Tributes pour in for the great designer Laurie Davidson • Live Sail Die
The America’s Cup pits boat against boat, sailor against sailor, but Laurie Davidson also appreciated it because it was also a contest between designers.
Of course, Davidson was one of the best. He emerged from an era of extremely talented New Zealand designers and helped the New Zealand team first win the America’s Cup in 1995 and then defend it in 2000.
The calm man with white hair and thick, square, black-rimmed glasses is remembered after his death on Monday at the age of 94. He is the third well-known New Zealand sailing figure to pass in recent times after those of Jack Lloyd and Earle Wells.
Davidson’s connection to the America’s Cup dates back to New Zealand’s first challenge in 1987, when he worked alongside Ron Holland, Bruce Farr and Russell Bowler to design the “fantastic plastic” KZ7.
He was employed to assess rival teams in the 1992 campaign due to his expert eye before joining the design team for the 1995 campaign at the invitation of team boss Sir Peter Blake, who acknowledged his skills and interest in determining what was possible within the design rules.
“I like working with rules for two reasons,” Davidson told Rebecca Hayter and Boating New Zealand in 2007 when he was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame. “One, to kind of analyze and try to get the best results out of it, and the other is that most of these rules are also studied by most of the best designers in the world and it’s good to compete with them. . “
It’s fair to say Davidson won with Team New Zealand in 1995 when they swept the Americans 5-0 in the final.
In this challenge, Davidson designed NZL32 and Doug Peterson designed NZL38, which was used in the early rounds. NZL32 was used in the Louis Vuitton Cup final and match and clearly had an extra speed click on its rivals.
Davidson’s flair came to the forefront of Team New Zealand’s Auckland defense in 2000 when he was chief designer and he will forever be known for the “Davidson Bow”.
“About halfway [the campaign], we got the idea to work on the bow, ”said Tom Schnackenberg, who was the design coordinator and navigator for the successful New Zealand campaigns in 1995 and 2000 before taking over as head of the union in 2003.“ But it wasn’t really well thought out by.
“One day we just cut the NZL38 and put a transom up front. It was an Optimist dinghy, right in front of the inner strap station, so it had a flat bow. We got out on the water and it looked like it was before. We said “let’s go”. This boat, by the rules, was now two feet shorter. We could take the whole boat and stretch it two feet and it would return to the same rating as before.
“We worked on this idea. Laurie worked quietly on her own without getting involved in any of the discussions. He made a drawing, which didn’t look like much but it was his solution. A little time went by and finally we built a model tank and it was the first model that was a step forward. Basically we built this shape for NZL57 and NZL60.
“We ran the Italians [in the Cup match] which basically had an optimized version of NZL32. If we hadn’t done anything, we would have had a boat at the same speed as them. As it was, we had a small advantage. I would say the bow was the main difference between the two boats.
History will show that the New Zealand team swept away their opposition 5-0 again, meaning New Zealand became the first non-U.S. Country to successfully defend the America’s Cup. The arch shape, which had been pilloried by many before the America’s Cup game, became common in designs for the next two editions before the introduction of multihulls.
Davidson had decided before the end of this 2000 campaign to leave Team New Zealand thereafter and an invitation to join the US OneWorld challenge seemed to fit well, especially since Davidson had lived in the Pacific Northwest for eight years.
It was a well-funded but controversial campaign, with the team tied to a Louis Vuitton point for being in possession of another team’s design secrets. They were finally eliminated by BMW Oracle a step away from the Louis Vuitton Cup final.
It was Davidson’s last appearance in the America’s Cup, but this event didn’t fully define him.
He was an accomplished sailor who went on to become an acclaimed designer of everything from M-class skiffs and boats to half and quarter-rolls and cruise ships. His name is attached to many well-known models, such as the Davidson 28, Davidson 31, Davidson 35, Davidson 40 and he also designed Outward Bound for Digby Taylor, who competed in the Whitbread Round the World Race 1981-82 and has won the small boat honors.
While many raved about his designs, Davidson wasn’t one to brag about.
“He wasn’t a salesman,” said Schnackenberg, “but he always offered the merchandise, in my opinion. I think he believed in himself but was just a typical Kiwi in that he left his boats talk. Once he had a client, he kept them.
“He understood how a boat worked and had a good idea of the physics of a yacht. Even though he didn’t do a lot of the math that I could see, he had a pretty good feeling for light, medium and heavy boats.
“If he said everything was going to be fine, you knew it would be because it was a pretty outrageous thing for him to say. It brings people up.”
Tributes to Davidson have been pouring in since her passing, with commentator Peter Montgomery saying, “Laurie Davidson has changed the face of New Zealand and the sailing world with her exceptional designs.”
Earle Williams, who was at the forefront of the 1987 New Zealand challenge at Freemantle, said: “What a treasure he was for New Zealand yachting. His boats were always competitive, a pleasure to sail and at the same time a beautiful appearance.
“Laurie came out sailing with us a few times early on and sat in the back without saying much, but when he did it was worth noting. It was always special to have a son with Laurie.
And Joey Allen, who was at the forefront of the 1995 and 2000 campaigns, fondly remembers his conversations with Davidson.
“A man with a fantastic laugh,” he said. “I always remember conversations with Laurie about the amount of water inside the NZL32 at the end of each race. I would tell him “we’re sinking!” He laughed and said the boat would go faster with a little water in it.
And that summed up Davidson. He always knew the faster boat would win.
– Yachting New Zealand