Competing at the 2012 John Cootes Furniture A Class Catamaran Championship fleet, sailed out of Wangi Amateur Sailing Club, was a snowy haired 71 year old sailor, John Cootes, an Australian sportsman who made history.
An avid catamaran sailor, Cootes sponsored the 2012 John Cootes Furniture Australian A Class Championships and we talked to him before sailing yesterday.
‘When I was in high school I played Rugby League with the Marist Brothers in Hamilton, Newcastle and I also had a chance to play at the university when I was studying (for the Priesthood) in Rome, playing Rugby Union with the college team. I was spotted by the local Lazio Rugby Team, the Roman team. They asked the Rector if I could play for them.
‘That's basically how I got the start back in Australia because Frank Hyde, the well known rugby league commentator, had been over to the World Cup in England with his tour and came back through Rome, he was a devout Catholic, and we got in touch with him and invited him to one of our college games and I think I scored about five tries that game and he was rather impressed.
‘When he was invited to speak at the Western Suburbs Club in Newcastle he asked if this young priest who had returned from Rome could come and hear him. Frank gave me such a great rap that the club actually approached my superior, the Bishop, and asked if I could play in the local competition. That's how it all started.
Father John Cootes became the first Roman Catholic priest to play international rugby league. He played for Australia as a three-quarter in 1969 and 1970.
Cootes eventually left the priesthood to marry and after retiring from football, Cootes enjoyed a long and successful media career, becoming a sports commentator for Channel 10. From 1979-1983 he was the host of Channel 10's Saturday Night Live programme. He started a successful furniture store chain in the 1980’s.
‘At Channel Ten in Sydney, we kicked off Eye Witness News. It seems I had quite a high profile and a cousin of mine and I met a beautiful old gentleman who was just about to retire and he offered to finance us into his business and that's how we started.
‘I had a Hobie 14 which I just loved. I bought it because I used to surf a lot and when I found out they have a boat that actually surfs the waves, I said I have got to have one. That's how I started the Hobie 14s and came across some good friends like Curly Corlett, who is still associated with Hobie, and learned a great deal from him.
‘Then unfortunately because of the business commitments I was unable to continue, that was a seven day a week job.
‘Lately I have become a little bit more free with my time and I’ve delegated wisely and that allowed me to get back on the water.
‘Actually I was sitting on the porch at my house in Marks Point (Lake Macquarie) when they had the Worlds in Belmont Bay in 2009 and I guess when I had sailed the Hobies I had seen this incredible looking A Class catamaran on the water. Way back in those days, I thought if ever I get the chance …. that's when it went on the bucket list.
‘When the Worlds came up I couldn’t help it, I had got to try the A-Cat. Fortunately I bumped into Glenn Ashby on the shore and he said ‘John I have a boat I can sell you.’
‘He had leased it to Manuel Calavia, a young Spaniard, so I finished up with Manuel’s boat and I loved it - I loved it as soon as I got onboard.
John Cootes on his A-Cat
‘It’s a great lake boat and this is a great spot for it. We are so lucky to have this lake at our doorstep.
‘When I bought the boat, I had no idea how to rig it and I called Bob Fussel and said ‘who is someone that can teach me?’ Bob said call this young fellow. It was Nathan Outteridge - Nathan was my first coach. What a great start. He was great.
‘When I sailed the Hobie I was with the Speers Point Club but I was really impressed with the camaraderie and the ethos of the club and I find this is true right through the whole sailing world. That impresses me and I appreciate more and more the camaraderie and just the atmosphere around a sailing club.
‘Although I am 71 I have always been a sports nut and always tried to stay fit. I learnt that from the footy days. I just like to be fit and I know the fitter I am the better I will sail and the fitter I am the longer I will be able to sail - that's the philosophy.
‘I cycle and swim. They are the main things and I still do a bit of upper body work in the gym although it didn’t serve me too well this week because I am sporting a bit of a tear of the biceps at the moment, but I am hoping to remedy that with a bit more upper body work in the gym.
‘Sailing is very cerebral I have found as well. That's another challenge I enjoy. I think I am reasonably intelligent and it is a challenge but it is exciting and it’s fun and stimulating.
‘I really enjoy the A-Cats and just how everyone is being really supportive
‘I love the sport. I love the people involved and I have gotten a great deal of enjoyment out of it. I have been very fortunate being successful in business and I am more than happy to encourage the sport itself, the people involved and especially the younger generation (hence the sponsorship of the event.)
‘I just think if people can enjoy this as much as I do and I can help the sailors to get there, then I have done my bit for the sport.‘
A-Cat John Cootes Furniture Australian Championships 2011