Living , Modern




Marshall is the perfect example of a sailor who used his brilliant technical mind to develop a practical approach to winning sailboat races. His unique skill of blending the art and science of sailing helped him win the America’s Cup three times—once as a sailor, and twice, as a coordinator of the design team.”

Winning started early for Marshall and never stopped. As a boy he sailed Bluejays out of the Indian Harbor Yacht Club, optimizing his performance by insisting that his mother iron the sails. Growing up, John raced with his father on Long Island Sound aboard a Bounty Class boat named Ganymede. In 1965, as a collegian, he won the 505 Class Championship and went on to a Bronze Medal in the 1972 Olympics. Many years of racing offshore yielded wins in the Marblehead to Halifax, the SORC, Newport-Bermuda and Admiral’s Cups. He also won championships as tactician and mainsail trimmer in the Two Ton and Maxi World classes. Marshall joined North Sails in 1968 and brought the brand to the east coast by establishing a loft in Mamaroneck. In that era, successful sail inventories were created by the eyes and hands of craftsmen. By the mid-1970’s, Marshall had succeeded Lowell North as the company’s president and was prototyping the computerized sailmaking systems that evolved into Virtual Wind Tunnels (North’s Flow and Membrane software), Velocity Prediction Programs, tri-axial sail cloth, mylar sails, and molded sails laminated with strands of carbon fiber. Under Marshall, North expanded internationally, leading to 150 lofts and a dominant position in every size of racing yachts.

After 16 years at North Sails, Marshall retired in 1984 – at least from sailmaking. Almost
immediately, he was invited by his friend, Bob Hinckley to join Hinckley Yachts as its president. Without sacrificing Hinckley’s reputation for traditional quality, Marshall moved the company into contemporary sailing designs that could race and win. He also presided over the launch of the now legendary picnic boats, a project he considered a glaring company error. (Nobody’s perfect.) As a hands-on executive, Marshall skippered the 42’ Hinckley Dragon Fire to many wins including the Northern Ocean Racing Trophy (NORT) and a daunting Around-Block-Island gear-buster, in which Dragon Fire claimed firsts in the PHRF and IMS classes, and in fleet, while taking the Commodore Trophy, and the Commodore’s Grail Trophy, and the Terrapin Trophy. In fact, of the race’s 74-boat fleet, Dragon Fire won everything.

John Marshall’s path to his decades of advancing sail technologies – and his concordant business success — was deep-rooted in his varied, illogically logical education in the sciences: molecular genetics at Harvard (1963) with further studies in gene research at the Rockefeller Institute and mathematics and fluid dynamics at the Stephens Institute of Technology. His fierce competitive spirit didn’t hurt.

So stated the description of John Marshall when, in 2020, Marshall was inducted into America’s Cup Hall of Fame. Dennis Conner irreverently added that “Marshall is the guy who talks the same language as the eggheads and the jocks.” While John Marshall’s many contributions to the sport of sailing go far beyond his nearly five-decades of involvement with the America’s Cup, the highlights deserve specific reflection:
• 1974: Mainsail trimmer aboard Intrepid, topped in the trials by Courageous
• 1977: Mainsail trimmer aboard Lowell North’s Enterprise, again vanquished by
• 1980: Mainsail trimmer with Dennis Conner aboard Freedom, wining 4-1 over Australia
• 1983: Mainsail trimmer with Dennis aboard Freedom, losing a 3-4 squeaker to the
wing-keeled Australia II
• 1987: Design Team Leader for Stars & Stripes 87, optimizing her for Fremantle’s
blustery winds and merciless seas, allowing Dennis to hammer out a 4-0 win over
Kookaburra III
• 1988: Design Team Leader working with Burt Rutan to develop Stars & Stripes II, the
hard-rigged, wing-sail catamaran with which Dennis routed the unorthodox 132’
challenger, KZ I
• 1990 & 1993: Originator and leader of the Partnership for America’s Cup Technology
(PACT) providing all US challengers with data examining on-site environments,
exploring parametric hulls and appendages and developing both Computational Fluid
Dynamics tools and VPP software
• 1992: Chair of a five-nation panel to develop the International America’s Cup Class
(IACC), replacing the 12 Metre Class with a contemporary formula for yachts up to 82’
• 1995: Founder of the Young America Syndicate, San Diego Yacht Club’s challenger:
after defeating Young America in the trials, Dennis Conner realized she was the faster
boat and borrowed her for the Cup match, losing 1-5 to NZL 32
• 2000: Representative of the New York Yacht Club, Young America overcame a
near-sinking but was crowded out of the challenger’s series by cooperating competitors
– not the way John hoped to end his America’s Cup career.
Olympic Profile:
Herreshoff Museum Profile:

  • Filter Nominees

  • Reset

Preserving America’s Sailing Legacy

Engaging Sailing’s Next Generation

Stay Connected to the National Sailing Hall of Fame