Robbie Doyle: An Artist and a Scientist

Published on October 22nd, 2015

A fascination with the dynamics of wind and waves propelled Robbie Doyle to the Mexico Olympics, winning the America’s Cup and building the largest sails in the world.

For as long as he could remember, Doyle wanted to compete in the Olympic games. One of five siblings, he was four years old when his father, an obstetrician, bought a summer home on Peaches Point.

Doyle enjoyed all sports, especially swimming which initially he thought might be his ticket to the Olympics, as he was the top swimmer in New England by age 12. Then he competed at a national level and was beaten by Don Shollander – who went on to win four gold medals in the 1964 Olympics.

Doyle realized that to be a world-class swimmer he would probably need to move to Southern California where he could train every day. Likewise, although he loved to play baseball, he knew he didn’t quite have what it took to make the Olympic team.

Instead, he focused on sailing, which he said he started doing at age five when he and his siblings took part in the sailing program at Mystic Lakes. A program he continued with every summer, sailing a 9-foot turnaround from Fluen Point to the Pleon Yacht Club on Marblehead Neck.

As a teenager, Doyle won the Sears Cup two times and was a three time All American at Harvard.

In 1967, at the age of 17, he qualified for the Olympic Sailing team, and went to the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968 as an alternate. The sailing races took place in Acapulco, which he called a pretty neat experience for an 18 year old travelling overseas for the first time.

Originally Doyle had planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and was studying applied physics as part of his pre-med training at Harvard. But Ted Hood, who was then making sails in Marblehead, was also courting him and his sailing expertise and knowledge of applied physics and fluid dynamics.

The lure of wind and water and Doyle’s love of sailing won out and in February 1972, he finished at Harvard and went to work at Hood’s sail loft. It was a transformational time in sail making, Doyle said, and his role was “to take it from an art to a science.”

In doing so, Doyle said he began by studying the shapes and loads on sails and established what worked best using an engineering approach. Then he computerized the process and started laser cutting sails rather than hand cutting them.

In 1974 Doyle was the tactician and sail trimmer on Ted Turner’s America’s Cup entry, Mariner where “the boat was slow but the sails were good and got noticed” he said.

Doyle later persuaded Turner to buy “Courageous,” which had won the ’74 America’s Cup, and three years later they successfully defended the cup. – Marblehead Reporter, full story

BIG: Robbie is involved in providing the sails for the largest sailing yacht ever built, the three-masted 142.81 metre (468.5-ft) superyacht recently launched in Germany and now undergoing sea trials. Videos here.

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