Sailing pioneer passes away

01:43, Jan 31 2009
SAILING ON: Pioneering yacht designer Des Townson has lost a long battle with cancer.

The man who designed of some of the most well known classes in New Zealand sailing, Des Townson, has died.

Mr  Townson, yacht designer, boat builder and model maker, who battled cancer over a long period, died at his Auckland home yesterday.

He created a significant body of design work, resulting in boats that have given enjoyment to thousands of yachtsmen.

This process was started in 1951 when he designed his first boat and today several thousand of his creations remain in  use throughout New Zealand.

Mr Townson was born in Auckland in 1934 and from his father developed a passion for sailing.

He won the Tanner Cup, the premier teenage yachting championship in 1950 and at the age of 17 designed his first boat, a small dinghy.


Over the following fifty-seven years he designed eighty-two different boats ranging from an 8ft rowing dinghy to a 72ft keel boat.

His influence on New Zealand yacht design during the 1950s to 80s was as significant as that of the famous Logan family during the colonial yachting era. 

During the later part of the 1950s  he was at the forefront of the post war sailing expansion where he created a range of small dinghies, racing yachts and powerboats. Fifty years later the Zephyr and Mistral classes remain as popular as in their formative years.

During the 1960s and 70s Townson designed racing and cruising keelboats.

The 32ft yacht Moonlight created a sensation in 1971 when mountaineer and explorer Peter Mulgrew campaigned the undersized boat to the upper level of One Ton Cup selection contest in Auckland, beating larger creations from the world's best designers. 

Mr Townson's most important creation was the 2.9 metre Starling yacht for teenagers, designed in 1969.

Over 1300 have been built. The Starling class national championship has for many years, been the largest national yachting contest for any indigenous boat in the country and regularly attracts between 100-150 entrants.

In 1987 Mr Townson designed the radio controlled Electron model yacht. Over 1000 were built in his workshop and sold throughout the world.

Mr Townson's contribution to yachting earned him the award of a New Zealand Order of  Merit the in the Queen's Birthday Honours this year.

He is survived by his wife Sue and daughter Claire.


Fairfax Media