Eight Bells for the Father of the Laser

Eight Bells for the Father of the Laser

Ian Bruce crop

A statement from the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club in Quebec, Canada reported that honorary life member, Ian Bruce, passed away on March 21, 2016, after a courageous battle with cancer. Ian joined the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club in 1953 and had been an active member since that time.

A passionate and accomplished sailor, he twice won the prestigious Prince of Wales Trophy, which is essentially the world championships in International Fourteens, and he twice represented Canada in the Olympic Games, in the Finn (Naples) and the Star with clubmate Peter Bjorn (Kiel).

While Ian won many regatta titles in many classes, he is best known, at home and abroad, as the father of the Laser sailing dinghy. It all started in 1970 when he concluded that the small sailboat manufacturing company that he started with fellow club member, André Julien, was too focused on high-performance racing dinghies to grow into a sustainable business.

To solve this problem, Ian set out to create a new sailing dinghy with broad market appeal that was, at the same time, a “proper little yacht” with performance characteristics to satisfy the most demanding of racing sailors. Based on this concept, he commissioned a set of lines from a former club member, International 14 competitor and friend, Bruce Kirby, and a sail plan from Toronto sail maker Hans Fogh.

There’s no question that Kirby and Fogh performed their assignments well but it was definitely Ian that made the Laser so special and so successful. The fact that he engineered a boat, rig and manufacturing process that have essentially remained unchanged to this day is remarkable validation of his approach and the high standards he set for the company and its products.

Ian insisted from day one that the Laser must have unusually strict one-design class rules including the requirement that there be only one builder/sail maker.  He wanted Laser racing to be a true test of sailing skill, without regard for bank balances. Perhaps most controversial at the time was the rule that shut out the sail-making industry because then, as now, sail makers can be very helpful in promoting new designs and classes. Despite pressure on all sides to bend a little, Ian held his ground and today, with more than 200,000 Lasers sailing all over the world, he clearly proved his point.

On July 1, 2009, Ian was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.  The official announcement cited his involvement in the design and development of high-performance boats for young sailors. Impressive as that was, the order failed to mention one of Ian’s greatest qualities, which was the genuine interest that he always showed in working with junior sailors to improve their sailing.

Ian Bruce was more than a remarkable sailor.  He was a remarkable human being and a remarkable contributor to the sport of sailing for more than 60 years at our club, throughout Quebec, across Canada, and around the world.  Later this spring we will gather in the clubhouse and pay tribute to Ian and all that he accomplished in a well-lived life.