Other Accomplishments of the Leader of the First Non-American Team to Win America’s Cup
John has won several competitions apart from the ones mentioned above and has been given a number of recognitions for his amazing skill and talent for the sport. John was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, and has received both the Australian Sports Medal and the Centenary Medal, two prestigious awards that prove just how much John has contributed to his country through his love of yachting. Throughout his career, John has established a reputation that ranks him among the top of the world’s best people in this sport.
John is the author of “Born to Win,” which contains his biography, the 1983 America’s Cup victory, and wonderful insights on how an unfavored team can plan for very long odds. The book, which was released in 1985, became the largest selling biography in Australian publishing history.
But apart from being a world-renowned yachtsman and bestselling author, John is also extraordinary because of his philanthropic efforts. He is currently the chairman of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, a charitable organization focused on helping and protecting children from violence and its devastating effects in their lives. The organization was established in memory of Alannah and Madeline Mikac, two young girls who lost their lives during the infamous Port Arthur Massacre.
Since he joined the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, John has been active in not only promoting the organization’s goals of protecting children, but also in participating in the activities and doing hands-on work with the children that the foundation is helping. Under John’s leadership, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation has successfully helped thousands of children who were victims of violence and poverty.
With all of his accomplishments, John never forgets to give credit to all of the people who have helped him reach the level of fame and popularity that he has today. In many of his interviews, John often states how he firmly believes that reaching success is only possible if there are people around you to support you, to guide, and to mentor you. To John, it is essential to have people around you whom you can trust, and people who can provide the emotional support that you will need to succeed in life. Being a mentor himself, John knows how important it is for someone to lead one into becoming the successful person that he wishes to be. In an interview, John says:
“I've never come across anyone that's been successful in any area of endeavour without having mentors. Without having people that they can trust, that they can bounce questions off—an emotional sounding board. That's what I see as a mentor.”
One thing that made John so extraordinary is how he found his passion in life and how he stuck to it. To John, once you encounter something that would definitely pique your interest and passion, you will naturally improve in doing that thing and with time and practice, you would eventually master it. This is why John is so successful in being a yacht sportsman. He often says:
“If people can find something that they really get off on, they'll become very good at it. I've never met anyone that has not become very good at something without being naturally passionately involved. There's no such thing as nine to five. You've gotta live and breathe it. As you know in your job.”
John’s sees his work with the Alannah and Madeline Foundation as something that brings him fulfilment and joy. Being the person of fame that he is, John often states that he appreciates how he is able to give back to his community by joining the foundation and helping kids reach their goals in life. He stated in an interview:
“Yeah, and I feel good about being able... I'm in a situation with my profile where I can give back to the Australian community to some way. And the foundation is one vehicle that I can do that.”
John Bertrand was born in December 1946 in Melbourne, Australia to a poor family. John’s love for sailing can be traced back to a very young age, back to when his father first built him and his brother a training boat called “Sabot” in their boathouse which they named the “Chelsea.” When John rode on Sabot for the first time, he was overwhelmed by an intense feeling of belongingness that made him decide that this was what he wanted to do when he grew up.
From that moment on, every summer vacation, John and his brother would spend a lot of time sailing out in the open sea, and would often only come back home during meal time and rest. There were times when John and his brother would fight for Sabot and one time, their father threatened to cut the boat to stop his children from fighting. Fortunately, John’s mother convinced his father to build another boat so there would be enough for the two of them. John’s father passed away when John was only 15 years old, a very tough time in his life.
It seems that John’s love for the waters was something that ran in the bloodline. His great grandfather, Thomas Pearkes, was the chief engineer of Thomas Lipton’s “Shamrocks,” which he used to compete for the America’s Cup for five consecutive times. John’s grandfather, Berndt Kull, was a commercial fisherman who spent every day in the open sea on his 12–foot powerboat called “Evelyn,” named after John’s grandmother.
Growing up, John became particularly interested in boats and their design; he became proficient in mathematics and drafting, which made him excel in both subjects as well as the others. He graduated from high school with high marks and went on to study mechanical engineering at Monash University. During his time in Monash, John wrote a thesis on the aerodynamics of America’s Cup yacht sails and in 1968, he was awarded a full blue for sailing. John finished his studies in 1970 and earned his bachelor’s degree. After graduating, John went to the United States and studied ocean engineering at Boston’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He finished his studies in 1972 and earned his master’s degree.
During his time in Monash, John met Rasa, a fellow student whom he took a liking to. After a series of courting and dating, the couple were eventually married in 1969 and spent their honeymoon in Sydney. Rasa bore John three children: Lucas, Sunshine and Andre.
A Passion Started
Even when John was still a student in college, he already started joining local yachting competitions. He was a member of the Chelsea Yacht club, and often won junior championships for his amazing skills in yachting. John said in an interview with him:
“I had won junior championships, state championships in Sabots, VJs, lightweight Sharpies—went on to win senior championships. And, of course, that was a terrific accolade here at the Chelsea Yacht Club.”
After winning numerous local championships, John decided to try out for the Olympics. His extraordinary skill in yachting got him accepted, and in 1972 he became a part of the Australian team and went on to compete in the Olympic Games. The team finished fourth place, which caused great disappointment to John; he even called winning fourth place “worse than last.” John never got discouraged in going further in his yachting career. From the Olympic Games, he set his sights on the America’s Cup, and joined Alan Bond’s team in the 1974 Southern Cross challenge as a design assistant. Alan’s team was defeated for the America’s Cup with a score of 4-0, in favor of the American team.
However, in spite of this initial setback, John did not allow the incident to stop him from trying again. John practiced thoroughly in the following years and in 1976, finally won the bronze medal in the yachting competition of the Olympic Games.
John discussed his winning of the bronze medal in an interview:
“During that Games it became clear that I could've won the Olympic gold medal just as easily as the Olympic bronze. I made some decisions in, I think, the second-last race. Where, in hindsight, I didn't need to. I flipped the boat, the Finn class yacht. And then went from second to I think it was sixth or seventh place. And in the cumulative points scored, it ended up that I won the bronze instead of the gold. The point is, if I had've been cooler and more in the so-called 'zone' and all these things we talk about now, it's just a matter of making the right decision at the right time.”
During the 1980 Olympic Games, John and his team boycotted the event due to an issue which involved the Afghanistan team. After the incident, John’s former teammate Alan Bond got in touch with him and invited him to come back to compete in the America’s Cup. Although initially reluctant, John decided to go back after realizing that all his experiences in the past competitions he joined has prepared him for what was coming. And so, in 1983, John skippered the boat “Australia II” and won the America’s Cup, finally taking the prestigious award from the Americans after 132 years of supremacy.
John recalled his experience when he won the America’s Cup:
“I guess the enduring memory I have is crossing the finishing line. I remember the smoke going out of the cannon of the New York Yacht Club boat. I didn't hear the sound even though it was just blasted in my ear. I remember the sense of relief and contentment that I felt.”
Winning the America’s Cup thrust John to the international spotlight, causing him to become very popular and meet with very famous people such as Jackie Onassis and Princess Diana. In an interview, John recalled:
“The America's Cup has to be the most prestigious sporting event in the world. And it's just been amazing, what it's led to, of course, a global entree to literally anyone that we want to meet. Having dinner with Jackie Onassis and Princess Diana. And going across to Copenhagen and competing in the royal yacht race with Mary and Crown Prince Frederik and all that stuff.”
Induction into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame
After winning the America’s Cup, John stopped competing in yachting events for the next eight years in his life. This was due to his focus on yachting causing a rift in his family; When John and Rasa were first married, John literally spent more time in practicing for the competitions than with his wife. John’s tremendous passion for the sport was slowly breaking his family, and it took him quite a while to get a hold of the situation at hand. John said in an interview:
“1982 in particular, a real amount of stress on the family. Rasa left me a couple of times during that period. I guess most partners do break up at different times. And that was a result of this incredible focus that I had... If we hadn't have won in '83 I would've gone back again, 'cause that was just the mind-set. But I question whether our family unit could've stayed together.”
In spite of the difficult and nearly hopeless situation that he had with their family, John and Rasa decided to stick together for their children. Eventually, the family grew closer together, and up to now John and Rasa are still happily married. When John was asked in an interview what happened during the eight years when he stopped competing, he simply answered:
“Rediscovered the family, the family unit, you know. Up until then it was total passion and commitment and focus and all that stuff. To the point where I had very little feel of what home life was all about and what Rasa's problems were, and challenges. But she continually reminds me now.”
John spent the next two decades as a businessman and yachting mentor, only returning to the sport part-time in 1991, eight years after his America’s Cup victory. In 1988, John and his Australia II team’s victory in the America’s Cup was awarded with the “finest team performance in 200 years of Australian sport” by the Confederation of Australian Sport. In 1993, John was inducted into the America’s Cup hall of fame in recognition of his amazing achievement in the 1983 games.
Getting Involved in the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and DrinkWise
In 2001, John joined the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, a charitable organization that helps and protects children from violence and its effects. John became the Chairman of the foundation, and has since then effectively set numerous programs to promote child safety and protection. During an interview with John regarding his joining the foundation, he said:
“It started eight years ago with the Port Arthur tragedy. And we raise money for kids who suffer violent crime or lose their mums very rapidly. In addition, we have a very interesting proactive response to violence, and that is a major anti-bullying program now into about 700 schools around Australia called the Better Buddies Program. And part of the mantra, you might say... It's a 10-year program. The mantra, George, is we want to make it cool for big kids to look after little kids in the school playground. And for it to be very uncool for kids to bully other kids.”
Aside from the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, John also became an ambassador for DrinkWise, a movement to encourage young people to either stay away or regulate their drinking of alcohol.
In 2004, John and his wife went to a terrible ordeal when their car was taken by a teenage thug with Rasa sleeping on the front seat while John was paying for petrol. Fortunately, Rasa was able to wrest control of the vehicle and the thug was driven off. This incident further developed John’s passion in helping kids stay out of trouble by giving them something productive to do.
Currently, John not only chairs the Alannah and Madeline Foundation but he also supervises the family business and also chairs the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. And while he does spend a lot of time mentoring the next generation of Australian sportsmen, John never forgets to balance his time in work, philanthropy and family. His daughter Sunshine says of John:
“I think he says he's devoted a third of his time to doing charitable work, a third to his business and a third to sailing. Which is really healthy since they've got back from living overseas all the time.”
Throughout his life, John Bertrand has gone through several experiences—both good and bad—that helped shape him into becoming the success that he is today. John’s story is a great inspiration that reminds us just how everything that happens in our life all works out for our good, if we see them in a proper manner.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- The Alannah and Madeline Foundation
- Telstra Foundation
- Goldman Sachs & Partners Foundation
- Harcourts Foundation
- Honda Foundation
- The Bertalli Family Foundation
Awards and Achievements
- 1976: Won the Bronze Medal at the Olympic Games
- 1983: Won the America’s Cup
- 1984: Conferred the Order of Australia in recognition of service to yachting
- 1993: Inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame
- 2000: Awarded the Australian Sports Medal
- 2001: Awarded the Centenary Medal
- 2009: Named the Melbournian of the Year
- 2011: Received the Distinguished Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award from Monash University