Ed Dubois was a good friend of Practical Boat Owner magazine contributor Peter K Poland and this was probably the last and most up-to-date profile on him. As published in the February 2016 issue of PBO.
Dubois (born in 1952) had his first sailing adventure on a boating lake in Regent’s Park. Later he acquired a knackered Hornet dinghy that he restored and raced from Thorpe Bay. Even as a teenager he knew that his heart was already set on sailing and becoming a boat designer.
So he applied for the new boat and yacht design course at the then Southampton College of Technology (now Southampton Solent University), winning a place in 1971.
Each academic year comprised three terms, the third of which (in the summer) had to be spent working in the marine industry.
‘No one gave you a job. You had to find one,’ Dubois said.
He found employment in a yard in Jersey, building and repairing boats. At the same time, he met restaurant owner George Skelley, helping him deliver his S&S designed 31-footer from Southampton to Jersey. He then became a regular member of the crew.
Skelley was later to play a major role in the launch of Dubois’ career.
The following summer, Dubois landed another Jersey ‘holiday job’ with yacht designer Alan Buchanan, who had previously been a stress engineer with an aircraft manufacturer. So Dubois picked up valuable engineering knowledge in addition to practical yacht design skills.
Then, after graduating from Southampton, he returned to Buchanan’s firm as a freshly qualified naval architect.
As part of a four-man team, Dubois was kept busy designing production boats. He also worked on the design of the 80-footer Anaconda, a foam-sandwich yacht built in Australia. However the ambitious young Dubois soon grew ‘rock happy’ in the Channel Isles and decided to spread his wings, applying for and getting a job with US-based superstar design office Sparkman & Stephens.
This was a real coup for a young British designer, even if he would have to wait 10 months for a work permit. So he left Jersey and got a job with Yachts & Yachting.
As a journalist, Dubois met many people in the marine industry, ranging from small-time boatbuilders (me) to famous sailors such as John Oakeley, a friend of Bob Miller and Craig Whitworth from Flying Dutchmansailing days.
Oakeley won the Flying Dutchman Worlds in 1967 and was much admired by the Aussie duo, so Oakeley started the UK branch of sailmakers Miller & Whitworth.
Then, in September 1975 Dubois’ friend George Skelley – encouraged by prominent Jersey sailor Peter Morton and doubtless egged on by Ed’s infectious enthusiasm – commissioned him to design a new Three Quarter Tonner.
Dubois grabbed his big chance, but in addition to his Jersey friends – competent though they were – he also wanted top sailors to sail his precious new design.
In the meantime, Oakeley had been thinking of asking Dubois to join him and be the design side of M&W in the UK.
So, when Dubois presented a ready-made client it was a no-brainer. He then suggested to George Skelley that he’d get the best out of the boat and enjoy it more if he took Oakeley and a couple of his merry men along for the ride. And another die was cast. S&S would have to wait…
Named Borsalino Trois, this elegant 34-footer wiped the floor in the predominantly light weather UK Three Quarter Ton trials in 1976. In the windier World Championships, she came a creditable eighth overall in a large and star-studded fleet.
The design grabbed much admiring attention and put Dubois firmly on the ‘designer shopping list’ for competitive owners. Ton Cup commissions such as serial race-winners Nadia and Enigma
(a Quarter Tonner) and the Admiral’s Cupper Vanguard (designed for a Hong Kong-based owner) soon followed.
However, when Oakeley decided to expand the sailmaking business, the partnership broke up.
Dubois abandoned his houseboat home on the Hamble mud to seek his fortune on the more salubrious streets of Lymington. He still expresses great gratitude to George Skelley, Peter Morton and Vanguard’s owner David Lieu, all of whom urged him to believe in his ability, take the plunge and form his own design company. Their advice was sound.
Clients soon started banging on Dubois’ new office door.
One of these was Richard Riggs. He wanted a head-turning and race-winning Half Tonner, and Dubois duly obliged.
Santa Evita – resplendent with Britannia blue topsides and varnished coachroof – had lovely lines and went on to attract the attention of David Sanders, MD of Westerly Marine. To the surprise of some, Sanders drew a line under Westerly’s long-standing relationship with the Laurent Giles design office and signed up the young Dubois, whose first model (the Griffon) hit the slips in 1978.
Sanders had decided that if Westerly was to hold back the invading hordes of French mass-produced cruisers, the range needed a new look and sharper sailing performance.
Dubois told me: ‘Looking back on our favourite production boats, I guess one of them has to be the mighty Westerly Griffon.
‘For a start, it was a big break for me – aged just 26 – to get into the mass-produced market with the blessing of the then-important Westerly company and its MD David Sanders.
‘David is a charming man, and it was a great leap of faith to give me the new design contract. Being chosen by David and Westerly made this a happy period; and the Griffon was a great success.
‘While perhaps a little stubby in appearance, I think the proportions (for what she is) still look pretty good – vertical transom-hung rudder and all. She does the job she was called to do very well. And she sails well!’
Westerly sold around 1,000 of the Griffon’s various manifestations, and Dubois received a fixed royalty of 1% of the selling price – which was very handy in those days. This stream of royalty income helped Dubois build his business, covering overheads while he sought out new clients looking for more exotic one-off designs.
‘The success of the Griffon led to the Fulmar, another favourite. In all, we designed 17 different models for Westerly over the years and I guess, therefore, that the first one – the Griffon – was a big landmark for me.’