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Twice Whitbread Round the World Race skipper Digby Taylor dies

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com NZ on 20 Apr 2017
Digby Taylor at the helm of NZI Enterprise in the 1984/85 Whitbread Round the World Race. SW
Digby Taylor who master-minded, built and skippered two Whitbread Round the World Race campaigns, has died of a heart attack. He was in his early 70's.

Taylor was the leading force behind two Whitbread Round the World race campaigns. The first in the Laurie Davidson designed Outward Bound finished fifth in the 1981-82 Whitbread Round the World Race. She won the prize for top 'small' boat and laid the way for the Farr designed maxi, NZI Enterprise in the 1984/85 race.

NZI Enterprise was a sistership to two other entries, Pierre Fehlman's UBS Switzerland, and Atlantic Privateer (Padda Kuttel - South Africa).

Originally named New Zealand Enterprise, Taylor's campaign and project style was a log way apart from that of media darling Peter Blake who competed in the same two events in Ceramco New Zealand and then Lion New Zealand.

Digby Taylor took a typically Kiwi approach of running the campaign, building your own boat and then racing her. Local suppliers only were used on the boat, even though some had no experience with this size of boat or the event. They had to step up. With a long experience as a plastics and composite engineer, he developed the radical building method of constructing the 80ft maxi yacht by building the hull as a true monocoque - rotating and wrapping it in kevlar before curing the one piece hill and deck.


With the assistance of some key supporters, none of whom were from the so-called yachting establishment, but believed in Digby Taylor and the project, NZI Enterprise was build in a shed on a farm in Kumeu, on Auckland's west coast.

While many would have it that a small country like New Zealand could only support one round the world campaign, Taylor proved otherwise and like the Tutukaka Yacht Club America's Cup Challenge in 1995, the NZL Enterprise gave a lot of New Zealand sailors the opportunity to step up into the what was perceived as the professional sailing world (although the pay was not great). These included Murray Ross, Mike Keeton, Graham Fleury, Ross Field, Mark Hauser, Steve Wilson, Jeremy Scantlebury, Mathew Smith amongst others.

After performing well on the first two legs, finishing fourth on the leg into Cape Town, after suffering rig damage in an horrendous gale just out of the finish in Cape Town. Two maxis suffered hull de-lamination in the storm. Prior to the onset of that system the NZI Enterprise was one of the leader in what had evolved into a match race.

NZI Enterprise finished second on the next leg from Cape Town to Auckland, finishing just over 7 minutes behind the leg winner, Atlantic Privateer arriving to a huge Auckland welcome in the middle of the night, with Lion New Zealand fifth over the line in her home town.

Sadly her race came to an end on Leg 3, 380nm SE the Chatham Islands, when she was dismasted while in the lead, and was forced to withdraw.

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