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Eight Bells: Ian Bruce

Published on March 23rd, 2016

Ian Bruce, honorary life member of the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club in Montreal, passed away on March 21, 2016 at his daughter’s home in Hamilton, Ontario after a courageous battle with cancer. Born in Jamaica, he was 82 years.

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 club mate Peter Bjorn (Kiel).


Ian Bruce

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 who 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/sailmaker. 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 sailmaking industry because then, as now, sailmakers 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 joined the Royal St. Lawrence in 1953 and had been an active member since that time. 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 his yacht club, throughout Quebec, across Canada, and around the world.

Later this spring friends and family will gather in the Royal St. Lawrence clubhouse and pay tribute to Ian and all that he accomplished in a well-lived life.

MORE: The Wall Street Journal published an obituary on April 15, 2016…click here.

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