Tom Colvin was a colourful nonconformist, professional sailor, boatbuilder, designer, writer, maritime historian and polyglot, writes Graham Cox of the Junk Rig Association. He spoke five languages, including Mandarin.
He gained his Master under Sail aged 20, and Master under Steam at 23. In the 1930s he sailed aboard local trading junks in Southern China. He noted they carried stayed masts and small jibs, and had done so since Portuguese traders sailed these waters in the 15th century. This experience is reflected in the boats he later designed.
He built each of his designs for himself, and voyaged extensively before selling plans to others. He often sailed engineless, and raised three children aboard with his wife, Jean. His first ocean-going boat was the 42ft Gazelle, launched in 1967.
It is probably his most famous design, with more than 700 built. More than 10 are known to have circumnavigated, and others have made significant voyages. One Gazelle, Migrant, made daily runs in excess of 200 miles, running before the South Pacific tradewinds. They are slow to windward, but Tom did not consider this a disadvantage for ocean voyaging.
He passed away in Fort Meyers, Florida, in September 2014, aged 89.
Tom Colvin’s most popular design, the 42ft Gazelle steel schooner