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Successful at just being himself

Published on June 28th, 2022

Doug Peterson

As a yacht designer, Doug Peterson emerged during a dynamic period in the sport, and his custom and production boats changed how hulls went through the water.

Now inducted into the America’s Cup and US National Sailing Hall of Fames, Doug’s emergence is recalled in this report by yacht designer and past Seahorse magazine editor Julian Everitt:

While Ganbare almost won the One Ton Cup in 1973, it was Gumboots winning in 1974 that really sealed the deal for Doug Peterson and projected him onto the world stage of yacht design. A stage he then wove his magic over for the next ten years. Such was Doug’s dominance of the IOR world that he was able to choose who he designed a boat for.

Through Ron Holland, I got to know Doug right at the beginning of this dominant period. The pair of them, with their swashbuckling attitude towards design and more importantly their clients, opened the door (I’m sure they didn’t intend too!) for a whole raft of new ‘young gun’ yacht designers.

It was Doug on one of our many chats at the time who said, “Make sure you know that your owner has a good race program.” Selling a design to somebody that didn’t sail your boat well was a potential kiss of death to your business.

But Doug knew how to attract good owners. His laid back Californian charm and ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ dress sense was, in many ways, a foretaste of another Californian phenomenon led by a certain Steve Jobs that was soon to explode on the world stage.

I recall Doug at a so called superyacht convention taking the Mickey out of Ron Holland and myself, and just about every other yacht designer wearing suits and ties. He really didn’t care. He let the performance of his boat designs do the talking and he was much admired for this.

Doug was an inspirational yacht designer, and while ideas were well-developed, he was the master of what you might term – ‘the big idea.’ This is why he was able, so seamlessly, to exploit the then new IOR rule.

But his creation of the U Section bow was more than a rule cheat. It helped immensely balance out the IOR inspired aft bustles and made his boats so formidable upwind. He applied a similar left field approach in the design of the International Americas Cup Class yachts that replaced the 12 Metres.

Originally commissioned by the Beach Boys to design a contender for the 1992 defense, Doug saw things very differently to everyone else who were designing out to the beam limit. He drew an ultra-narrow slab sided boat, and when the BB project died, Doug’s unique approach was taken up by the America³ group that went on to defend the first IAAC America’s Cup.

Thus began a design concept that dominated the class until it ended in 2007. He used his intuitive skills whenever he could. One time in Lymington when he was overseeing the build of several Admirals Cuppers at Jeremy Rogers, we got well hammered with Bill Green and ended up in Jonathan Rogers kitchen discussing the merits of designing more modest production style boats. Doug promptly sketched the initial plans for what would become the Contessa 28 on Johnathan’s kitchen table!

Doug wasn’t one for holding back either. In the San Diego Yacht Club, one time with Dennis Conner having dinner, Doug strolled up, nodded at Dennis, and then looked at me. “What are you doing here?” I couldn’t actually tell him the truth (I doubt that he would have believed it if I had) so Dennis chimed in with, “We are just planning a new boat.” Doug didn’t believe that either, but the three of us had a great dinner anyway talking about classic boats and classic cars.

I will always fondly remember Doug as a great designer, but also as a man who was hugely successful at just being himself.

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