Closeup/Lifestyles

The man who put 70,000 people all in the same boat

RODERICK MCQUEEN July 10 1978
Closeup/Lifestyles

The man who put 70,000 people all in the same boat

RODERICK MCQUEEN July 10 1978

The man who put 70,000 people all in the same boat

Closeup/Lifestyles

The two boats are planing along, side by side, one the Tasar, a proven two-man dinghy, the other one not yet on the market. Performance Sailcraft Is still testing Its new boat, this one geared to the leisure market, the atomic family with 1.8 children who-mlght buy on style, appearance and simplicity as much as performance.

The boats are sailing in Lac St. Louis, nearthe convergence of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, its grey-green waters whipped into whltecaps by 20-knot wi nds, on a late June evening. It Is the first time the two have been out together in such high-flying conditions. In the Tasar is Ian Bruce, Industrial designer by trade, entrepreneur by occupation, and president of Performance Sailcraft, the man and the firm who populated the world with 70,000 Lasers since 1971, the best-selling racing-class sailboat ever built. The Tasar, his second craft, has not sold as well, perhaps 2,000 worldwide since 1976, but it Is a sellout this year.

Bruce is accompanied on these trials by John Hearn, the company’s chief executive officer. In the as yet unnamed “new boat’’ is Ward McKimm, an Ottawa lawyer and original investor in Performance, along with Tim Coventry of Cornwall, England, chairman of the World Laser Association. Their comments, about the new boat when they return to shore

are harsh and unyielding. “There’s just not enough boat there. You take a lot of water Into the cockpit. I’m unimpressed," says McKimm, who is also a director. Coventry sums it up: “There’s nothing wrong with that boat that a major rebuild won’t set right."

Bruce, at 45, has heard harsh words before. He folds his hands together, places them under his chin and listens at this informal board of directors meeting at the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club in Dorval, Ouebec.' He knows the new boat isn’t quite right yet, but it will be ready for next year’s market, a 14-foot dinghy for the family man, a boat to throw on the car roof-rack and take the family sailing in at a price aimed at the mass market, perhaps $1,695. It will be simplerthan the Tasar, a competition model, that retails for $2,850. All three of the boats are geared for the masses, with hulls around 130 pounds, giving portability as well as performance.

He also knows the new boat’s unlikely to be another runaway success like the Laser. “I’ve stopped thinking that way. I don’t want our next act measured against that first one. Because of the low cost ($695 in 1971, $1,250 today) there was an instant community of Laser sailors, and people like to join communities.

This year, worldwide consolidated sales from nine plants manufacturing the Laser and Tasar, in Pointe Claire, Cue. and around the world, will be $16 million. “Compared with the Laser, people think the Tasar must have been a great disappointment to us," says Bruce. “But the Tasar community just isn’t apparent yet."

For now, Bruce and his associates are concentrating on putting the finishing touches on the “new boat," theone that’s aimed at the leisure market they missed with both the Laser and the Tasar. Then there’s always the next boat. “Today," says Bruce, “the company has its act together and is poised for the next thrust. You know, there are 70,000 Laser owners out there, probably with an average age of 22. They’re not going to want to sail Lasers all their lives. I’d like to think I’ll have a product ready." RODERICK MCQUEEN