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Plas Menai 2015

What direction for the Kirby Torch?

by Mark Jardine on 25 Apr 2013 25 April 2013

However you look at it, the current situation with the Laser class is a quagmire. It's not good for the class, it's not good for sailing, and right now it's hard to see a solution when the parties seemingly won't even speak to each other, let alone negotiate a solution.

Over a 40 year history, over 200,000 Lasers have been produced and it is the current Olympic singlehanded class for both Men and Women (Radial Rig).

The roots of the class lay in a telephone conversation between Bruce Kirby and Ian Bruce in 1970 where they discussed the possibility of an affordable, car-toppable dinghy and Bruce Kirby went on to sketch what would be known as 'the million dollar doodle'.

The legal situation looks complex and is definitely something I don't understand. I do know that Bruce Kirby designed the 'Kirby Sailboat' and that the Laser trademark is held by another company. This is something for lawyers to sort out if the involved parties so wish. The current situation is that Bruce Kirby has started a new class called the 'Kirby Torch' which is his original 'Kirby Sailboat' design of dinghy under a new name and logo.

As a sailor, my thoughts are that the Kirby Sailboat has moved a long way from its roots. A mainsail now costs £395 (or £450 rolled) whereas replica mainsails are available for £140. When racing at the top level sails last a week and top sections can last anywhere between 2 weeks and 12 months.

So, how about if the Kirby Torch became the affordable, car-toppable boat again? A new Class Association which embraced the replica market. Yes, replica parts would have to be brought into line so that they were ensured to be one-design, but this can't be too hard as many of them are currently designed to comply with Bruce Kirby's original build specifications.

There are loads of hulls in various states of repair around the world that could be revived and back out on the water for minimal outlay. This could get more people back out on the water and would be great for the marine industry as a whole – as we all know when you get hooked into sailing, whatever the class of boat you sail, you inevitably ending up wanting more. This could be a whole new route to get people into the sport that we love.

A couple of changes could be made from the outset to the new class; a mainsail design that lasts longer and a top-section that holds its shape seem the most obvious.

Would Bruce Kirby go for this? I don't know, but it would certainly secure his legacy. His name would finally become a part of 'his baby'. Maybe a royalty could and should be paid to Bruce for the parts that make up the Torch? It's just a thought... but personally I think it would be as good a solution as any.

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