Life on an Even Keel

I suggest to Terry McDell, world champion sailor, the two strong strands in his life are law and yachting. “Yachting and yachting!” he laughs.

Terry was born in Waipu and his father was a mad keen yachtie. “Dad and my brother, Kim, built a P-Class in the backyard and I sailed that at the Onerahi Yacht Club.” When the family moved to Auckland, Terry’s father bought the boys a Zephyr. “It was a good one," says Terry, fondly. “School holidays were spent on the water – out to Rangitoto and back, and all over the harbour.”

Terry progressed to OK Dinghies, Finns and the Flying Dutchman. However, being too small for the Finn and not having enough money to pursue the Flying Dutchman, Terry spent time crewing on his father’s 40-foot keel boat. “My brother and I ended up sailing in the One-ton Cup when it was held in Auckland, back in 1971.” Soon after, having just finished his law degree, Terry joined the crew of the 73-foot, black racing yacht, Buccaneer. “We raced to Noumea and then sailed via Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, to then competed in the Transpac race from Los Angeles to Hawaii.” 

On his return to Auckland, Terry began work as a law clerk and started racing an 18-footer with his brother Kim. “We sailed that boat for two seasons, got progressively better and Travelodge agreed to sponsor us into a new Bruce Farr-designed boat. We trained every day with Bruce following us around in his runabout. The world series was held in New Zealand that year and everything came together for us, and we won.”

In 1987, Terry was invited to join the three-boat Admiral’s Cup team that New Zealand was putting together. “They wanted a tactitian and someone to keep the young bucks under control,” laughs Terry. “We won it! The first and only time New Zealand has won the Admiral’s Cup,” he says with obvious pride.

Law was always the means to an end for Terry. “Around 20 years ago, I was working as a partner in the city, but I decided there was more to life than working in a law office so I sold my yacht and bought another in Greece. I took off with my wife and two young daughters and spent 18 months cruising the Greek islands.”

When Terry returned to Auckland, he began working with Wynyard Wood Lawyers. That was the beginning of a long and enjoyable career with the firm that continues to this day.

Terry works out of the Warkworth office now, having moved to Mangawhai four years ago, and he is still as keen as ever to get out on the water. “I’m still sailing a 16-foot Contender, a one man trapeze yacht. When the tide’s in, I get about two hours worth of sailing before I start hitting the sand. I also have opportunities to go and crew on other guys’ boats.”

I ask him what’s left on the bucket list. “If I had my way, I’d be cruising around the Greek islands right now. There’s plenty of islands I didn’t get to and I’m quite happy to go and revisit the ones I did get to. I just have to make it happen.”

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