Ed Dubois, a legendary yacht designer whose career spanned decades and whose creations continue to inspire yachtsmen around the world, died Thursday, March 24, 2016.
A subsequent announcement from his namesake firm, Dubois Naval Architects, read, “Following a period of illness last year, Ed had been in better health and working as normal. Unexpectedly, he was admitted to hospital last week and sadly died on Thursday.”
Dubois was born in 1952 in London, and grew up in a middle-class family in Surrey, England. His childhood home was landlocked, but he loved boats from an early age. He recalled being on a rented boat on a pond in London’s Regent’s Park, and even as a child understood the feeling of what he called “being propelled by the wind across the water.”
In 1971, at Southampton College of Technology (now known as University of Southampton), he entered the boat and yacht design program. During his university years, he worked for a boatyard on the island of Jersey, off England’s southern coast, and he got a chance to serve as crew during the delivery of a 31-foot Sparkman & Stephens-designed sailing yacht.
Upon graduation, Dubois worked as a naval architect for designer/engineer Alan Buchanan. While there he drew everything from production boats to some of the lines for the 80-foot Anaconda, one of the first larger boats he ever worked on.
Next for Dubois was a job writing for Yachts & Yachting, followed by a position at the U.K. branch of Miller and Whitworth. (Miller’s Australia II won the America’s Cup in 1983. Miller ultimately changed his name to Ben Lexcen, which is renowned today in America’s Cup lore.)
By the 1980s, Dubois had decided to follow the likes of Ron Holland and form a design firm of his own. “I wanted to be in that camp,” Dubois told Yachting in 2010, “and just about managed to do that. I was horribly driven.”
One of Dubois’ earliest designs of renown was Aquel II, a 123-foot cruising sloop launched in 1986. Dubois called her “pretty space-age at the time.” Within a few years, she caught the eye of noted Kiwi yachtsman Neville Crighton who commissioned Dubois to design the 106-foot Alloy Esprit. When asked which of his yacht designs are his favorites, he mentioned the 110-foot Imagine, a 1993 build that was his third project with Alloy. “I did fall in love with Imagine a bit,” he told Yachting in 2010.
More recently, Dubois was working on a yacht sure to become legendary upon her launch in spring 2017: the 190-foot Royal Huisman Ngoni, whose nickname inside the Dutch shipyard is “The Beast” thanks to her 233-foot rig for fast, furious sailing.
And while sailing yachts may have held Dubois’ heart, his firm also became renowned for superyachts. Among the many globally prominent projects that bear the Dubois Yachts stamp are the 152-foot Feadship Kiss, launched in 2015.
Throughout his career, Dubois placed equal emphasis on pleasing the client, being artistic and designing yachts that sailed well.
“My job is not to have some ego fancy of what you should have, Mr. Client,” he told Yachting in 2010. “I try to find out from the owner what really suits his style of living on the boat — how he spends his time, what his priorities are, and his friends and family — and put the right boat around them. The architecture gives you what you want on the water. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not just the look; it’s how it works.
“I have to say that I get as much fun out of designing boats to look good as I do out of getting them to sail well. I’ve always been like that, even in the racing boats. I always got a buzz out of making them look right.”
Dubois is survived by his wife and four children. Funeral arrangements are still pending.
Dubois Naval Architects will continue into the future under the direction of senior designer Peter Bolke, who has been with the firm for 23 years and will now become managing director.
Dubois, a legend in his own time, will be sorely missed.