Tom Colvin

Practical Boat Owner - - Practical -

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

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