The start of this year’s Monaco Yacht Show marked a special occasion for yacht designer Ed Dubois. September 21 was the 40th anniversary of his very first yacht project—“or at least the first one I was paid for”—after graduating from Southampton College of Technology (now Southampton Solent University) in 1974.

The college syllabus was divided up into course work and work experience in the industry. Ed landed a summer job with the well-known naval architect Alan Buchanan in Jersey. Buchanan (who passed away early this year) trained as an aircraft engineer and worked as a draughtsman at the De Havilland aircraft factory before setting up as a boat designer.

“While I was working with Alan I sailed with an owner called George Skelly, who had a number of restaurants on Jersey and Guernsey,” recalls Ed. “He was a lovely man and I ate in his restaurants and dated his waitresses—it was just a perfect time for me.”

Ed Dubois at the Monaco Yacht Show (photo by Justin Ratcliffe)

While in Jersey, he was offered a job with Sparkman & Stephens in New York, then the premier yacht design studio in the world. The only problem was that it would take 10 months to process his work permit, so in the meantime he applied for a post as Technical Editor with the magazine Yachts & Yachting and got the job. 

“I was a bit naughty as didn’t tell them I was waiting for my U.S. work permit,” recalls Ed. “I remember the salary was £2,000 a year and included an almost-new electric blue Ford Escort, which I thought was fantastic!”

He then got a call from his old friend George Skelly, who asked him if he was interested in designing a race boat for him. With the Sparkman & Stephens job still on offer, Ed was initially in two minds, “but then it occurred to me that I might never get such an opportunity again, so I thought ‘Sod it’ and went for it.” On September 21, 1975, he received a cheque for £1,000 and got down to work. The resulting boat was a 34-foot, three-quarter tonner called Borsellino Trois, named after Skelly’s chain of restaurants, which won the 1976 Three-Quarter Ton Cup and numerous other regattas she entered.

“In light airs under 12 knots she was unbeatable, but she was a pig to sail downwind in a breeze,” says Ed. “1976 happened to be the hottest summer on record and all the races were in light airs, so we were lucky.”

One of the crewmembers aboard Borsellino Trois was John Oakley, a sail maker and one of Britain’s top racing sailors, who was working with the designers Miller & Whitworth at the time. Ed was invited to join the team and several boats he designed, such as Vanguard and Enigma, went on to compete successfully on the racecourse.

Model of The Beast in build at Royal Huisman

The rest, as they say, is history. Still an active sailor, Ed was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Design by Southampton Solent University in 2004 and is a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects and Royal Academy of Engineering. Since setting up on his own, his philosophy has been to combine seaworthiness and excellent performance with imaginative space planning and beautifully proportioned lines. Ongoing projects include the 58m sloop nicknamed The Beast in build at Royal Huisman, a radical 115 footer with a fold-down transom, a 60m ketch, a 44m design for an existing client, and various production boats for Windy.

Congratulations, Ed. Here’s to the next 40 years!

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