Bruce Kirby: Business is business

Published on November 30th, 2021

Bruce Kirby has earned a significant place in sailing history, as a yacht designer, three-time Olympian and honored sportsman who has reshaped the sport of sailing. His story is now captured in the book, The Bruce Kirby Story: From the River to the Sea.

Beginning in Ottawa, Canada and progressing to the world stage, the memoir weaves through a remarkable life of adventure, artistry, powerful storms, nasty business, sweet success, memorable characters and family. Here is an excerpt from the early years of the Laser:

Ian Bruce seemed to be consistently in the red. He had continuing difficulties with the business end of the boat building operation, and I was very happy that he and I had decided early in the game that I would not be involved with the commercial side of the operation in Montreal.

Our contracts said simply that I was the designer and he, as Performance Sailcraft, was the builder. This way, I could not lose money and if my design royalty of two percent of the dealer price of the boat was paid, then I could do very well.

The problems began early and almost surely could be attributed to Ian under-pricing the boat. Instead of bringing it to the market at $695, it probably should have been about $750, but he insisted the higher price would have discouraged buyers. The success of the boat would indicate he was wrong.

After about a year and a half of Laser production, Performance Sailcraft was badly in arrears with my design royalties. I got the first indication of how dire the situation was when I received a phone call from a Montreal bank manager asking me if I planned to collect the $60,000 that was owed to me by Performance Sailcraft. Taken completely by surprise, I answered that of course I expected to be paid.

Two hours later I had a call from Ian that opened with, “So you are planning to put us out of business!” When I asked for an explanation, he said his company was trying to borrow money from the bank and that if I was planning to collect my royalties the bank would not give him the loan.

It was news to me that things had sunk so low, and after much discussion I told him I would forgive the arrears to help keep the operation going. Of course it was also to my advantage to help him out, but I was annoyed that Ian had verbally attacked me out of the blue when I told the bank I was planning to collect my 60,000 bucks.

Ian Bruce’s firm finally lost Performance Sailcraft in Canada the late 1980s.

For more information on the book, click here.

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