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Beyond the law: Bull run

Every Issue

Cite as: April 2015 89 (4) LIJ, p.100

Racing sailboats has been a lifelong passion for property lawyer Murray McCutcheon.


1st: Remedy
2nd: White Swan
3rd: Mrs Overnewton
4th: Matador
Starters: 15
Time: 1 hr 4 min 16 sec
Course length: 8.6 nautical miles
Average course speed: 7.4 knots

It’s a balmy Wednesday evening in February. On the waters off St Kilda foreshore, Melbourne’s sailing community is out in force.

There are hundreds of boats on the water – not including the hydro-foiling kite boards – most taking part in the popular midweek race series run by sailing clubs in the area.

One is Murray McCutcheon’s keelboat, Matador. It sails out of Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron where the well-known property lawyer has been a member for 29 years.

“Matador is built for speed, not comfort,” Mr McCutcheon said of the responsive 31ft boat with its distinctive golden kevlar working sails, carbon mast and set of “horns” which control the spinnaker pole.

On the night and race in question, there are 15 boats in the spinnaker event. For about an hour, in mild conditions, the crew of seven work furiously to harness the power of the wind and the waves and get the 2.5 ton Bull 9000 out from the breakwater and around the pursuit course as swiftly as possible. Victory is elusive and Matador finishes fourth, time lost when a new spinnaker tangles for a few precious minutes.

Mr McCutcheon, 68, has been racing sailboats his whole life. A glass cabinet in the historic clubhouse groans with silver trophies and many have his name engraved on them.

Keelboat racing is Mr McCutcheon’s passion, but it has also been a good way to clear his head over the years, to leave files behind and achieve a healthy work-life balance.

“I have always enjoyed the competitive aspect of sailing. And for years the kids came on board after school so it was a family thing,” Mr McCutcheon said.

“And you can leave the office behind. Initially, I found it difficult to leave work at 5pm on a Wednesday but I managed to break in the clients to not expect me at that time. It took a lot of discipline. I was up front with clients that I had a commitment and they understood and were very accepting.

“You can’t think about work while you are competing, it’s just not possible – and that’s fantastic. It gets it right out of your head.

“The law can be exciting and challenging and very stimulating but you can’t do it all the time. You need to be able to get away from it and do something else.”

Mr McCutcheon has a closer relationship than most to the St Kilda marina where his boat (co-owned with Michael Morse) is one of about 200 craft moored. He volunteered his professional time on its development, which took 15 years no less.

His outstanding contribution to state and national property law reform, including the introduction of e-conveyancing, helped earn Mr McCutcheon an Order of Australia in January, a proud achievement for the long-time Hunt & Hunt partner.

Retiring from the law this year, Mr McCutcheon plans to spend more time on Matador.

“Retirement gives me the opportunity to sail more now.”

Once upon a time, from the high-rise offices of city firms he worked at, Mr McCutcheon would see the boats of friends in the deep blue distance. He would be filled with longing to be out on the water.

Now, it will be others watching him.

Carolyn Ford


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