Of the yacht designers active over the last 50 years or so, few have had more impact on the general sailing population than Canadian-born Bruce Kirby. His design of the 13-foot, 10-inch Laser, now an Olympic class, has seen more than 215,000 hulls built, which makes it the second most popular one design sailboat, after the Sunfish, ever conceived. Generations of families have learned to sail in Lasers and thousands of expert sailors have campaigned them around the world. The design is an elegant combination of simplicity and performance and in my view, one of the purest sailing experiences you can have. If you have ever jibed a Laser in a breeze over 15 knots you know how the boat separates the men from the boys.
Kirby started out as a newspaper man in Canada and spent his young years racing, designing and building International 14s. He represented Canada at two Olympics in a Finn and later the Star class in the Sixties and also became the editor of the magazine One Design Yachtsman (now Sailing World). In addition to the Laser and the Int. 14s, Kirby also designed the Sonar class, the Kirby 25, an America’s Cup 12 Meter, the Admiral’s Cup 40 Runaway and racer-cruisers like the San Juan 24 and 30. In his later years, he designed a series of simple sharpies that could be home-built out of plywood.
Although not trained as a yacht designer, Kirby liked to quip, “I had a copy of Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design. If you can understand 50% of what’s in that book, you can design a boat. Design isn’t brain surgery. We should always pretend that it is, but it’s really not.” Modest, humorous and a great sailing companion, Kirby will long be remembered for his contributions to sailing and will be missed by all who knew him.