Doug Peterson: Impacting the Sport

Published on June 29th, 2017

The impact that Doug Peterson had on the sport cannot be understated. With his recent passing, the memories are coming in. John Fradkin shares his.


Doug Peterson

During his era, Doug Peterson was the most successful yacht designer in the world. If you are reading this, you’re probably a sailor, and Doug Peterson has had an influence on your life whether you realize it or not. It’s a tale worth telling.

I was recently in New Orleans and having lunch at Southern Yacht Club, and was seated in the dining room next to a full model of Munequita, the red Gary Mull designed Ranger 37 that was the overall winner of the 1973 SORC. I remembered this boat, and while I was only 15 at the time, I followed the sport closely. That year was a turning point in the sport.

In 1973 our sport was thriving and the SORC was the pinnacle of ocean racing in the US. To win the SORC with an off-the-shelf Ranger 37 was akin to driving down to the local Chevy dealer, buying a Corvette, and then winning the Indy 500. But it wasn’t that uncommon.

There were many successful sailboat manufacturers building boats back then and a good sailor could buy a production boat and play competitively at the highest level if he chose the right model –think Cal 40, Ericson 39, Columbia 50, and the sexy Ranger 37 which was the boat in ’73. However, this was to be the last hurrah for a production boat to win at the highest level thanks to a guy named Doug Peterson and his first design Ganbare.

The One Ton North Americans were being held in San Diego that year and the Ranger 37’s were heavily favored to win, especially after Munequita had won that year’s SORC. One Tonners had to rate in at 27.5 under the IOR rule and most of the boats were 36 to 38 feet long and weighed about 14,000 pounds. But Doug’s boat Ganbare was a very different animal.

Ganbare

Ganbare was much smaller and lighter as it was only 34 feet long, weighed about 12,000 pounds, and was built out of wood. It was fast and won the regatta easily in a storied performance that is full of urban legend. This was a seminal moment in our sport as from this point on production boats were never again competitive at the highest levels.

You now needed a custom boat to play the game and the repercussions over the next four decades were dramatic and pretty ugly. Just look where the sport is now.

All those successful sailboat manufacturers went out of business, and more importantly, regular people no longer aspired to own ocean racing boats because of the high cost. The IOR racing was pretty good until the mid 80’s but the boats were primarily expensive stripped out machines and the owners were no longer regular people. The demographics of the owners had changed.Images courtesy of RB Sailing.

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