Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Bruce Farr

Apr 11, 2011 05:38PM ● By Anonymous

Bruce Farr has made quite a name for himself within the sailing industry for nearly 50 years. Farr grew up in Aukland, New Zealand and by age 11 was designing and building simple crafts. At 22, he won his first open ocean sailing race aboard a vessel he designed. This spurred his reputation as a young, talented yacht designer, which he would grow into a booming design firm, Farr Yacht Design. In 1980, the firm moved its headquarters to Annapolis, Maryland, where it continues to be a leader in design and technology today.

What’s Up?: Can you tell us about your childhood in New Zealand; what was it like growing up in a very water-oriented community and what were your interests growing up?

Bruce Farr: I grew up in a do-it-yourself era which saw an explosion of amateur boat building, as well as designing sail boats and sailing. From birth, I cruised with my family and hung around boats when my father became a commercial fisherman when I was eight. I started sailing small dinghies at about seven years old and some casual racing at about age ten.

WU: When did your passion for sailing develop and how often were you on the water?

BF: From about age 9, I spent most of my free time sailing small center boarders in a small coastal estuary which was quite challenging with its channels, tides and gusty winds. A perfect training ground! A local group set up a sailing club and we started racing, and regularly visited the Auckland scene to race against the “big guns.” I was also very fortunate to be maturing right at the time that serious ocean racing started in NZ in the late ’60s so there were many examples to look up to and follow.

WU: What prompted your pursuit of yacht design? Why did you choose this field?

BF: I didn’t decide to choose this field, just never figured out how to get out of it! I was passionate about designing and building boats, and enjoyed racing them and the real friendships that developed from that.

I had very strong spatial and art skills as well as being good at math and science. I also enjoyed building things, and after helping my father repair and build various family boats as a child, I was soon designing and building boats myself at age 11. By age 17 I had a design and build business going for a while before I decided to head to Auckland to further develop my skills.

WU: When did you realize you were on to something very big with regards to your designs and which ones specifically?

BF: In 1970, I designed for Rob Blackburn, my partner in our 12-foot skiff sailing escapades, a 26-foot Cruiser/Racer keel boat, Titus Canby, which he built and soon after launching we sailed her to win the 1972 South Pacific Half Ton Cup. That was a point where I felt big things might be in my future.

The next truly significant period was when I sailed 45 South, a “Quarter Ton” 24-foot yacht I designed, to win the 1975 South Pacific Championship. She went on to win the 1975 World Quarter Ton Championship in France while I sailed on my 42-foot cruising design Gerontious in the Admirals Cup in England. The success of these boats introduced me into Europe, and North America noticed as well.

WU: Your design firm began in Auckland and since spread to Annapolis? What prompted your decision to move your offices to the states?

BF: In the ’70s it was very difficult to do significant business in America and Europe from NZ. Phones barely worked, there were no fax machines or couriers and air mail took more than a week. By 1980, with a small five person design office and altogether too much travelling, we needed a presence in the Northern Hemisphere to succeed. Annapolis fit the bill as a nice area and sailing center with a reasonable climate, and easy access to international travel.

WU: What are some specific yachts you are particularly proud of?

BF: There are so many but several stand out! Titus Canby, first keel boat. 45 South, first keel boat World Champion. UBS Switzerland, first line honors win in the 1985 Whitbread (now Volvo) Round the World Race. Longobarda, a 1989 World Maxi Champion, with me on crew! Gaucho, a 42-footer that stood the IMS world on end in 1992 and became a local Annapolis legend. Sayonara, three consecutive ILC Maxi World Championships 1996 thru 1998. Farr 40 One Design, arguably the best offshore keel boat One Design class.

On the cruising side, Sojana, a 2006 115-foot thoroughly modern ketch for racing, cruising, and charter, all of which she has done very successfully. Farr 1020, a delightful little 34-foot cruising yacht from 1981. First 45f5, a 1990 stylish production cruiser/racer that led to many hugely successful Beneteau products.

WU: What projects/designs/technologies are you and Farr Yacht Designs most heavily intrigued and invested in right now? What excites you for the near future of yacht design?

BF: As computing speed continues to rapidly evolve and costs drop, we anticipate computer-based fluid dynamics becoming more important, by eliminating remaining “guess work” on the way to producing faster, better handling and more seaworthy sail boats. Perhaps quite soon we will be able to fully and dynamically “sail” a boat in a computer with all of the forces properly and accurately simulated at the same instant.

WU: Do you currently reside in the Annapolis area and, if so, how often do you get out on the water?

BF: I reside in the South River area and still enjoy the sea and boating when I do get out, and now feel the urge to do more again, especially slightly less serious racing and cruising.

WU: Describe the feeling you get when you’re on the water boating, simply enjoying leisure time, and see a boat in the distance that you then recognize as one of your designs? Are you proud?

BF: It remains a feeling of pride to watch a fleet of Farr designs racing together, an individual boat winning a race or someone enjoying their Farr cruising boat.