Nigel Irens – Unsung Hero

A great article in the Times (UK) about UK designer Nigel Irens. Irens is behind the boats that break round the world records including those of Francis Joyon, Ellen Macarthur and the current challenger Thomas Coville.

Irens, 62, is one of Britain’s unsung heroes of design and innovation, modestly going about his business from his home in Devon. “We didn’t even go out to tender; we went straight to Nigel,” Mark Turner, MacArthur’s business partner, said. “Ellen knew him and he’d taken her under his wing. He’s a legend really, it’s going to be hard to break these records.

“He’s a lovely guy and genuinely passionate about it. He is also a rare Englishman who is supremely respected in France – there are not many British sailing related people who are loved by the French, but Nigel is.”

But even within the world of inshore sailing Irens’s status is such that when Alinghi, the America’s Cup holders, were preparing to race BMW Oracle in a trimaran, they called on Irens and Cabaret to be part of the team.

“Nigel is at home designing a cruising catamaran or a 100ft trimaran to break records,” Turner said.

As if to confirm that, Irens reels off his list of recent commissions; from Alinghi to a modified Sodeb’O for a round-the-world attempt by Oman, the Arab nation, to a 50ft race trimaran from a giant co-operative of Brittany vegetable farmers.

Irens wants to build a 50-metre long multihull for a crewed record attempt. But in his crystal ball he sees boats with no need for huge beams or keels, because the forces are going through the boat, rather than trying to capsize it. “There were people with the first kites out there from 1974,” Irens said. “They were crazy things, but it was a sail whose centre of effort passed through the same axis as the centre of mass and the centre of lateral resistance, so it was a zero heeling device. You can’t help but think that is the future.”