Who's Who - Nigel Irens: A wonderful, self-taught naval architect

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Already honored with the ‘Royal Designer for Industry’ award in 2005, Nigel Irens has left his mark on the evolution of the modern multihull. Just in case His Majesty King Charles III is reading this, the title of Sir Nigel Irens would suit him perfectly. The nickname ‘The Wizard of Bristol’ is already associated with the American Nathanael Herreshoff, the brilliant designer of the first racing multihull, the John Gilpin, at the end of the 19th century. It is an incredible coincidence that two such talented personalities in the same field were born in homonymous towns, one in Rhode Island (USA), the other in the southwest of England. It is not too far to the south, in his cottage in Devon, near Plymouth, that we find Nigel Irens. Behind his blue glasses, his eyes still shine with the same passion for the sea. This visceral attraction to boats began in Salcombe, just thirty miles away, when Nigel was only eight years old and already noticing the different shapes of transoms, straight or ‘wineglass’, adapted for sailing, rowing or motoring. From an early age, Nigel’s powerful intuition and innate gift for design led him to create some of the most beautiful and high-performance multihulls of the late twentieth century.
Over three hours of interviews conducted half in English, half in French, (“learnt on the pontoons”), we discussed some of the greatest names in multihull sailing, a veritable pantheon of sailors on two or three hulls. There are, of course, the Anglo-Saxon pioneers - Dick Newick, Tony Bullimore and a certain Canadian, Mike Birch. 100% self-taught due to a lack of specialized training at the time, Nigel was working for a trimaran builder in Bristol when he met Mike in 1976. The Val 31 with which the skipper had just completed the OSTAR transatlantic race capsized on the return trip back to Europe. Nigel helped the skipper restore the boat and set sail with him on the Round Britain and Ireland race. They became friends and together they extended the legendary yellow trimaran, Olympus, with which Mike won the first Route du Rhum. Nigel then designed his first trimaran for himself, Gordano Goose (currently for sale at On board, he won his first and only solo race, the 24 Heures de Saint Malo, just ahead of a certain Philippe Poupon. It was enough for him to start making a name for himself on the other side of the Channel. But it was British sailor Tony Bullimore who would be his first client with the trimaran IT82. This was followed by Mike Birch’s catamaran Vital, which came third in the 1982 Route du Rhum, and then the magnificent Apricot, again for Tony Bullimore. This elegant, high-performance trimaran won all her races in 1985, including the 1985 Round Bitain.
During the Tour of Europe that year, the crew won every leg and finished “two days ahead of everyone else” in Toulon, thanks to one of Nigel’s brilliant ideas: when all of Apricot’s rivals were still trying to sail downwind under symmetrical ...

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