I’ll never forget the day I met Tom Fexas. It was a crisp, sunny October afternoon at the Ft. Lauderdale boat show and he was on top of the world. His creation, built with his own hands, was the hit of the show. In a sea of white fiberglass the sleek, black hull and striking silhouette of the 44-foot Midnight Lace was unique. In 1980 there was really nothing like her, and the same is still true today.
Although Midnight Lace was called a retro re-creation, she was truly inspired. Tom had been designing her in his mind’s eye since his childhood adventures aboard his family’s boats on Long Island Sound. By age seven he was putting his ideas on paper. A small photograph in Tom’s office shows the designer-to-be standing proudly before an easel. The boat on the canvas was unquestionably Lace-proof that Tom was born a yacht designer.
After receiving a degree in marine engineering from the New York Maritime College, Tom shipped out on the SS Independence as third engineer. He completed the Westlawn yacht design program in his off-duty hours. When he came ashore in Mystic, Conn., he took a day job as an engineer at Electric Boat designing submarines, and in the evenings he developed surface craft of his own design. He moved to Florida to build Midnight Lace and his career-and the design world took notice.
After meeting Tom I, too, was inspired, spending five years in his design office as he built his success with Midnight Lace into a rich design portfolio that included virtually every sort of boat that he could imagine. What is amazing is that each yacht Tom designed was as distinctive as his first; you knew each one was a Fexas by the cut of her stem and sweep of her sheer. There were megayachts, sportfishers, trawlers and of course larger Laces, but no “blowboats, as Tom liked to call them. The many enthusiasts who enjoyed his magazine columns could count on Tom poking fun at those under sail and just about everything else that mixed with seawater. Those who were lucky enough to know Tom understood that this irreverent humor, like Tom, was always good-natured.
These days there are few yacht designers who, given pencil and paper, could craft a complete set of plans. Tom was always able to express his vision without the help of others; to be invited to work in his design office was a privilege and a pleasure. For an uncompromising perfectionist, he was a patient teacher. Tom enjoyed even the mundane tasks in yacht design, so there was little point in complaining about the long hours and gallons of ink that I laid on mylar drafting film. “That looks like fun,” Tom would say as he glanced over my shoulder at an erasure-worn construction drawing-and he really meant it.
When Tom Fexas passed away last November 29, the yachting world lost one of its most creative resources. Tom will be missed by all those who knew him and by the fleet of fans that found white fiberglass “blobism boring”. His legacy lives on in thousands of boats and in the creative hands of the staff he has mentored.
Thanks for stirring things up, Tom. We’ll miss you.