gary's won three SORCs (Southern Ocean Racing Conferences), one-design
championships on Lasers, Shields, and Force 5s, and, most dramatically,
the tragic 1979 Fastnet Race aboard Turner's ocean racer, Tenacious.
In 1988, Jobson won an Emmy for his television coverage for NBC of
yachting at the South Korea Olympics, and for 19 years on ESPN he's
been the host, teacher, and sometimes song-and-dance man who's
succeeded in explaining sailing to the masses. He's pumped out 14
sailing books and scores of videos and magazine articles. Over 30
years, he's given 1,900 slide shows and lectures at yacht clubs and
boat shows. And he's an editor at large for both Cruising World and Sailing World.
No one in American sailing has combined such an understanding of the
sport with savvy business skills, charismatic stage presence,
confidence earned by having the goods, and enough exuberance and
stamina to make it work. He also chairs the prestigious FALES Committee
at the U.S. Naval Academy and sits on the boards of the Mariner's
Museum of Newport News, Virginia, and of The Leukemia & Lymphoma
Probably Gary's greatest contribution is that he's parlayed his
position in sailing to benefit cancer research. For more than a decade
he's served as the volunteer national chairman of The Leukemia &
Lymphoma Society's Regatta Series and raised more than $12 million.
This accomplishment was all the more poignant last March 25, in
Baltimore, Maryland, when Gary appeared for the 141st time at a
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fund-raising event. This time, the
event was in his honor. As the audience rose in applause, Gary entered
in a wheelchair, no longer their high-energy, high-profile fund-raising
chairman but a patient fighting to beat lymphoma himself.
A Hero Takes a Fall
In 2003, after returning from covering the America's Cup in Auckland,
New Zealand, Gary was in Cleveland, Ohio, ready to lay on his
fast-paced video show about the year's highlights in sailing. "I felt
really wasted," he remembered. That night, a physician in the audience,
concerned about Gary's appearance, approached him after the show and
told him to come by the hospital the next morning for some tests. "He
said, 'I'm not sure what, but something's very wrong,'" Gary recalled.
"That was the beginning. I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma,
cancer of the lymph nodes."
One year later, on March 25, 2004, Gary sat in a hospital room at the
University of Maryland's Stem-Cell Transplant Unit, where he'd spent
the previous two weeks fighting back attacks of shingles, pneumonia, 10
days of unending hiccups, and constant nausea. I was with him that day,
the afternoon of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fund-raiser in his
honor. He'd stopped taking his pain medication so as to arrive at the
banquet that evening and be completely in the moment. He was too weak
to walk independently, and I didn't believe for a moment he'd find the
strength to get out of bed, to say nothing of making a public
appearance to rally the troops. On and off that afternoon, he dozed and
awakened. On and off, we talked.
DB: Gary, you don't have to go tonight. Everyone would understand that.
JOBSON: At 7:15, we're going over there. I'll speak for a few minutes,
play my Year in Sailing video--I'm really proud of it. And everybody
will think everything's cool. I gotta go. I really want to introduce my
DB: It's been a long slog this year. How do you hold it together?
JOBSON: The first round of chemo went pretty well, and I thought I was
OK. After that, when you and I went to the Redskins game last October,
I said it could go either way. I could be fine, or I'd need a stem-cell
transplant. I thought I was mentally prepared. Well, a week later, they
found my tumor had doubled in size. That brought on the high-dose
therapy and the transplant. Through it all, in my inner of innards, I
believed I'd be OK. Coming off that stem-cell transplant, wow. How much
more can someone do? Man, lymphoma's a hard disease to get rid of.
DB: How do you feel now?
JOBSON: I'm so sick it's unbelievable, but I'm down to a splitting
headache, an awful earache, and nausea, so that's a lot better. This is
the fourth time I've gone through this.
In January, I went to Sail Expo in Atlantic City to do my presentation.
I wasn't the best, but I got there. I talked. I socialized. It was
quite a big moment for me to be able to do that. People take it for
granted that Joe Montana's going to throw footballs, but this Joe
Montana wasn't so sure. I wondered if I had the strength.
I wasn't prepared for getting sick again at the end of February. I'd
done everything. And here it is coming back, worse and harder. The docs
would say, "Let's try this med," and I'm getting worse by the day.
Finally I checked myself in again, two weeks ago. I was failing.
It's like somebody took a fist and smashed the side of my head, like
somebody put a belt around my chest, put both feet on, and pulled with
all his might. I'll get relief tonight when I get back on the pills.
One thing about pain, you can't remember it long-term. Sometimes during
the chemo, I'd lie on the couch and know it would be five days of
agony, then four and a half, then four. I'd just bear it out.
DB: It's different this time?
JOBSON: This time I thought, is this it? I got all my papers in order.
My first priority was making sure my family's taken care of. Is there
enough money in the college funds? What stupid things do I have
lingering? What do I do with my Redskins season tickets? I started
thinking about what else have I done. The short answer is I've done
everything in racing. I'd like to do more cruising. Or maybe return to
a career in coaching. Maybe I don't need to make so much money anymore.
DB: How are you dealing?
JOBSON: Talking to shrinks helps. They said that I've been such--and I
mean this humbly--such a Superman for so many years, doing a lot of
races and TV shows and talks and articles that I had to come to grips
with the possibility that I might never get back to that pace.
I had to do a living will before the transplant. I told them to Keep
Trying! Don't give up. Five years ago, my father didn't have a living
will, and there were a couple of docs who wanted us to sign things that
said One More Time And That's It, and we didn't sign it, and he's fine
today. They were ready to give up on him early. I take the attitude
that they should keep trying for a long time. That way, if you're in
the middle of some unbelievable pain, there's no way out of it, so you
Reflecting on a Full Life
When he turned 50, before the diagnosis, Gary went through a midlife
crisis. He grew his hair long, got an earring, and in a move he
regrets, left his wife for a period. It's a time he's grateful to have
put behind them.
Today, he and Janice live in Annapolis, Maryland--their home throughout
their marriage. They have three daughters: The eldest is a sophomore at
Harvard, and their 17-year-old twins are high-school juniors.
DB: Looking back, Gary, don't you think you might have been better off just buying a red Miata?
JOBSON: For sure! You know, I never would've achieved what I have
without Janice. She was just so tolerant with all my stuff. I think
I've done as much as is humanly possible in 53 years. I've done all
these ocean races and dinghy races, and I've done expedition cruises
and writing. And I've got three great kids. Getting back with Janice,
that was really big. That's my biggest accomplishment.
DB: So what now?
JOBSON: I just really want to get up to Maine this summer and spend
some time with my family on our new Sabre. It's a good boat for me,
being 6-foot-2 and over 50. Not too much to handle. Well built. Well
designed. Sometimes I think about getting a long-distance, bluewater
cruising boat. I'd go with one head, stay with 40 feet. I'd want a good
place for foul-weather gear--that's essential. Everything would work
from the cockpit. I'd go with a monohull sloop, a gennaker. No TV
though. If you have a TV, you watch tapes all the time.
A cruising boat should make 7 knots under power. Slower than that,
you're hurting yourself. I like fiberglass, but I'd want steel for the
extreme north and south. I've only done fast-track cruising, with Skip
Novak down in the Antarctic. The longest I've cruised with my family
was 35 days. We never stayed longer than two nights anywhere. We kept
moving. Now I'd like to slow down.
DB: Have you always loved telling people about sailing?
JOBSON: Here's what happened. I'm about 12. I'd just gotten a new
Penguin--a really popular boat at the Jersey shore. This family comes
down to the yacht club who'd never sailed before. I got all enthused
and talked, and these people listened to me! Right there, I knew I
liked doing this.
DB: Who in your family, other than you, was into sailing?
JOBSON: My father helped me get the Penguin. Here was this guy in his
early 30s working at the newspaper, where he had to be in at 6 o'clock
every morning. And at 6 o'clock on Saturday morning, he's taking me to
the yacht club because that's where I wanted to be. I didn't realize
what that meant until I was in my 40s. He was waking up at the crack of
dawn when most parents just roll over and say, "Get yourself down
Then again, some parents force too much. There are a lot of really
talented sailors in this country who got turned off at 15 because their
parents pushed them too hard and wouldn't accept that they wanted to
play soccer or football. The best thing a parents can do is get kids to
play another sport, because when they come back to sailing, they'll
have better teamwork skills. Taking the kids around to the Optis,
burning them out early, is too much. Then they reject sailing when
Choice Words about the Boys
In 1999, Gary was awarded the Nathanael G. Herreshoff Trophy, US
Sailing's most prestigious award. In October 2003, he was inducted into
the America's Cup Hall of Fame, and all 11 crewmen from the 1977 Courageous crew, including Ted Turner, showed up that night.
DB: What do you think of some of your sailing peers?
JOBSON: Well, Bill Koch, for example: He might be a bit of a nut case,
but he's a good nut case, so into science and math and making boats go
faster. Buddy Melges--you can't help but love him. Ted Turner is the
best guy I ever met. So full of life. He has this ability to take
far-fetched ideas and make them come out as reality. Very few people
have the business sense to take something abstract and make a lot of
money at it. These guys--Koch, Melges, Turner, Conner--they're very
Dennis Conner, for instance: I was sailing with him on Condor
in a Fastnet one time, back in the days when you weren't allowed to fly
the spinnaker without a pole. If the pole broke, you had to take it
down. There wasn't anybody within 20 miles. The pole broke. Conner
said, "Either we get a new pole up in one minute or we take it all
down." High marks from me. No one would ever know, yet he played by the
DB: Who are your heroes?
JOBSON: Buddy Melges. It's 1965. The E Scow nationals in Little Egg
Harbor on the Jersey shore. A hundred boats, blowing hard. It's the
first race, and there's this guy with a funny-looking nose, and his
shirt says USA. Buddy Melges! Holy shit! I'm 14 years old. I went over
and introduced myself, and he said, "Hiya, kid. Good to meet you. See
ya on the racecourse." And then I watched Buddy Melges port-tack a
hundred of these E Scows! Wow, you could be racing against him, and at
the end of the race, he'd be telling a crowd of people how to trim the
jib. Wasn't afraid to give away secrets because he'd get better
Today, I look at my peers--the older guys--who've really contributed to
sailing. Robby Doyle and Tom Whidden made their sails. The Harkens
built their blocks, and Buddy and the Johnstones built their boats. The
one big thing I've done is make sailing interesting for the non-sailor.
I made people want to go sailing. Twenty years from now, that's how
they'll remember me.
DB: Somehow you made a career out of sailing. Very few people have found ways to do that.
JOBSON: I learned about business from Ted Turner. During the 1976-1977
America's Cup, he said, "Look, you're going to help me with this
sailing stuff, and I'm going to help you with business." Later, I went
to meetings with him in Atlanta and New York, and I really learned a
lot watching him operate. It was a fair trade.
DB: In 2002, you were aboard Blue Yankee in the Stamford-Block Island Race when a crewman was lost overboard.
JOBSON: At 2000, I went off watch and got into my bunk. A few minutes
later, I felt the boat rolling out. Figured the spinnaker had luffed,
so I jumped up to help. The owner, Bob Towes, said we had two men
overboard. I called the Coast Guard. Jamie Boeckel had been hit in the
head with the spinnaker pole. Another guy had jumped in after him; he'd
got to him, but Jamie got heavy and sank. I'd never been on the boat
before. I was a guest. Stamford Yacht Club had a memorial, and many
news groups were out front. I showed up, and the owner wouldn't do it,
so I did all the interviews and spoke at the memorial and did what I
could. There were a lot of mistakes made that night. The watch captain
went forward to work when he should've stayed in the cockpit to oversee
everything, and the helmsman kept spinning out--he wasn't really
qualified to be steering. And Jamie had taken his life vest off. At
2000, he had it on, and 20 minutes later he wasn't wearing it. There
were good moves, too. Peter Isler did a brilliant job getting us back
to exactly where the man went overboard. And the second guy who'd gone
in the water and had Jamie in his hands--that was courageous. This was
the biggest tragedy I've ever experienced in sailing.
A Banquet Awaits
Two hours before the fund-raiser in Gary's honor, we left the hospital.
Kathy Lambert, Gary's assistant, drove him to an apartment he owns in
Baltimore, close to where the banquet was to be held. He lay on the
couch in a dark room, a blanket over his legs, a sweatshirt on, one
hand across his stomach, the other holding his ear, struggling to keep
down sips of broth. Mostly he was quiet, conserving energy. Soon his
wife and the twins arrived. They got dressed, and each sat with him,
asking him if he really had to go. I reminded him that he didn't have
to be Superman. "Yeah," he whispered. "Kryptonite. It gets ya every
While Gary rested, from one of his bookshelves I picked up David Remnick's biography of Muhammad Ali, King of the World.
He saw me holding it, and he recited from memory Clay's poem about
Sonny Liston. One stanza reads: "Clay swings with his left, / Clay
swings with his right. / Look at young Cassius / Carry the fight!"
DB: Has cancer changed your goals in life?
JOBSON: I'm working on that with the shrinks. They keep saying, "Now is the time to decide what to maximize."
As much as I was involved in the Leukemia Cups and as much as I read
about cancer--and Janice's parents both died of cancer, and my
grandfather smoked himself to death with lung cancer--I didn't really
know what cancer is. It overwhelms your body and takes you away. I've
learned, though, that I'm a fighter and not a giver-upper.
DB: Are you taking time to smell the roses?
JOBSON: Maybe. If I can get the boat to Maine this summer, I don't want
to feel I have to instantly put up the sail to get to the next harbor.
But there's lots I still want to do. I have several projects going. I
started work on my autobiography, and I wrote another book--on
tactics--all while I was sick this year. It's finished, but I've still
got to make sure the right diagrams are with the right captions--all
the details. Next, I sold ESPN on doing a show on the most significant
moments from the last 25 years in our sport. I'm also doing the UBS Cup
for Outdoor Life Network up in Newport, half an hour every night.
It looks like I'm not going to see my 80s, not like the CCA people all
cruising around at that age, but I plan to see my 60s. Kathy's worked
for me for 21 years. I've been in my same office since 1978. I've been
married even longer than that. I've been in my house since 1981. I
crave longevity. Especially now.
Around 7 p.m., Gary managed with much help to take a shower and get
into his clothes--an elegant sports jacket, wool pants, and white
shirt. Then, as he grimaced, we wheeled him downstairs, a plastic
bucket in his lap, and helped him into the car. Outside the banquet,
ready to make his entrance, he cast the bucket aside, and smiled. "Man,
you're about to watch one miraculous comeback. I've spent the last 13
days getting ready for the next five minutes."
Janice led the way. Kathy rolled Gary in. The sea of worshippers
parted. The applause got wild. Someone made a stirring introduction.
The champ found his strength. He rose with conviction from his chair
and commanded the stage. Standing, beaming, Gary tried to quiet the
crowd, but they'd have none of it. Finally, he raised his hands and
they gave him rapt attention. Head held high, with timbre and hope, he
roared out, "OK, let's roll that tape. I want you all to see something
CW contributing editor Douglas
Bernon is cruising with his wife, Bernadette, aboard their 39-foot
cutter. He co-authors the Log of Ithaka, the magazine's back-page essay.