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Family, friends and fans of David Thomas pay him homage at RSYC

by Peta Stuart-Hunt on 12 May 2014
David Thomas and Jonty Sherwill © Michael Austen
Family, friends and fans of David Thomas pay him homage at RSYC - Hamble, Hampshire, UK: The modest genius of David Thomas, arguably Britain's most prolific and influential yacht designer, was celebrated in style at a Royal Southern Yacht Club dinner packed with family, friends and many of those who have taken to the water in one of his boats.

Variously described as the 'proxy uncle' to the 'great, bold and loonies' who go to sea, and the 'Pied Piper of yacht designers', David was lauded by numerous speakers for the immeasurable pleasure his many and various designs have provided over a career spanning half a century. The evening also marked David's 25th year as a member of the Royal Southern.

The main speaker Peter Poland, a long-standing friend of David, built many of his designs as co-owner of Hunter Boats. 'David has an instinctive understanding of what sailors want - he has been the Pied Piper of yacht designers, that's his secret,' said Peter.

'People from all divisions of sailing have sailed out on a David Thomas design. They will go on forever.

'He is also responsible for the largest one-design fleet in Round the Island Race history, 105 Sigma 33s, a record that will never be beaten.'

Peter highlighted a number of David's innovative design features, including hull chines which have since become commonplace, and the sheer range of his yachts, from Sonata and Impala to the Sigma 33 and 38, and from the 707 to 67-foot round-the-world Challenge yachts. He also raised the biggest laugh of the evening speculating on the 'number of babies made in the forepeak of a David Thomas yacht'.

Another collaborator, Jonty Sherwill, worked with David in the mid-80s on the interior design of the Sigma 362, Sigma 38 and other projects. Speaking before the dinner he said:

'It's been a combination of business and pleasure and has continued that way since then. I would characterise David as being pragmatic, practical, cost efficient but innovative. He spots gaps in the market which other people maybe don't and I think that's been the secret of his success.'

Pressed on his favourite DT design, he added: 'That's a tricky one, all of his boats have great character, but the one of his that caught my eye first was in the 1970s, the Impala. It was a really pretty boat and remains competitive still, it's a little gem.'

Celebrated solo racer Mike Golding highlighted the fact that he had sailed the 'wrong way' round the world three times in a Challenge 67, once single-handed.

'It is an amazing boat that did incredible things and it has given immense pleasure to so many people, and done so in safety. It was designed for a race that many people said could never be done.'


Sailors and admirers had come from far and wide to honour David, none more so than Runar Steinsen and friends who travelled from Iceland.

'I've had several of David's yachts, starting around 1976 when he designed a quarter-tonner for me which really started small boat sailing in Iceland.' Later he built another DT design which featured three trapezes and became known as the Secret 26, the forerunner of the 707 and the first of what are now known as sportsboats.

'We called it the Secret as not many people know about it,' said Runar. ’We had a small class of six in Reykjavik and arranged our own world championships. David came over and sailed in it, and won of course.'

Earlier on the Saturday, Chief Race Officer Tony Lovell had made the regrettable but necessary decision to cancel the day's planned racing due to the gale force winds. Sunday's parade of sail also fell foul of the conditions.

The intention is for those who entered to be given free entry to the July Regatta on July 12-13 with prizes awarded from extracted results. It is further planned that the innovative Solent Snooker event will be held on July 19-20.

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