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Jeremy Rogers MBE: 1937 - 2022

by Barry Pickthall 18 Oct 2022 15:20 BST

Jeremy Rogers, one of Britain's most successful yachtsmen, made a life out of sailing from an early age, from making model boats as a small child before making his mark in offshore yacht racing, winning major international events including Cowes Week, the One Ton Cup, Admiral's Cup, the Round the Island Race and the 605-mile Fastnet classic.

Rogers was as skilled with his hands as he was at the helm of a boat, and after serving an apprenticeship under Jack Chippendale MBE, then the most respected racing dinghy builder in the UK, he embarked on building yachts with the same level of excellence. Starting in a garage at home, the business grew to become one of the largest employees in Lymington with 200 working in five factories across this Hampshire sailing mecca.

In 1974, Rogers won the prestigious One Ton Cup world championship in Torquay in Gumboots, a yacht built by the company. Mid-way through the final offshore race, Rogers and his crew were alerted to a MAYDAY call, broke off from racing and went to the rescue of a crew sitting precariously in a punctured liferaft. Once they were safely onboard, Gumboots resumed racing, and after being given time dispensation for the diversion, won the series outright. For this, and the rescue, Jeremy Rogers was given that year's Yachtsman of the Year Award.

In 1980, Rogers, a shy and modest character, was invited to Buckingham Palace to lunch with the Queen and Prince Philip. "Jeremy was petrified" recalls his wife, Fiona. "He found himself sharing the occasion with writer Harold Pinter and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The door opened and the Queen was preceded by two of her corgis who made a beeline for Jeremy. He got down on his knees to give them a stroke and was joined on the floor by the Queen where they shared anecdotes about their dogs.

Born in Thaxted, Essex on 16 September 1937, Jeremy was one of three brothers born to Group Captain Charles Rogers OBE and his wife Margaret (nee Keithley). The 2nd World War saw his father stationed in Canada where he set up a series of flying schools for budding RAF pilots, and the family followed. At the end of hostilities, the family returned in a convoy of 70 ships and had the excitement of watching a pack of German U-boats surrender.

Once back home, the family moved to Lulworth Cove where Jeremy and his brothers Jonathan and Tim found a rescue inflatable from a Spitfire fighter plane and began experimenting with rigs in a bid to get the boat to sail upwind. With their Father away in Germany working to establish NATO, the brothers were sent to Clayesmore boarding school in Dorset, where Jeremy built his first 10ft dinghy.

After serving his apprenticeship under Jack Chippendale, Jeremy set up his own business in Lymington in 1961, building a wooden Folkboat class cruising yacht in the family garage. He was one of the first to appreciate the potential of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) construction, and after a period building GRP dinghies, he worked with designer David Sadler to develop a variation of the Folkboat design in glassfibre. Called the Contessa 26, this one-design was an instant success and over the years more than 400 were built, some sailing to the four corners of the globe.

One to do so was young adventurer and artist Nick Jaffe who sailed his to Australia. Recalling Jeremy's life, he said this week. "To build and create boats is a rare art form. Jeremy's work inspired an entire generation of dreamers and adventures to find the sea and ultimately themselves, for which myself and countless others are eternally grateful."

Another to mark his gratitude is Contessa 26 class stalwart Mike Harrison. "We remain so grateful to Jeremy for his foresight with David Sadler in the design and construction of what has become such a long lasting and respected small classic cruiser. His three overall victories in the annual Round the Island Race aboard his own Contessa 26 Rosana is a record hard to beat."

The 26 was followed by the Contessa 32, also in collaboration with David Sadler, which won the prestigious 'Boat of the Show' award when first displayed at the London Boat Show in 1972. Fifty years on, this model is still in production with more than 650 built to-date. Jo Sammons, the CO32 Class Captain paid tribute to Rogers. "It is a testament to Jeremy's skills that the boat he helped to design and first built over 50 years ago is still being regularly raced, cruised and loved in all four corners of the globe. Never failing to turn heads and never failing to bring enjoyment and comfort to those that sail her, Jeremy's legacy lives on through the Contessa 32 community".

Further successes followed on the water. In 1977 and 1979, Rogers and his crew were selected to represent Britain in the 3-boat Admiral's Cup team. Joining Sir Edward Heath and his Morning Cloud, and Chris Dunning's Marionette, they won the 1977 series, with Rogers' Contessa 43 Moonshine finishing top scoring yacht.

The 1979 Admiral's Cup coincided with one of the worst disasters in ocean racing history when near hurricane conditions swept across the 303-strong fleet and lead to 19 deaths, 24 abandoned yachts and 5 sinkings. The results became insignificant, but Rogers' Contessa 39, Eclipse, came in second overall to Ted Turner's Tenacious, a yacht twice her size.

The following year Rogers received an MBE.

By the early 1980s, Rogers was working with world-renown designers including Doug Peterson, Rob Humphries and David Alan-Williams. The Company had five purpose-built factories building a range of Contessa yachts sized from 26 to 43ft and was exporting them all over the world until a recession decimated the British boatbuilding industry leading to many failures, including J C Rogers.

Undeterred, Jeremy pulled himself back up. After a spell building Etchells keel boats in a former cow shed he found premises in nearby Milford before returning to Lymington to the site of the current boat yard in Lymington Yacht Haven. Now under the management of his son Kit Rogers, the company builds new Contessa 32s and carries out yacht refurbishment as well as manufacturing carbon fibre davits, designed by son Simon Rogers for the superyacht industry.

Jeremy's last years were clouded by Alzheimer's, aggravated in the end by Covid, but though he lost sight of his whereabouts, he could still helm a boat as naturally as before. Sailing with his son David in a little Keyhaven Scow in June 2020 and the family Contessa 32 Assent in early 2021. "It was as if the tiller was a natural extension of his arm." recalls his wife.

Jeremy Rogers is survived by his wife Fiona, sons, Simon, Kit and David, and grandchildren Hattie, Jonah, Inigo, Tom, Rex, Kai, Leo, Minnie and Rafe.

The funeral will be a family only service, followed by a public memorial service at a date yet to be announced.

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