Man who designed Laser sailboats, sailed by kids and Tokyo 2020 Olympians alike, dies in

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NORWALK — Bruce Kirby, whose legendary Laser dinghy is under sail in this year’s Olympic regattas off Enoshima, Japan, is being remembered anew as among the most influential boating designers of the 20th century.

Kirby died July 19 at age 92 in Norwalk, where he long lived at the head of Rowayton Harbor. Kirby moved there in 1969 after a sailing magazine moved its office to Connecticut from Chicago.

In addition to the Laser, Kirby designed the Sonar, a 23-foot boat rigged for two sails and a spinnaker, which debuted in 1980 and remains a familiar sight on Long Island Sound.


But it is the Laser that is engraved in the minds of many sailors in Connecticut and internationally who got their first taste of regatta sailing on the little boat, including Alicia Martorella Poole, a manager at Cedar Point Yacht Club in Westport. She also has coached sailing on the Sonar.

“With the Laser, kids can start getting into them when their 13 and they can start racing them. And you can be super competitive and go to the Olympics or you can sail them recreationally,” Martorella Poole said. “It’s easy to rig, easy to put on the car.”

Kirby famously designed the Laser’s signature flat hull with that in mind, after an industrial designer named Ian Bruce shared the idea a friend had expressed of a sailing dinghy that would not require a trailer for transport. After refining the design of an initial prototype, he sold 140 units at the 1971 New York Boat Show.

Kirby designed the hull for speed in the water as well, with expert sailors able to “plane” the Laser during puffs of wind to lift the hull slightly in the water and reduce drag. The Laser’s shallow draft makes it exceptionally maneuverable as well in close-quarters sailing during regatta races.

“Very responsive — you can sail it pretty aggressively,” Martorella Poole said.

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