Russell Bowler, Farr Yacht Design, Ltd.

It doesn't take long to find the common denominator. The 14-member design team of Farr Yacht Design Ltd. is in an extremely competitive game. "All our work has to be approached and done on the basis that the final result has to be superior to other groups out there," says Russell Bowler, vice president and partner in the firm. "It's one of the prerequisites. Anyone who joins us must be intoxicated by the same drive." Along with that competitive spirit comes a genuine interest and enthusiasm in what they are doing and, it seems, never enough hours in the day in which to do it.

Bruce Farr and Russell Bowler first met in their native New Zealand in the 1960s as competing young sailors and small boat designers. From the start, they developed a level of mutual respect to be rekindled many years later when a collaborative project would bring their careers together into a successful and lasting partnership.

Farr's early fame was three-fold: sailing, designing and building, in the very competitive dinghy classes in New Zealand through the '60s and '70s. The thought process was something like, "Gee, I'd like to design one of these---I could make this thing faster." At age 20, he designed the world's first light displacement keel-boat to compete successfully within the rating rules of international competition. Farr's designs were fast, light, reliable and easier to sail than the accepted standard designs from competing designers at that time.

While the list of winning race boat designs continued to grow, Farr extended his expertise and influence into the world of cruising boats. Through the '70s, he enjoyed a reputation for accurate, well-detailed information that boat builders could trust and build to with confidence.

Russell Bowler, after graduating from Auckland Technical Institute in New Zealand as a qualified civil engineer, focused his career on structural consulting and project management, specializing in multi-story buildings and other structures. Bowler applied his innovative structural solutions, first to the dinghy class boats he had raced in his youth, and then to bigger boats, as his interest in offshore racing began to grow.

From 1976, Bowler began providing structural consulting services to Bruce Farr's expanding yacht design business. He joined Farr on a full-time basis in 1980. Motivated by the need to be more accessible to the bulk of their market, the partners moved the company from Auckland to Annapolis within the next year.

Competitors in the Whitbread Round the World Race had already commissioned Farr to design boats for the toughest test of boat handling, speed and reliability. Farr-designed boats have been present in every Whitbread race since 1981 and have won in the 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998 races.

After the 1997/1998 race, the Whitbread Group sold the race to the Volvo Corporation and the name was changed to the Volvo Ocean Race. In this year's race, the first race under the new ownership, six of the eight participating boats were designed by Farr Yacht Design. The only racing syndicate to completely separate from Farr design this year is the Norwegian Djuice Dragons, with a boat designed by Laurie Davidson. Another syndicate, Nautor Challenge, will be racing two boats, Amer Sports One, designed by Mani Frers, and Amer Sports Too, by Farr Yacht Design.

The designing of the VO60 for the Volvo Ocean Race teams began with Farr Yacht Design's own sophisticated research program before any of the teams approached them. This allowed the designers enough time to design the boat and also enabled them to separate their thinking from that of the syndicates. When the research was presented to the teams, they offered their input and expertise, thereby customizing their own boats.

"An element of security surrounds most race boat designs that we do," explains Bowler. "[Clients] are campaigning to get out on the best equipment they can devise. They take us into their confidence on some information, and that information must remain solely with that group." Bowler adds that, while some groups are very concerned about security, the groups who have worked with Farr Yacht Design in the past realize that the firm is trustworthy and dependable.

World championships won in yachts designed by Farr Yacht Design number 37 to date, beginning in 1970. Their list of design achievements includes winners at internationally prestigious grand prix yachting events such as America's Cup and Admiral's Cup. Looking ahead, Farr Yacht Design has been signed on by Larry Ellison, chairman and CEO of Oracle Corporation, to design a boat for Oracle Racing's run for the 2003 challenge for the America's Cup. The syndicate has a research and development group working with the designer here in Annapolis. The design group regularly supplements their in-house experience and knowledge by availing themselves of the benefits of research and development carried out at leading wind tunnel and tank testing facilities. Top industry consultants are retained to assist in delving deeper into specific areas.

World leaders in cruising yachts as well, Farr designs are known for superior performance and comfort with kind handling characteristics in all conditions, practical interior arrangements, smart sail plans and deck layouts and hulls engineered for safety. The firm takes pride in having acquired and maintained a very solid clientele, including several members of royal families from Europe and other notables.

"We have maintained some long-term clients who are delightful to work with," says Bowler. "Establishing those relationships and maintaining them in a positive way over a long period of time would be one of our big achievements."

The design team is continually challenged to keep abreast of new technology and to apply that technology to the game of sailboat design. "And to find good people to join the organization," Bowler adds. "We are being very successful in putting together a strong team of people younger than Bruce and myself. We do have a new generation of designers within our walls and we anticipate being a part of Annapolis well into the future."

So, don't these guys ever do anything else? Well, Bowler admits that he is "trying to learn this game called golf." And what about Bruce Farr? Shhh! Word has it there is a power boat at the end of his dock!


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Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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