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.

RS Sailing 2019 - FooterVaikobi 2019 - Footer 3SOUTHERN-SPARS-AGLAIA-SPARS_728X90 Bottom

Related Articles

Rolex TP52 World Championship preview
Will showcase the very best in inshore yacht racing Rolex is marking the third year of its partnership as Official Timepiece of the 52 Super Series and Title Sponsor of its pinnacle annual event, the Rolex TP52 World Championship.
Posted today at 7:44 pm
Ready Steady Tokyo, Hinman, women's match racing
Latest Sail-World USA newsletter from David Schmidt While the start of summer 2019 was dominated by offshore-racing news, the news cycle from summer's second half is being ruled by small boat sailing.
Posted today at 3:00 pm
49er, FX & Nacra17s at Ready Steady Tokyo day 4
Another day of racing and yet another style of breeze Another day of racing and another style of breeze for the Tokyo2020 Olympic Test event. In a much more stable and predictable sea breeze the Nacra17 leaderboard tightened up around the top five teams as we head into tomorrow's double points medal race.
Posted today at 2:46 pm
Finn fleet at Ready Steady Tokyo day 4
Zsombor Berecz keeps his cool to extend lead Zsombor Berecz, from Hungary has extended his lead to 16 points over Giles Scott, from Britain, with Nicholas Heiner, from The Netherlands a further five points back. Race wins on Tuesday went to Scott and Joan Cardona from Spain.
Posted today at 2:34 pm
Ready Steady Tokyo day 4
Medal Race stakes high with Olympic qualification looming The pressure will be on tomorrow at Ready Steady Tokyo - Sailing, with fleet racing wrapped up in five Olympic events on Day 4.
Posted today at 2:02 pm
Hamilton Island Race Week day 3
Big Tuesday delivers bang to crews With two days of light airs kicking off Hamilton Island Race Week, the hype building for some serious heavy air racing on day three delivered. Big Tuesday opened with a bang, the southeast winds whistling across Dent Passage.
Posted today at 10:52 am
Australians prepped and ready for 5.5 Metre Worlds
Heading to Pittwater in little more than four months' time In little more than four months' time, the 5.5 Metre Class World Championship 2020 and its lead-in events will be heading to Pittwater, where the locals are prepped, ready and excited for what lies ahead at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club (RPAYC)
Posted today at 4:54 am
Hamilton Island Race Week day 2
Day two was the classic calm before the storm Trade winds lightened throughout the afternoon of Monday August 19, the morning 10 knot sou'easter fading to 6-7 knots for the some of the Hamilton Island Class cruiser-racers which struggled to the finish line.
Posted on 19 Aug
Finn fleet at Ready Steady Tokyo day 3
Andy Maloney strikes back, but Zsombor Berecz is back in front Zsombor Berecz, from Hungary, is back in front in the Finn fleet at the Ready Steady Tokyo Olympic Test Event in Enoshoma, Japan. He now has a nine point advantage over Giles Scott, from Britain, with Nicholas Heiner another five points behind Scott.
Posted on 19 Aug
Ready Steady Tokyo day 3
Enoshima winds proving difficult to predict As Ready Steady Tokyo - Sailing, the official test event for Tokyo 2020, reaches its mid-way point, it's fair to say that all 353 athletes here have been put through their paces so far.
Posted on 19 Aug