Eight Bells: Charles Morgan

Published on January 9th, 2023

Charles Morgan, (November 17, 1929-January 6, 2023), an icon in the world of sailing from the late 1940s, passed away at 93 years. His passing came just hours after his beloved wife Maurine had died.

Charley was born in Chicago in 1929 but grew up in Tampa, FL. He was a boy when his uncle took him sailing on Lake Conway near a sleepy town called Orlando. At 10 he built his first sailboat out of discarded orange crates and sack cloth.

He attended the University of Tampa and took a job with Johnson Sails. In 1952 he founded Morgan Racing Sails in Tampa, FL. While making sails, he met yacht designer George Luzier, who got him interested in designing boats. In 1960 Jack Powell commissioned him to build the 40 foot centerboard fiberglass yawl PAPER TIGER.

The famously successful Paper Tiger won the SORC Southern Ocean Racing Conference in 1961 and 1962. Because of that triumph, his prior success building racing sails, and a newly developed relationship with legendary yacht designer Olin Stephens; Morgan Racing Sails received an order to build some sails in 1962 for the Stephens-designed America’s Cup defender Columbia.

Unable to find a builder to manufacture the Tiger Cub, a smaller version of Paper Tiger, he founded the Morgan Yacht Corporation in 1962. Early models included the Tiger Cub and fiberglass sloop Morgan 34. The Morgan Yachts line of boats quickly grew to a fleet of sizes from 22′ to 54′ Morgan Marauder. In 1968, he sold his company, which increased his wealth substantially, but continued to design and help with the company.

Charley’s interest turned to the 1970 America’s Cup where he designed, built, and skippered his 12 Meter Heritage, which was launched May 3, 1970. He even sailed the boat on its own bottom from St. Petersburg, Florida to Newport, Rhode Island.

There were four 12 Meters competing for the America’s Cup defense in 1970: Weatherly (12 Meter US-17), Intrepid (12 Meter US-22), Heritage (12 Meter US-23), and Valiant (12 Meter US-24). Heritage started the trials off well with a win over Weatherly but was later knocked out of the trials by Intrepid.

In response to customer feedback while operating Morgan Yacht, he designed the shallow draft Morgan Out Island 41. One of the most popular boats over 40 feet overall ever built. First built in 1971 the spacious boat became popular with charter companies, becoming “the standard charter boat. Charlie left Morgan Yachts in 1972.

He found Heritage Yacht Corporation in 1975, producing trawlers and sailing yachts. He later worked for Chris-Craft, doing design work on their trawler line. He designed sailboats in the 60s for Columbia Yachts including the Columbia 40 and Columbia 38 as well as other yacht builders and private clients. Later in the 70s till the early 90s, he also designed for other manufacturers including the Com-Pac 35 for Hutchins Yachts.

Sailmaker, racing sailor, yacht designer, boat builder, and America’s Cup designer and competitor; Charley was accomplished in all aspects of sailing and was truly a sailing legend.

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