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Sailing legend Bruce Kirby passed away July 18, 2021. He was 92 years of age.

Bruce was a newspaper man in Ottawa and Montreal before he became a yacht designer. A competitive sailor in International 14 dinghies from age 15, his focus was on making the boats faster. After being beaten in a regatta at Cowes in heavy wind, he drew the Kirby Mark I on a piece of shelf paper. It was fast upwind in a breeze. He sold 30 of the Mark I. 

Untrained, Bruce began designing by observing. “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.” 

Having made that modest disclaimer, he grants that designing a vessel that is compatible with two disparate elements – air and water – is, in fact, a challenge. There were seven versions of the Kirby International 14 built: 739 boats total. “It was done seat of the pants,” he had explained. “No testing. It was all empirical. Each new boat was a take-off on the old one.” 

In 1964, Bruce moved to Finns and made the Canadian Olympic team. He didn’t quit his day job. By the mid-1960s, he had become editor of One Design Yachtsman (now Sailing World). He jumped into a Star boat in 1968, and again represented Canada in the Olympics. 

Although globally recognized as the designer of the 13’-10” Laser Olympic sailing dinghy, of which over 215,000 have now been built, his design career includes a multitude of successful classes such as the Sonar, Kirby 25 and Ideal 18, America’s Cup Twelve Meters; production racer/cruisers like the San Juan 24 and 30; offshore racing boats such as the Admiral’s Cup 40’ Runaway; a number of innovative cruising designs; and a variety of plywood Sharpie designs for home construction. 

A member of Noroton Yacht Club (Darien, CT) since 1970, Bruce has been inducted into the Canadian and US Sailing Hall of Fames and Order of Canada, the International Yacht Racing Hall of Fame, the Canadian International Fourteen Foot Dinghy Hall of Fame, and the City of Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame.

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Fair winds and following seas to this legend, who made sailing what it is today for so many of us World wide.  8 bells...

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Very sad news.  He took my call when I looked him up at the age of 8 by calling information and was always happy to chat after that.  There is one of his custom cruising designs in the harbor here that demonstrates just how good a designer he was.  Absolute travesty what has become of his most well known creation. RIP Bruce. 

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Fair winds to a great man. I was thinking of him just yesterday and how much he contributed to the sailing scene in the 70’s and 80’s with the Laser and Sonar. He also designed the Norwalk Island Sharpie series. The 18 was a great boat in thin water and light air. 

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Nobody should forget that he could sail boats as well as he could design them. Two time I14 world champion and represented Canada in the Olympics and Admiral's Cup. 

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A sad day.

He designed my old QT Fred Again. It was my first restoration and the most pure fun boat I've owned.

Someone copied him on some pics of Fred restored and he graced me with a prized E-mail congratulating me on the job I had done.

Considering what a superstar he was I thought it was a very "regular guy" thing to do.

A life well lived.

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Sorry to read of his passing.  He had an exciting, long life and has a place in sailing history.

 

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Huge impact on our sport for the Laser alone never mind the Kirby i-14s. The way the Laser builders treated him a few years back was appalling and just good to know he had at least a few years to enjoy that victory. Thank goodness those on here have more respect for the great man than those guys did.

Sail on Sir!

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While it is too obvious that life is finite, it is still so sad seeing all these good men going over the bar.  So many legends, becoming legends.  

May they all have a very special place

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I will continue to think of him often as I sail my Laser. I only met him a few times but as kid learning to sail he showed me some kindness every time. Of all the boats I’ve owned an I14 Kirby V holds the best memories but I’ve enjoyed racing Sonars and Ideal 18s as well

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As has been said, the sailing world has lost one of it's best.

I believe many glasses will be raised in his honour tonight, mine included.

Fair winds.

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I'm currently in between my 3rd and 4th Lasers.  But I cannot deny the impact this little boat has had on my life, as I'm sure many others cannot deny.  His impact on the sport will continue for decades.

 

RIP Bruce

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Was fortunate to have met him and the other members of the Laser tri-ad, Ian Bruce and Hans Fogh.  Remember the stories about the Laser, originally known as the TGIF, and how it came to be.  The "napkin" that was the drawing is in the Sailing Hall of Fame in Kingston Ontario I believe.  Fair winds Bruce and say hi to the rest of the team.

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Wow. Met him at the Newport Int'l boat show when I was just a kid in high school. He told me to get Skene's, which I did. Even back then he was well known & super respected. Sorry to hear this

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11 hours ago, Couta said:

A massive contributor to our sport, Bruce has certainly "left it better than he found it". Fair Winds.

Yes, one the all-time greats.

Farewell and fair winds!

FB- Doug

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Bruce,

Thanks for creating the Laser. It was my first boat I bought myself when I was still a kid and allowed me to race level with the older/richer hotshots at the time.

Your contribution to the sport is immeasurable.

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14 hours ago, Cristoforo said:

I remember running into him at a local boat dealer years ago.   The first run of his Chinese produced 'Pixels' (Blue Jay replacement which many local clubs pre-ordered) had a lot of  production quality issues and were being recalled and replaced. He was personally documenting which hull numbers were being returned and over saw them being chain-sawed to make sure they were retired, and replacements provided. Didn't want to leave any bad ones out there with his name on it.   RIP.

You should have kept one, to give you an excuse for sucking:P 

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As a former and not particularly successful Laser sailor from way back (my boat had a 5 digit sail number) I can say that Chiropractors and Physiotherapists everywhere shall mourn his passing. 

Thanks BK, the fun outlasted the pain!

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Sorry to hear.  Always enjoyed OD&OY and knowing he was busy designing another nice boat. 

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Most of all I shall miss his complaining. I cannot say whether we talked 100 times on the phone but I can say he ALWAYS had a complaint. 
    The complaints were not the whining or bitching sort. The complaints were based upon his annoyance about something we COULD address and, at least in his mind, possibly our properly applied influence could cause resolution of his complaint. 
     On a few occasions I did my best to resolve his complaints and usually I failed but  on occasion, when the complaint was resolved, his follow up was always the same. 
“I am glad we got that taken care of.”

      For the most part we agreed about where the game should go and shared frustration with those who disassembled success, failed with their new improved systems and refused to simply go back to what had previously worked. He didn’t mind the experimenting. He loved to experiment. He was annoyed by those who refused to do things his proven successful way when their new way was obviously not working. 
       About twenty years after  Ian Bruce sailed in the 1984 Bruce Cup, Bruce Kirby told me, “I should have come too and I should have sailed in your bunny regatta. I would have beaten both of you.”

    Bruce Kirby was nothing if not sure of himself. I will miss hearing him complain. 

 

 

 

 
    
    



    

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So much great racing, learning, adventure and fellowship from #10179 and #100062. Thanks Bruce Kirby for that chapter of my life - RIP.

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a life well spent

 

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3 hours ago, Cristoforo said:

What do you mean? A special place in Heaven? The guy built sailboats. He didn’t cure cancer  

I thought Heaven was a place free of class society.  Where anyone can be in the buffet line next to anyone  No special tables . 
 

WTF? 

 

Heaven is whatever you believe it is. 
Buffet line?? WTF… Your version of Heaven has lines??

and why would your screaming reach be interrupted by dinner?
 

 

 

 

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RIP, Bruce.  To the Kirby family, please accept my deepest condolences for this immense lost.

Bruce will be forever remembered for many things, but for me personally, the Laser really stoked my love for the sport at a young age, even when i couldnt sail one properly.   Legends are never forgotten, and neither will this important figure in the history of the sport.  A pioneer and ambassador of the game.  Fair winds and following seas, Sir.

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First boat was a Laser II. What a hot rod. Taught my wife to sail on it, and we're still married.

 

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Took my Laser out on Monday for the first time this year.  Blowing 15-20 for a while and it took my aging body some time to remember what to do.  But I eventually re-figured it out, just like every year going back a few decades - thanks for the fun Mr. Kirby!

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NYT finally got around to an obituary - https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/23/sports/sailing/bruce-kirby-dead.html

My Dad had one and loved it, even turning it into a mini-cruiser with sealed compartments for his sleeping bag and clothes so he could go camping on islands in Vaal Dam near Johannesburg in South Africa back in the day. It was a sad day to sell it after he died, but we sold it cheap to a kid at the local sailing club (Milnerton Aquatic Club on Rietvlei in Cape Town), and hope he is still enjoying it.

Last paragraph will ring true to many older sailors!

“Physically he was quite compromised,” Margo Kirby, his wife, said. “He blamed it on hiking for years on small boats. He said he’d do it all over again.”

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