Please select your home edition
Edition
Predictwind - Iridium

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.

North Sails 2019 - NSVictoryList - FooterZhik ATR Aroshell SW FOOTERPandB 2019 Autumn Sale - Footer

Related Articles

Classic Il Duce
Photographer Andrea Francolini was on Sydney Harbour for the Classic Sydney Hobart Regatta Legendary Photographer, Andrea Francolini, was out on Sydney Harbour for the Classic Sydney Hobart Regatta that was run over the weekend, and has delivered this gallery of images for us.
Posted on 8 Dec
Day 2 Classic Sydney Hobart Yacht Regatta
The Classic Sydney Hobart Yacht Regatta enjoyed a light air course on Sydney Harbour On a rare day of clear skies, three divisions of the Classic Sydney Hobart Yacht Regatta enjoyed a light air course over the full length of Sydney Harbour with even a hint of sunshine to add to the fine spectacle.
Posted on 8 Dec
Pretty handy
Some years ago we started looking at Mixed Two Person Offshore Events It wasn't too long after driving the first of Beneteau's impressive Figaro 3s a couple of years ago that these miscellaneous ramblings started to look at the Mixed Two Person Offshore Event for the Olympics.
Posted on 8 Dec
The Clipper Race Leg 3 - Race 4, Day 21
Eight teams continue to navigate to Fremantle finish line The Clipper Race has seen its first three arrivals into Fremantle but eight teams continue to navigate their way through their localised battles to the finish line.
Posted on 8 Dec
Hyundai 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 Worlds overall
Auckland witnesses climax of three tensely-fought World Championships Challenging Auckland wind and waves played their part in determining the outcome of the Hyundai 49er, 49erFX & Nacra 17 World Championships.
Posted on 8 Dec
Qingdao clinch narrow victory in Clipper Race
The team pipped closest rival Ha Long Bay, Viet Nam After a three-week game of cat and mouse across the Southern Ocean, between the two leading Clipper Race teams, it was Qingdao which clinched a narrow victory.
Posted on 8 Dec
Hyundai Worlds: Kiwis win fifth world 49er title
America's Cup champions win fifth World 49er title on a dramatic day in Auckland Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have been involved in a few dramatic days during their sailing careers but few as sensational as today and it just made a fifth world 49er title that much more special.
Posted on 8 Dec
Globe40: Start venue Tangier
A round the world race setting sail from African soil for the first time Upon its launch back in June 2019, the Globe40 was very open and bold about its ambition and its values: a circumnavigation of the globe, which is as much about a planetary voyage, personal fulfilment and a quest for self-discovery
Posted on 8 Dec
18ft Skiff NSW Championship Race 3
Winning Group went into today's race on Sydney Harbour as a hot favourite After two outstanding wins in the first two races of the NSW 18ft Skiff Championship, Winning Group went into today's Race 3 on Sydney Harbour as a hot favourite to extend her lead in the championship
Posted on 8 Dec
Star Sailors League Finals overall
Best of the conditions reserved for the four boat final After an ultra-light wind Quarter and Semi-Finals, the wind on the Nassau's Montagu Bay finally filled in to provide the best conditions for the four boat finale to the 2019 SSL Finals, the event that seeks to determine the 'star of the sailing world'.
Posted on 8 Dec