Eight Bells: Ted Irwin

Published on February 10th, 2015

Ted Irwin, 74, the face of Irwin Yachts, died February 5 in Little Rock, Ark., where he was receiving cancer treatments. The well-known owner of a former St. Petersburg (FL) yacht and sailboat building business had been battling multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells, since his diagnosis four years ago.

At fifteen, Ted started building boats of his own design in his backyard. From this self-taught experience came the knowledge that was to later enable him to design a “moth”. In that boat he won the North American and the world championships in its class.

After several years of formal education, painting, and backyard boat building, Ted landed a job as a draftsman, illustrator and part-time builder with Charlie Morgan. Ted was twenty-one. By 1963, Ted had served a stint in the Coast Guard, done some more studying and decided that it was time to go out on his own.

Ted rented a small Quonset hut on St. Petersburg Beach for $75 a month. There he built his first commercial sailboat. It took an arduous six months to build his first 31 footer, but it was an effort well spent. That boat, named Voodoo, was to launch Ted’s career by logging an astounding racing record.

Voodoo raced for two years in the Florida Ocean Racing Association, 1964 to 1966, and swept all honors. Other successes followed. Some of his famous racing yachts with names known the world over include Voodoo, Black Magic, La Pantera, Razzle Dazzle and R2D2.

Ted incorporated as Irwin Yacht & Marine Corporation and in 1966 moved to the new site of the Irwin factory. The original factory had only 12,500 square feet. It grew to over 75,000 square feet and over two hundred employees. Over 6,000 yachts were built before closing in early 1990.

Irwin is survived by his first wife, Jean DeRosay Irwin, and their two children. He has two grandchildren. In the late 1980s, Irwin married Karen Pilcher. The couple had two children. The marriage ended in divorce but drew news media attention when the settlement dragged on for more than five years, an ugly and expensive court battle that was one of the longest in the area’s history.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been organized, but the family plans to have a celebration of life service in the coming weeks. Additional details in Tampa Bay Times.

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