Vale Bruce Kirby, Laser designer and Olympic sailor

Boat designer and three-time Olympian Bruce Kirby, best known globally as the designer of the Laser 14 Olympic sailing dinghy, passed away at his home in Connecticut on 19 Jul 2021, at the age of 92.

In 1969, at the request of a friend calling from Montreal to design a “car-topper” sailboat, Kirby sketched a preliminary design for the Laser while still on the telephone with boat builder and fellow Canadian Ian Bruce. Kirby kept that faded sketch, which he called the “Million Dollar Doodle”, in a drawer of his waterfront home in Rowayton, CT, for over fifty years.

Bruce Kirby's original Laser design sketch.
Bruce Kirby’s original sketch of the Laser dinghy. Pic – ASA

“That sketch paid for our house,” says Margo, Kirby’s wife of 65 years. At the New York Boat Show in Jan 1971, 144 Lasers sold off the floor, a record number of sales that still stands today.

Today, Bruce Kirby is considered to be one of the great yacht designers of all time. The Laser is the first of the single-manufacturer one designs that are now prolific in the sport of sailing. Over a quarter-million have been built.

Bruce Kirby was inducted into the Sailing Hall of Fame in 2012 and named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2017. Margo recalls her mother asking her new son-in-law, “When will you get sailing out of your system?” He never did.

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