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Wake for Joe Adams - Remembering a legend

by James Hill on 21 Feb 2013
Joe Adams at helm of first Adams 10 with builder Paul Kelly - Wake For Joe Adams James Hill
Last Saturday saw 60 Friends and family of the late Joe Adams, famous 82 year old Australian yacht designer tragically killed in the Philippines last October.

The wake was conducted at BRYA sailing clubhouse on the sun-lit shores of Pittwater. Many at the gathering including Joe’s four siblings spoke with fond memories of the man who made a tremendous contribution to Australian sailing.

Adam list of achievements includes the 1973 Sydney-Hobart line honours winner, Helsal, owned by Doctor Tony Fisher. Dubbed the ‘flying footpath’ because of her concrete construction the 70-foot Helsal inspired a generation of sailors to take up ocean racing.

Adams was largely unknown before the Helsal victory, and from this point became a very successful yacht designer. Helsal was to have been designed by Bob Miller (Ben Lexcen) however Miller’s involvement in the America’s Cup meant he was too busy, so the job fell to his friend Joe Adams working in the same office and the rest is history.

Adams was to draw a number of famous yachts including Helsal II and The Office (Helsal III. However, he is perhaps better known for his many product designs like the Tasman 26, Adams 31 and the super popular Mottle 33. Most famous production design is the Adams 10 but there’s also a family of similar slim, easily-driven fast yachts such as the Adams 8, 12 and 13 metres.

Adams was very much a designer ‘for the people’ and more likely to socialise with DIY boat builders than the rich and famous. This stemmed from his experience sailing around the world in the small, 30-foot timber yacht Hoana with his first wife Anne. From this experience he decided to become a yacht designer.

During the 1970s Joe Adams became a major supplier of designs for the booming Do-It-Yourself boat scene. This was a time when many sailors tried their hand at building a yacht from scratch, or at least a basic set of fibreglass moulds. The DIY field-of-dream yards around Sydney at the time had as many Adams as Bruce Roberts, or Swanson creations.

Adams was most critical of the IOR that governed ocean racer design at the time. Joe felt strongly IOR was producing slow, nasty yachts and so he turned his back on the rule. His signature designs like the Adams 13 are quite the opposite - slim, undistorted hulls that are easy driven. And it seems Joe was proven right judging by today’s slim racing yachts.

Adams sold his design business in the early 1990s and moved aboard his self-built motor-sailor Wahoo to bring up his young family of Joseph and Leilani. Two other children Neil and Irene were already ashore with their mother.

Living at the Coffs Harbour Marina Joe made many friends. However, he eventually moved to the Philippines in 2001 to live full-time after divorcing from his third wife, Tina, ironically of Philippines origin. Apparently Joe was still active in design at the time of his death. He was looking forward to a new design project before being murdered during an apparent robbery at Baguio.

Joe will be remembered as a very likeable person never short of an opinion on life, or sailing boats. His approach to life would be considered alternative by today standards and in stark contrast to the current very commercial yachting scene dominated by wealth and professional sailing.
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