The designer of the Laser sailing dinghy has died.
Bruce Kirby passed away on July 18. He was 92. Born in Ottawa, and grew up sailing on the Ottawa River as a member of the Britannia Yacht Club. He worked as a journalist, before becoming editor of Yacht Racing magazine. He competed at the Olympics three times as a sailor, in 1956, 1964 and 1968.
Kirby went on to design a number of sailboats, including two used to contest the Americas Cup, but he is best known as the designer of the Laser. The first laser was built by Kirby in 1970. Since then, over 215,000 have been produced, making it one of the most popular sailboat designs in history.
The impact of the laser has been immeasurable. The early design was intended to be easy for one person to handle, and transport on a top of a car. The lasers hull is 13′ long, and the boat weighs 130lbs, which is downright portable for boat. The laser is cat rigged, meaning it uses one sail, and has a removable dagger board and rudder.
Being simple to sail, it is often one of the first boats people learn to sail as children. Every summer you can see fleets for kids sailing the laser on the North West Arm. The Laser has also been an Olympic Class since 1996. The fact that the design is simple enough to learn on, but also able to support Olympic level competition is telling.
Bruce Kirby lnc. licensed the laser design to manufacturers and collected a royalty on each one. In 2013 he revoked Laser Performance’s license to produce the design citing lack of royalty payments, and quality issues with the hulls. Litigation ensued, and in in 2019 Laser performance lost the rights to build official laser hulls. The next year, Kirby was awarded 6.8 million USD. As Laser perfomance owns the trademark on the laser, the boat is now known as a ILCA 7, ICLA being the International Laser Class Association
Kirby also designed the Sonar, a 23′ keelboat which is the largest boat used in Paralympic competition for three person keelboat event.
Kirby is a member of the Canadian and American Sailing halls of Fame, and in 2018 was awarded the Order of Canada. He was a member of the Noroton Yacht Club in Connecticut, and Laser #0 is on display at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.