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John Cook obituary

Cristabella owner was the longest standing British competitor on the high profile Spanish IMS and MedCup circuits

Tuesday May 8th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: Spain

Cristabella owner John Cook, the longest standing British campaigner on the Mediterranean racing circuit, has died aged 67 after a long battle with cancer.

Cook first discovered racing aboard his Oyster 48 cruising boat and moved on to a more thoroughbred racer after acquiring a Sydney 46 in 1998. He subsequently campaigned a Neville Hutton-built Judel-Vrolijk 48 footer on the high-profile IMS circuit in Spain before joining the MedCup when it started in 2005. He was a regular competition in the TP52 class from the outset of the MedCup until the end of the 2010 season when his Cristabella campaign was halted by ill-health. Over this period there were three Cristabella TP52s, all designed by Judel-Vrolijk.

Cook’s right hand man for his 13 years campaigning at the Grand Prix end of yacht racing areer was Brendan Darrer, who explains why John Cook only ever competed in the Mediterranean. “He didn’t see the point of racing in the rain. Cristabella was the first non-Spanish boat to do the whole IMS circuit in Spain, from Palma, Barcelona to Castellon, Valencia and Alicante. John did the first Breitling Regatta in the Oyster and we always did that.”

On board Cook very much enjoyed driving, but didn’t subscribe to owner-drivers having their own class. “He wanted to race against the best - the owner driver thing he wasn’t into,” says Darrer. “He wanted to race against everybody else. He wasn’t into being exclusive. That’s why if John got tired, Tim Powell would drive the boat generally. He tried amateur drivers, but if he wasn’t driving he wanted someone better.”

Throughout the long run of Cristabella campaigns, a number of eminent sailors competed on board. Initially it was many ex-Indulgence crew including John Newnham, Kelvin Rawlings and Stephen Bishop, while the younger generation included regulars Tim Powell, Jim Turner and George Skuados, among many others.

“It was very enjoyable,” recalls Darrer. “I learned a huge amount from him about a lot of things. He never gave up. He was always pushing. He didn’t believe in ‘I can’t do that because it hasn’t been done before’ – in fact that meant it could be done to him. He was a gentleman.”

John Cook was appointed President of the TP52 Class Association in 2007 and steered the class through the sweeping changes that occurred in the class from the 2009 season on, to rationalise costs while keeping the boats cutting edge. “He was very into everything being fair, even sometimes to the detriment of ourselves,” recalls Darrer.

Cook very much enjoyed optimising his boats and Darrer maintains that it was rare that they would go between events without making tweaks, particularly with the IMS boat. On occasions these wouild be more substantial... “We chopped a foot of the back of the boat between Breitling and Copa del Rey one year. Rolf [Vrolijk] was looking at the boat in the water and he said ‘you know what? This is light airs - you never have the transom in and we could get rid of that’. So I phoned Neville and said ‘Neville – we going to cut the transom off!’ John loved the IMS and the whole rating side.”

During a recovery period last year, Cook and Darrer visited the MedCup in Cagliari where they were looked after by the MedCup organisers Nacho Postigo and Ignacio Triay and Cook was hoping if his health improved that they might rejoin the circuit in 2012. Sadly it was not to be.

Professionally John Cook was CEO of Bourne Leisure, a business he developed from scratch with partners Peter Harris and David Allen after they initially bought their first caravan site in Whitstable, Kent in 1964. Eight years later they floated the company and in 2000 went on to acquire the Rank Group’s holiday business including the famous Butlins chain of holiday camps. By 2010 the company and its subsidiaries employed more than 11,000 people.

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