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Monday April 25, 2016

Ian Bruce

Toronto -- The Globe and Mail's recent obituary of boat builder Ian Bruce, by Tom Hawthorn, briefly mentioned a student who suggested the name "Laser" for Ian's new sailboat. As Ian has generously acknowledged, I was that student.

Ian told the story in Toronto at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in March, 2009, and during his presentation he identified me and asked me to stand to take the credit.

In 1970, I was working in Pointe-Claire, Que., near his new business, Performance Sailcraft. I was also a student and only one exam away from completing my degree in electrical engineering at McGill University. We were both members of the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club, in Dorval.

In November, at the club, his group, including hull designer Bruce Kirby, held a meeting right after the club's annual prize-giving dinner to choose the name of the new sailboat.

Marketing materials had to be produced for the January, 1971, boat show in New York, so the name was urgently needed. Ian invited me to join the three others who had already gathered.

I suggested the name "Laser," and very quickly the name was chosen.

Right away I roughly sketched the symbol that would appear on its sail. I then promised Bruce Kirby that I would send him a better drawing. I did so; and the red starburst with a short red line now adorns more than 200,000 sails.

Part of Ian's success with the Laser came from his experience in sailing competitively at the highest level. He won the Prince of Wales Cup race in England, and came within a few good tacks of the bronze medal in the Olympic Games. He told me that gold medal winner Paul Elvstrom of Denmark visited him after the finish to explain how those tacks could have made the difference.

During these competitions, Ian became friends with racing sailors from around the world, so he drew upon these connections to introduce and then establish production of the Laser worldwide.

He was very talented and worked hard.

Part of his genius was for colour and design.

Upon my request, he generously selected a set of colours for the spinnaker sail of my new International 14 racing sailboat, which I ordered from the plant about two years after I became an engineer.

The colours - orange, pink and purple with a white stripe - were striking and set off perfectly the chrome yellow hull of my new boat. I still have that original spinnaker.

We sailors thank you, Ian, for your amazing achievement in putting a Canadian-designed and Canadian-built boat on the map of world sailing.

- Davison Balfour, Toronto

Associated Graphic

Davison Balfour, right, with crew in his International 14 Kirby Mark V, which was built in Ian Bruce's boatyard.

PROVIDED BY DAVISON BALBOUR

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