Please select your home edition
Edition
Barton Marine 2019 728x90

Interview with Bruce Kirby – the designer of the Laser - Part One

by Rob Kothe Sail-World.com on 11 Nov 2009
Laser Worlds 2008 - Tom Slingsby C & C Images
Canadian Bruce Kirby designed the Laser in 1969, in collaboration with industrial designer and boat builder Ian Bruce. 50 years on the numbers of Lasers built is closing on 200,000.

Now 80 years old, Ottawa born Bruce Kirby lives in Connecticut as he has for all of those 50 years, and we did this in-depth interview with him to discover the real story about the Laser – what was the design brief, was it really drawn as a 'first sketch' on a table napkin in a restaurant?

Bruce Kirby. ‘I started sailing regularly as a crew with my father when I was six years old. I sailed before that, but my brother was a little older than I was and he and I were regular crew racing with my dad when I was six and my brother was eight. It’s been a while.

'I raced the International 14s from the time I was a young teenager and that’s a development class; you can design within a measurement rule. Because I’d done this model yacht carving sort of stuff for years I thought, damn it all I’d really like to try to design myself an International 14.

'Another friend and I took a bunch of measurements off several known 14s, boats that we knew the capabilities of, to get an idea of what these things looked like on paper, because if you see something in three dimensions there’s no way to do calculations on them and so on.

'We sketched up three or four well known International 14s and he actually designed his boat before I designed mine.

'Funnily enough his and mine were quite different from each other, but that was my Mark One 14 and it did pretty well; we won regattas.

'A couple of years later one of my owners said ‘look, if you want to design a Mark Two version I’ll buy the first one.’ So I did my Mark Two three years later after the Mark One, and it took off from there.

'I was working against guys like Ian Proctor and Uffa Fox in the very early days and Englishmen started buying my boats. The legendary Stuart Morris won his last Prince of Wales in one of my boats.


'After completing my education in my home town Ottawa, I worked for the Ottawa Journal for six years and then I worked for the Montreal Star for eight years as an editor. I started there in 1956, the year I sailed a Finn in the Melbourne Olympics and again in Tokyo in 1964 (switching to the Star Class in the 1968 Mexico Olympics)

'In 1965, One Design and Offshore Yachtsman (which is now called Sailing World) in Chicago offered me a job at about twice the pay that I was getting at the Montreal Star so off we went to Chicago for four years, before we relocated to Connecticut.

'I kept designing dinghies while I worked for the magazine and it wasn’t until 1975 that I felt confident in leaving the magazine to go full time into yacht design.

'I don’t have formal naval design training. There are some damned good books and from the time I was a little kid, I used to carve models and sail them.

'I’ve got one sitting in front of me (beside the Laser sketch) that I made when I was 14 years old which is still one of my favourite hull shapes.

'We used to race them up in Ottawa, so I’ve been conscious of hydrodynamics in a very amateur way for a very long time.

'Then I got hold of a book called Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design and that’s the bible, even for professionals.

'I understood about half of it when I was using it but it teaches you all the essentials. I don’t claim to be a naval architect; I claim to be a yacht designer. It’s treated me well.

'The Laser started with a phone conversation in 1969. I was here in Connecticut and Ian Bruce called me from Montreal. He was an industrial designer before he was a boat builder and he had a contract to do a bunch of products for an Outdoor Equipment Company, and one of the things they wanted was a car topper sail boat.

'So he called me and said ‘how about doing a car top sail boat for these people?’ He’d warned me that it might never happen and they might not go ahead with it.'

In part 2 of this interview you will discover more about the car topper, then what happened at the Playboy Club and how the Weekender became the Laser.

Hyde Sails 2022 One Design FOOTERFlagstaff 2021AUG - Oceanis Yacht 54 - FOOTERRS Sailing 2021 - FOOTER

Related Articles

Breiana qualifies for Kite Euros Semi Final
Remaining firmly in the hunt for a medal Australia's Breiana Whitehead remains firmly in the hunt for a medal at the 2022 Lepanto Formula Kite European Championships entering tomorrow's Semi Final series in sixth place.
Posted today at 4:03 am
AC40 for Brits is on its way
A second AC40 has exited the McConaghy Boats build facility destined for INEOS Britannia A second AC40 has exited the McConaghy Boats build facility in China, destined for the America's Cup Challenger of Record, INEOS Britannia.
Posted today at 3:05 am
Royal Cup 52 Super Series Scarlino overall
Quantum Racing are crowned Royal Cup champions in Scarlino, Italy Doug DeVos' Quantum Racing won the Roy/lmk al Cup 52 Super Series Scarlino title today in Tuscany, Italy, their third regatta triumph of the five event 2022 52 SUPER SERIES season.
Posted on 1 Oct
Colligo Marine spotlight: James Burwick
James Burwick has been working in the marine industry for 38 years! James Burwick has been working in the marine industry for 38 years! His family-owned business is called Anasazi Ltda, where he does marine consulting, product sales, refits, yacht sales, and deliveries.
Posted on 1 Oct
Bo Petersen wins OK Dinghy European title
After dramatic final day in Bandol Bo Petersen has won his third OK Dinghy European Championship at Société Nautique de Bandol, France, after one final race was sailed on Saturday in Bandol. Stefan de Vries takes the silver while race winner Valerian Lebrun takes the bronze.
Posted on 1 Oct
Sardinia Grand Slam ready for the Worlds challenge
156 athletes from 5 continents and 45 countries will be taking part Next October 8th to 16th the traditional sailing event in Cagliari will assign the titles of the Formula Kite World Championship, the "Olympic board" expected to debut in Paris 2024.
Posted on 1 Oct
A busy week getting Horonuku to the Lake
It has been a week like no other so far in the wind powered land speed world record campaign It has been a week like no other so far in the wind powered land speed world record campaign, with Horonuku finally reaching its destination at Lake Gairdner in South Australia. When Glenn Ashby said last week “Lets get ready to go” he meant it.
Posted on 1 Oct
Collisions & tangles at Kite Europeans
A meteorologist's nightmare on the third day of racing It was a meteorologist's nightmare on the third day of racing at the 2022 Lepanto Formula Kite European Championships.
Posted on 1 Oct
Cup Spy: Swiss hit cross-swell conditions
Alinghi RBR continued to work up their first generation AC75, off Barcelona on Friday As we are now in the month of the 2024 America's Cup Match, the weather conditions and how they are handled by the AC75, are as much of interest as the performance of the Swiss team, who are the only team sailing out of the 2024 America's Cup venue.
Posted on 30 Sep
Marine Auctions October 2022 Online Auctions
Vessels, Cutter Suction Dredge and a Marina Berth Please find details of the Vessels, Cutter Suction Dredge and a Marina Berth we will be offering in our October Online Auction.
Posted on 30 Sep