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Eight Bells: Doug Peterson

Published on June 27th, 2017

Doug Blair Peterson, longtime San Diego resident, San Diego Yacht Club member, and trendsetting yacht designer, died June 26 after a long bout with cancer at the age of 71 years (1945-2017).

Peterson, who will be inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame later this year, is survived by four children — Mark, Jamie, Laura and Julia. Former associate Paul Bishop shares this tribute.

Doug Peterson

I’ve met some very intelligent, even brilliant people over the years, but I can only claim to have met one true genius. His name was Doug Peterson. If you never experienced Doug, you couldn’t understand.

I believe I was the last full time Associate Designer at Peterson Design, Inc. Many more talented employees preceded me, such as Peter Wormwood, Alan Andrews, Jim Pugh, Bill Tripp, John Reichel, Ann Rundle, and Jim Donovan.

Doug would start each morning with a strong Italian espresso shot and a slice of buttered toast, then rocket off toward whatever he thought was most important for him to accomplish at that moment.

He would completely lock in on whatever task he decided to take on, with a laser-like focus, until he decided something else was the priority. Many days were fueled with nothing but good imported beer and handfuls of pistachio nuts. Anything else would be an unwanted distraction.

Doug Peterson was America’s most accomplished living Sailing Yacht Designer. During the 20th century there were four main design eras, where most boats were variations on the work of one breakthrough designer. These eras were Herreshoff, Stephens (S&S), Peterson, and Farr.

Doug burst upon the Yacht Racing scene in 1973 with his One Tonner Ganbare. Ganbare rounded a mark in the wrong direction, robbing her of the One Ton Cup in 1973. But her appearance changed the game. Doug’s designs came back and won the Cup in both ’74 (Gumboots) and ’75 (Pied Piper).

Then he went on a tear for the next 35 years:

America’s Cup:
Winner (2x)
Finalist, Runner Up (1x)
LVC Challenger Series Winner (2x)

IOR Level Rating:
Quarter Ton Worlds: Champion (1x)
Half Ton Worlds: Champion (2x)
Three Quarter Ton Worlds: Champion (1x)
One Ton Cup: Champion (2x), Runner Up (3x)
Two Ton Worlds: Champion (2x), Runner Up (1x)

Admirals Cup:
Overall Winner (1x), Runner Up (3x)
Top Scoring Inshore Boat (5x)

Sardinia Cup:
Overall Winner (3x)

Overall Winner (7x)
Class Winner (12x)

Big Boat Series:
Class Winner (15x), Runner Up (19x)

5.5 Metre Worlds:
Champion (6x)

8 Metre Worlds:
Champion (5x)

Most sailors today just can’t understand how important things like the SORC and the Admiral’s Cup were in those days. Winning The Circuit was a BIG DEAL. There would be 20+ new custom boats each year, from all the top design offices. Doug’s designs won OVERALL in 7 of 9 years from ’75 to ’83. Utter domination of the very best.

The bi-annual Admiral’s Cup was filled with just as many new builds, from every major yachting nation. It wasn’t called The World Championship of Yacht Racing for nothing. Doug’s designs were used by teams from many other countries in these regattas, and were always at the top of the results sheets. His boats dominated the Inshore Races, due to their superior windward ability.

Doug famously modified the aging maxi Windward Passage in 1982, changing her from a ketch to a sloop, adding his keel and rudder, and making other minor changes for rating purposes. She was transformed and went on to class wins in many big regattas such as the SORC and Clipper Cup. Doug had a special place in his heart for that boat.

Doug was never given an opportunity to design a 12 Metre for the America’s Cup, but he was a lead designer and an integral part of the design teams that won the America’s Cup under the IACC Rule in 1992 (America3) and in 1996 (Team New Zealand). He was also the head of the design team that won the Louis Vuitton Cup in 2000 (Luna Rossa).

Doug’s accomplishments are too long and varied to list here (for a more extensive list, click here). His designs have won virtually every major regatta worldwide, including the Canada’s Cup, Long Beach Race Week, Swiftsure, Stone Cup, SDYC Ton Cup, Lipton Cup, PORC, Whitney Series, PITCH, Chicago – Mac, Port Huron – Mac, Transpac, Clipper Cup, Vic – Maui, Ensenada, MEXORC, Block Island, Bermuda Race, Sydney – Hobart, Southern Cross Series, Clipper Cup, MORC Internationals, RORC Boat of the Year, etc., etc. etc.

Suffice it to say, if you were sailing a fresh, well-prepared Peterson design in any class since 1973, you would have had a good chance at winning.

Doug’s Client List was a Who’s Who of Yacht Racing Royalty:
Lowell North, Dennis Connor, Carl Eichenlaub, Tom Blackaller, Tom Dreyfus, Bob Barton, Ted Turner, Alan Bond, Tom Stephenson, Dick Deaver, Jeremy Rogers, Robin Aisher, Burt Keenan, OJ Young, Syd Fischer, Willi Illbruk, Seymore Sinett, Thomas Friese, Jan Pehrsson, Per Gyllenhammer, John Newton, David May, Bill Power, Buddy Melges, Pat Malloy, Hans-Otto Schumann, Udo Schutz, Roy Cundiff, Aga Khan, Dennis Choate, Bob Towse, Hugh Treharne, Bill Green…

The Boats:
Ganbare, Gumboots, Pied Piper, North Star, Foxy Lady, Solent Saracen, Ricochet, Smeralda Prima, Stinger, Williwaw, High Roler, Acadia, Forte, Love Machine, Louisiana Crude, Intuition, Scarlett O’Hara, Yeoman XX, Moonshine, Eclipse, Almagores, Secret Love, Détente, Vendetta, Racy, Cadenza, Whistle Wing, Incredible, Pachena, Checkmate, Blue Norther, Leading Lady, Ghost, Zig Zag, Wings, Jetstream, Illusion, High Noon, Annabelle Lee, Irrational, Bullfrog, Quintessence, Apogee, Salute, Oooh No!!, Dust ‘Em, Roller Coaster, Free Enterprise, Brisa, Elusive, Celerity, Tonka, El Principio, Tickled Pink, Inflation, Valkyrie, Tin Woodsman, Vivace, Blitz, Star Eyed Stella, Flambouyant, Dogpatch, Hurricane Deck, Cheetah, Distant Drummer, The Pearce Arrow, Ladybug, Gogama, Sachem, Glory, Ricochet, Pinta, Cheetah, Real Crude, Susan B Anthony, Woodpecker, Coug, Brown Sugar, B195, Ragamuffin, Mandrake, Container, Superstar, Apollo V, Scorpion, Deception, Streaker, Regardless, Perfect Stranger, Mr. Vengeance, Creeper, Black Magic, My Shout, Hollandia, Midnight Sun…OH SO MANY OTHERS!

Doug was much more than a race boat designer. Beautiful cruising yachts for Jack Kelly, Baltic Yachts, Solaris, Shipman, Grand Soleil, Jongert, Nauta, and many others came off Doug’s drafting table.

He was acutely aware of the history of his profession, having respect and passion for it. When the famous schooner Atlantic was restored a few years ago, Doug did the Naval Architecture for the project. Over the past three decades, Doug personally had numerous old metre boats restored, saving them from potentially ending in the scrap yard.

Doug started drawing boats as a child and never wanted to do anything else. His life was one well lived.

“We shall not look upon his like again.” – with apologies to William Shakespeare

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