By David Salter

For Sir James Hardy, who died peacefully in Adelaide aged 90, work was often something to be fitted in between the more rewarding things of life.

When asked how he found time for all his sporting, social, and charitable activities, while still representing the wine company that bore the family name his response was always: “Well, it’s a poor family that can’t afford at least one gentleman”. Wine, sailing, family, good company, and loyal support for the Sydney Swans were the themes of a life well lived.

James Hardy on the tiller of Sir James, the treasured family yacht Nerida built for his father.

Hardy had that unique knack for putting anyone who met him at their ease. Introduced to a stranger he was “Sir James” only once; after that, it would be “Just call me Jim”. If they declined to share a drink, he might quote from Timothy 5:23: “Drink no longer only water, but take a little wine for thy stomach’s sake” then round off that favorite biblical advice with a hearty “How more Christian can you get than that?”

James Gilbert Hardy was born in the cliff-top family home at Seacliff in Adelaide on November 20, 1932. The youngest of four children, he was a great-grandson of the wine company’s founder, who’d emigrated from Devon to the new colony of South Australia in 1850. The sea-going ancestral roots of the family go back to Thomas Masterman Hardy, who was Horatio Nelson’s captain on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Jim’s father, Tom, a keen yachtsman and chairman of the Thomas Hardy & Sons wine company, died in the Kyeema plane crash at Essendon Airport in 1938. Jim was just six years old, so his early upbringing fell to his mother, Eileen, and Aunt Madeline.

Growing up in war-time South Australia, he was a spirited – perhaps naughty – boy, carefree and adventurous. There was an early infatuation with conjuring tricks but sailing soon became his true passion. Jim worked at a market garden after school and on weekends to pay for the materials to build his first racing boat, a 12-foot Cadet dinghy he named Nocroo. The beachside clubhouse of the Brighton and Seacliff Yacht Club, where his father had been a foundation member and commodore, was in easy walking distance from the family home.

Accepted for St Peter’s College, his godfather, Sir James Gosse, paid his fees. Hardy rowed for the school and was good enough at Australian rules football to play fullback in interstate competitions at the MCG. To complete an education considered appropriate for his intended role in the family company he then studied viticulture and oenology at Roseworthy College.

After completing national service in 1951, Hardy tried his hand at sharing a farm on the Yorke Peninsula. Those were two years of what he remembered as “pretty hard yakka” (resulting in a hernia operation) so he returned to Adelaide and joined Hardy & Sons, beginning as a shipping clerk while studying accountancy at night at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries.

Sir James’ impressive capacity to hold his liquor over long periods was then hard-earned selling wine and spirits to country publicans. His glad consumption of the family’s products was also expected at any social or sporting event. Never seriously the worse for drink, he nevertheless conceded he might sometimes have suffered from “industrial fatigue”.

In 1956, after a three-year courtship, Hardy married Anne Jackson, an Adelaide airline secretary. He was 24, she was 21. In a portent of their life ahead, Jim sailed on five of the seven days of their honeymoon. They had two sons, David and Richard, and in early 1959, Jim finally won his first national sailing championship.

By 1962, Hardy had moved up through the ranks and was appointed as the company’s regional director in NSW to help build wine and spirit sales in the eastern states. Sydney became his permanent home.

Further success on the water followed. But in 1964, while Hardy was competing at the Tokyo Olympics, he received a letter from Anne saying that their second son, Richard, had fallen backwards in the kitchen and hit his head on the hard floor. The accident left Richard partly disabled and was probably a catalyst for the tensions in Jim’s relationship with Anne.

Sailing now dominated Hardy’s life. He won the world championship in the 505 class dinghies in 1966, defeating four-time Olympic champion Paul Elvstrom. That victory prompted an invitation to join the crews training in Sydney for Australia’s second challenge for the America’s Cup, the competition that soon came to define Hardy’s international yachting reputation.

His close defeat as helmsman in the controversial Gretel II challenge in 1970 was a crushing blow. He only shed his disappointment after surviving the horrific Fastnet Ocean Race of 1979, when a violent storm in the Irish Sea cost 15 sailors their lives. “Going through an experience like that sort of washes out your soul,” he said.

Hardy was the skipper in a further two America’s Cup campaigns (1974, 1980) and back-up helmsman and trusted advisor to John Bertrand when Australia II finally won the Cup in 1983.

Meanwhile, he continued to compete in major offshore races, principally in his own yachts Nyamba and Police Car but also sailing as a helmsman for other owners in local and international events. When he convinced the company to buy back and restore his father’s 1933 classic yacht Nerida, Hardy described the re-launch in 1971 as “one of the greatest moments in my life”.

Made an OBE in 1975, then Knight Bachelor in 1981 for “services to yachting and the community”, Hardy continued to sit on the boards and councils of many public institutions and charities as well as being chairman of the Hardy company.

He was a councillor of the Royal Blind Society for 25 years and served on the Neurosurgical Research Foundation of South Australia. He also chaired the Natural Heritage Trust Advisory Committee, was a long-serving chairman of the Landcare Foundation and chair of the Australia Day Regatta.

After his marriage with Anne dissolved in 1991, Jim wed Joan McInnes, a singer and TV presenter. They divided their time between apartments in Potts Point, Sydney, and on the waterfront at Glenelg in Adelaide.

Both were avid Australian rules fans and rarely missed a home game of the Sydney Swans. Hardy accepted a place on the Swans’ initial board of management and was later made a trustee of the Sydney Cricket Ground.

While his manners were immaculate, even slightly old-fashioned, the tone of Jim’s conversation was relaxed and engaging. Anyone within earshot felt included and their contributions were always valued. As guest crew he would never take the helm unless invited, even though his skill at steering yachts was peerless and remained undiminished well into his 80s.

On the countless occasions when Hardy was required to speak in public he extemporised from brief notes, peppering his speeches with aphorisms, jokes and anecdotes in which his own misadventures were usually the source of the humour.

He also enjoyed quoting poetry. His favourite lines – from Ulysses by Tennyson – seemed to carry more than a hint of self-reference:

“That which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Hardy’s name will endure as a yachting champion and through the company’s popular wine brands.

There is a Masonic Lodge named in his honour. The Hardy Cup is an annual match-racing competition he endowed to encourage the nation’s most talented young sailors. He was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame in 1994.

Sir James is survived by wife Joan, sister Pamela, and sons David and Richard.

There is to be a state funeral for Sir James in Adelaide on Friday.