Olympic sailor and Laser designer dies

Bruce Kirby who died at the age of 92 on 18 July, photographed at Kiel Week in 1972 Photo: Dick Enersen Bruce Kirby who died at the age of 92 on 18 July, photographed at Kiel Week in 1972 Photo: Dick Enersen

Bruce Kirby, three-time Olympian, sailing journalist and inventor of the Laser dinghy has died at the age of 92.

Born in Ottawa in Canada, Bruce began his working life as a newspaper journalist before specialising in sailing journalism, becoming editor of One-Design and Offshore Yachtsman, now Sailing World.

He was a keen yachtsman from the beginning, competing in International 14 dinghies from age 15. Design was always a passion and after being beaten in a regatta at Cowes in heavy wind, he drew the Kirby Mark I on a piece of shelf paper. “I had a copy of Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design,” he once said.

“If you can understand 50 per cent of what’s in that book, you can design a boat. Design isn’t brain surgery.”

Designing the Laser

It was whilst working at Sailing World in 1969 that the Laser was designed, beginning its life as a doodle whilst Bruce was talking on the phone. Now renamed the ILCA following a legal dispute, the 50-year-old singlehander now numbers more than 220,000.

Although best known for the Laser, his design career featured many more classes including the Sonar, Kirby 25, Ideal 18 and the America’s Cup Twelve Metres as well as production cruisers such as the San Juan 24 and 30 and offshore racing boats like the Admiral’s Cup 40’ runaway.

Bruce was also a fêted sportsman, representing Canada at three Olympic regattas as well as the America’s Cup and Admiral’s Cup and International 14ft Class at team racing. He was inducted into the Canadian and US Sailing Hall of Fames and Order of Canada, the International Yacht Racing Hall of Fame and the International Laser Class Association Hall of Fame amongst other recognitions.

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