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Warren Luhrs (USA) single-handed trans-Atlantic winner dies at 69

by Barry Pickthall on 15 Oct 2013
Warren Luhrs (69) one of the great short handed trans-oceanic racers PPL Media © http://www.pplmedia.com
Warren Luhrs, best known as the innovative co-founder of Hunter Boats in the USA, has died aged 69 following a heart attack on September 18.

Warren's name first came to international prominence in solo trans ocean races, starting with the 54ft monohull Tuesday's Child which he and his brother John sailed to second place in class in the 1982 two-man Round Britain Race.

It was in the 1984 Observer Single-hand Transatlantic that he really made his mark, both as a designer and sailor, with his innovative ultralight Open 60 Thursday's Child. She was the first monohull to finish, just 16 hours behind the first trimaran, Yvon Fauconnier's Umpro Jardin V, with an elapsed time of 16 days 22hours 27 minutes - an upwind average of 7.4knots.

In 1985, Luhrs teamed up with Ola Wettergren to compete in that year's Round Britain Race and Thursday's Child again finished top monohull, despite a 2 hour 9 minute penalty for late arrival at Plymouth for scrutineering.

Thursday's Child was designed by Paul Linderburg and built in 1983 and was innovative in many ways. Light displacement, with what was in those days a narrow waterline beam with wide overhangs to provide greater form stability, she had water ballast tanks and carried a lightweight Bergstrom rig with swept-back spreaders negating the need for runners and check stays, and a fully battened mainsail. Her headsails were self tacking.

This boat was advanced in many ways and one suspects that Warren's close friend Lars Bergstrom had a great deal of input into the design. She was probably the first to carry a gimballed nav station, and certainly the first to have a super comfortable racing car seat attached. Luhrs reasoned, quite rightly, that he would be spending more time at the nav station than steering. The design inspired many innovations that appeared later in Hunter production models, including B&R rigs, arches and water ballast.

He also entered the same boat, re-named Hunter's Child in the 1986 BOC Around Alone Race and got as far Sydney where he withdrew because his first-born son was ill.

In 1989, Luhrs sailed Thursday’s Child from New York around Cape Horn and up to San Francisco, breaking the sailing record set by the American clipper ship Flying Cloud. It took him 80 days and 20 hours, creating a new record for the first time in 135 years.

Luhrs built a revised 60-foot boat called Hunter’s Child to compete in the 1994-1995 BOC Around Alone race. In the end, she was skippered by Steve Pettengill who brought her home in second place after completing the circumnavigation in 128 days.

Luhrs began building boats with his brother John and father Henry, a German immigrant at Henry Luhrs Sea Skiffs. The first Hunter sailboat, the Hunter 25 designed by John Cherubini, was launched in 1973. Luhrs was still working with the St. Augustine Marine Center, his one remaining business after Hunter Marine and the Luhrs Marine Group declared bankruptcy in 2011.

Very much a bohemian at heart, the soft-spoken Luhrs an outdoors man. When he wasn't sailing, Warren loved exploring the outback with his wife Linda and their eight children. He also loved his work, and it was a great personal loss when his companies were forced to close. Extremely fit and health conscious, he looked a lot younger than his 69 years, and his sudden death came as a complete surprise.

For further pictures of Warren Luhrs please click here
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