Publish date:

Eight Bells: Bruce Kirby, Creator of the Laser

The late Bruce Kirby

The late Bruce Kirby

With 2021 drawing to a close, Laser sailors find themselves reflecting on both their class’s 50th anniversary and the passing of the man who made it all possible: Canadian designer, sailor and sailing journalist, Bruce Kirby.

Kirby, who died this past July at the age of 92, started sailing competitively at an early age and in many ways began designing of necessity in order to sail the kinds of boats he felt he needed as a member of the International 14 developmental dinghy class. In the 1960s Kirby also represented his native Canada in the Finn and Star classes in multiple Olympics and worked as a marine journalist for a publication called One Design Yachtsman, now Sailing World.

A fleet of Lasers blast off the starting line at the 2019 Hempel World Cup Series

A fleet of Lasers blast off the starting line at the 2019 Hempel World Cup Series

It was while he was working for One Design Yachtsman in 1969 that he drew “the million-dollar doodle,” a sketch bearing a remarkable resemblance to the final design of what eventually became the Laser, while discussing a possible easy-to-cartop boat with his friend Ian Bruce.

After a brief pause, the 13ft 9in dinghy (originally called the “TGIF” and then the “Weekender” before being given a name that was thankfully “more modern and cutting edge”) went into production in 1970, eventually making its debut at the New York Boat Show in early 1971, where it quickly became a sensation.

A designated Olympic class since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the boat is currently available in three iterations: the original “standard” Laser; the Laser Radial with a slightly smaller rig typically raced by women; and the Laser 4.7 with an even smaller rig for children. More than 220,000 have been produced over the years, and in 1997 it was inducted into the American Sailboat Hall of Fame, where it joined such iconic boats as the Hobie 16, Sunfish, International Optimist Dinghy and J/24.

Despite a somewhat ugly trademark dispute only recently resolved between Kirby and a number of the boat’s builders, it’s safe to say that even in this age of beach-cat racing and full-foiling monohulls, the Laser remains as popular as ever, with the boat slated to make yet another Olympic appearance in 2024.

Other Kirby designs include a pair of America’s Cup 12-Metres, Canada I and Canada II, the San Juan 24, a series of “Kirby” mid-size PHRF and MORC racers, the Ideal 18 and the 23ft Sonar, the latter purportedly one of Kirby’s favorites. If life is measured by the number of other lives we’ve touched, it would be hard to imagine a fuller life than the one led by Bruce Kirby.

October 2021


05 Alex Thomson leans - credit ALEX THOMSON RACING copy

Alex Thomson Won’t Compete in Vendée Globe

Veteran British solo-sailor Alex Thomson has announced he won’t compete as a skipper in the 2024 Vendée Globe. However, he isn’t ruling out returning to the race in 2028. Thomson has competed in the IMOCA circuit for 19 years, including five successive Vendée Globe’s with two more


Kiteboarder Sets New Jamestown Record

Rob Spets is the new record holder for the around-Jamestown circumnavigation aboard his foiling kiteboard Skellinger. His lap took 50 minutes and 48 seconds, improving the previous record set by Jason Carroll by 1 minute and 14 seconds. Spets completed the course in an 18-knot more


Bill Tilman’s Simple Sailing

Like an ostrich on a bad day, I’m head-down in the lazarette of Nellie, my Beneteau First 42, dealing with the propane tank. My wife taps me on the shoulder, and I rise to see a pair of foiling catamarans accelerating onto their carbon-fiber wings. As the blood drains from my more


Olympic Sailing: Where to Now?

It’s official, not only is the United States no longer an Olympic power when it comes to sailing, it’s fast beginnings look like an also-ran—albeit an also-ran with loads of potential. What other conclusion is there to draw from the fact that for the second time in three more


Return of the Annapolis Boat Show

After a hiatus in 2020, the United States Boat Show in Annapolis, Maryland returned in full force last weekend. “Pent up demand” was the name of the game for visitors and exhibitors alike. Queues to get in each morning stretched around the block, and the docks were congested more


Sailing Hall of Fame Inducts Class of 2021

This weekend, the National Sailing Hall of Fame has inducted eleven new members to make up the class of 2021. “The remarkable achievements of this year’s class exemplify excellence and an unwavering dedication to our sport,” said National Sailing Hall of Fame president Gus more


Mirabaud Voting Open to the Public

Photos from the industry's top photographers are in, and the 12th annual Mirabaud Yacht Racing Image competition is underway. An international panel of judges has selected this year's 80 finalists, which have been published online. The panel will also select the winner of the more


Annapolis’ Boat Show is Back

After a year off in 2020, the United States Boat Show in Annapolis is back. From the diminutive Areys Pond Cat 14 XFC to the massive Lagoon Sixty 5, many of the SAIL’s 2022 Best Boats Nominees are on display for the public to get a firsthand look at, and SAIL’s Best Boats panel more