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Mervyn Cook : 1942-2022

by Roger Stollery 21 Nov 2022 13:00 PST 14 November 2022
Mervyn Cook adjusting the vane gear of a model yacht © Jacque Cook

Mervyn Cook passed away peacefully at his home on Hayling Island on Monday 14th of November after a long illness. He was a lovely modest and quietly spoken man with a lifetime interest in sailing boats.

His initial interest started way back, when with a friend he cycled to the Rick Pond to sail their little boats and was amazed by the magnificent A boats racing. The seed may have been planted there at what was then the Yachting Monthly 6 Metre Owners Association just as it was for me also, a few years later.

His first sailing boat was a British Moth dinghy with the hull built professionally, but finished off by his dad for him to sail on the Thames. Whilst his sailing included lots of dinghy classes, he loved drawing boats, as he was a fine draughtsman and was convinced that the relatively high rocker displacement boats, which were the norm in all development classes, were not the fastest way to go.

He concentrated on the International Moth class, which was and continues to be the ultimate single-hander with designers and sailors from all over the world.

His creative mind produced some beautiful boats, which not only looked superb, but gave dinghy designers an idea of how to make boats go faster. He designed the Magnum series which notched up eight Worlds, ten Europeans, 19 UK Nationals and many more Nationals worldwide in the 70s/80s/90s with boat speeds on a reach, which would compete with Merlins and Fireballs!

This radical rethinking of dinghy design caused major changes to the Portsmouth Yardstick ratings for handicap racing.

Mervyn's iconic designs are perhaps even more noteworthy as they were produced in tortured 3 mm plywood, a technique he and his brother-in-law John Claridge developed with great success. The Magnum designs were voted the most iconic dinghy of all time in Yachts & Yachting.

Mervyn continued to follow the class and was proud to be a part of its history which has resulted in today's amazing foiling machines.

He also designed to the National 12 and International 14 dinghy class rules and, as a result of his skill and knowledge, he served on the IYRU technical committee (International Yacht Racing Union, forerunner to the World Sailing Governing Body) and was an official measurer for the Moth class as well as contributing to ideas for Moth sail area measurement rules.

Mervyn developed an interest in sailing IOMs and joined Chichester Model Yacht Club before he knew about the Gosport club and the Walpole Lakes. When he experienced the vane sailing there, this became his main interest with the challenge of generating, building, sailing and measuring beautiful yachts to the complex A class formula.

As MYA Technical Officer I was first aware of Mervyn when he applied to become an Official Measurer for the IOM and A class in 2007. He was already part of the highly regarded Gosport A Class measuring team and in 2010 he volunteered to be the Met and Southern District Senior Measurer and so joined the MYA's Tech Team. He made a big contribution to the Team's work in helping to make IOMICA's certification paperwork more sustainable, as well as commenting with other measurers, designers and builders on the controversial IRSA rule change proposals in 2016.

As someone used to working within the Moth's simple rule parameters, he disliked complexity and was not happy with the proposed version of the A class rules changing from 9 pages to 32 pages, removing the free sailing class rules completely and adding what he saw as unnecessary restrictions to development. In particular, he detested the description of the jib measurement written in words that he found difficult to understand and which didn't make sense to the ordinary member/measurer.

His favourite A boat to sail was one of Jon Simpson's 'Lightnings', which describes the idea perfectly, as lightweight was always his preferred characteristic for creating speed. On two occasions he and Peter Fothergill won the YM Cup sailing 'N'lightning'. However he was best pleased and delighted with his cooperation with Dave Hollom in the design of his A boat 'Reference Point', which he had the satisfaction of watching win the Yachting Monthly Cup in 2021, being sailed by Peter Fothergill and Paul Edwards.

In contrast to the A class rules, the simplicity of the 36" class rule, where the boat just had to fit into the measurement box, appealed and he and Jacque contributed to the regular vane 36" sailing and particularly to the development of the class. His careful analysis of the important factors in design helped him to brief his designer friend Dave Hollom to produce designs with progressively better performance.

Speed on water was always an objective and lately he enjoyed the excitement of Mini40 multihull racing and the new design challenges that this posed.

As well as enjoying the racing at Gosport, Mervyn repaid the club by becoming the Commodore in 2013 and helping Jacque in organising the racing. He will be sorely missed by Jacque, his brother-in-law John and all his friends in the model and full-size sailing world.

No longer being able to have 'designer chats' with my great friend is a sad loss for me too.

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