Phil Morrison (yachts)

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Phil Morrison (born November 1946) is a British boat designer and racer rendered notable by the success of his many designs in many classes since 1967 as well as his own distinguished yacht racing career.

He was born in Eastbourne, England.

His designs embrace dinghies, yachts, rowing boats, and multihulls; he has been successful in a yacht and dinghy racing career since the late 1960s. He is noted for blending innovation with elegant well engineered structures and high performance, whilst also delivering users controllability and sailability.

Dinghy Designer

Morrison grew up in Eastbourne, during the late fifties and sixties. Joining the nearby Pevensey Bay Sailing Club he learnt to sail the National 12 Class racing dinghy. The National 12 is a development class were anyone can design and build new boats within specific restrictions, such as length, beam, weight and sail area. At the age of 18 he designed his first racing dinghy, a National 12 called "China Doll" (1967) which was built by "Spud" (Peter) Rowsell in Exmouth, commencing a long association between the designer and that Devon town. Morrison sailed China Doll with Pete Wargent very successfully and the design became popular, making his name as a young designer, a series of different and successful National 12 designs followed over the next 25 years such as "Whisper" "Paper Dart" "Windfall" "Marmite Soldier" and "Crusader".

Meanwhile he qualified in Naval Architecture at Southampton University, then worked for marine fittings manufacturer Sea-Sure, designing a range of racing dinghy fittings which are still in production 35 years later.

Morrison designed his first Merlin Rocket "September Girl" which he sailed at the Whitstable Championships in 1969. This led to a string of very successful Merlin Rocket designs such as "Satisfaction", "Smoker's Satisfaction", "Summer Wine" and "NSM" (New Smoking Material). Morrison's designs won every Merlin Rocket Championship for 17 years from 1972 to 1988. See Merlin Rocket Designs [1] and Merlin Rocket Design Guide [2] and Keith Callaghan's, a rival designer, memory of Morrsion's eventual supremacy in the Merlins [3]
Merlin Rocket Design Guide [4]

His next step was to design an International 14, "Snoggledog", built by Laurie Smart, with which Morrison and Ray Sellings took second place in the Prince of Wales Cup race in Torbay in 1973, their second year in the class. Again this led to a string of designs for the Fourteens over the next 25 years. See International 14s History [5]

Morrison also designed several small keel boats during the 1970s such as the Quarter Tonner "Bof" for Bob Brooks (who made the famous Cadbury's Smash Adverts with Martians made of dustbins).

Morrison campaigned the ultimate two sail racing boat the Olympic Star with Andy Street in 1983/4.


During the mid-seventies Morrison started a sail Loft based in Polegate near Pevensey Bay. He developed his own systematic and precise means of designing and cutting sails which enabled precise reproduction of previous designs something which was an unusual feature amongst British Sailmakers at that time.

Like many other yacht designers of his generation he was significantly influenced in his approach to both yacht and sail design by "Sailing Theory & Practice" by the Polish Author Czesaw A. Marchaj, first published in 1964.

Off-Shore Designer

Bigger projects beckoned after Morrison moved his sailing making and design business to Exmouth in a new partnership with "Spud" (Peter) Rowsell in the mid 1980s, the builder of his original design China Doll 17 years before. "Exmouth Challenger" a big offshore multihull designed and built for Mark Gatehouse was followed by other big offshore mono and multihull projects up to 60 foot in length. See for example Golden Oldie Catamaran Designs [6]

One Design Classes

A precursor to his later interest in and wide influence on One Design Classes was his innovative original and very successful NSM design for the Merlin Rocket class which included the entire rig and fittings layout so that sailor's buying the design could be told exactly how to set up the boats in different conditions for best performance. Spud Rowsell and Jon Turner won the Merlin Rocket Championships in "Foot-Loose" at Abersoch in 1978 with a points performance that has never been bettered and guaranteed the future success of Morrison's approach to designing a complete boat.

Morrison's first direct exposure to designing in the more restricted One Design Classes, classes of dinghy which are supposed to all be nearly identical, subject to normal building tolerances, came with an invitation to design an "optimised" version of the Ian Proctor classic design the Wayfarer for Gordon Frickers[7] who is now a well known maritime artist. The resulting boat, "Wellington" was raced very successfully and Morrison went on to "optimise" designs in many one design classes as diverse as the Salcombe Yawl and the International Fireball, in the latter winning the World Championships with Jon Turner in Weymouth Bay in 1981.

After an earlier abortive attempt to start a new twin trapeze One Design Class, the "Gemini", in 1978/9 with Bill Twine and Nick Lightbody [8] at Pevensey Bay, Phil started receiving commissions to design new one designs for dinghy manufacturers, starting with the Laser 2000 (dinghy) for and followed by a series of Racing Sailboats (RS) designs for LDC (RS200 RS400 RS800 etc) and numerous designs for other dinghy manufacturers. For example the RS Elite [9]

The more exotic projects clearly still fascinated him as a designer leading him to join the design teams of the last two British America's Cup Challenges with reunited him with other designers who had also cut their teeth in National Twelves such as Jo Richards and Hugh Welborne.

In 2006 the Wayfarer Class, perhaps mindful of Morrison's earlier contribution to their class development with Wellington, commissioned him to redesign and update the Wayfarer for the current generation [10]. In July 2007 Cliff Norbury is quoted by the Wayfarer Class Association as recommending the adoption of the updated Morrison Wayfarer design as follows:

“Richard Hartley, the new Copyright Holder of the Wayfarer dinghy, has commissioned Phil Morrison to update the design of the boat to incorporate new manufacturing techniques and modernise the internal layout, and be competitive with existing GRP and wood boats racing in the Class. A prototype of this new design has been produced, and Mr Hartley requested advice on whether the performance objective has been achieved, so that the new model could be satisfactorily incorporated into the Class. To satisfy this request a measurement exercise to determine the external shape of the boat was carried out on 16 May 2007 by Ken Kershaw, Technical Manager of the RYA , using the Bryan Jig developed by the RYA. Present were Richard and Mark Hartley, Phil Morrison, Ian Porter and myself. The method and equipment was the same as that used in January 2004 to measure a sample of wood and GRP Wayfarer hulls in order to report on the validity of the two wood hulls re-built by Duffin. We also had available an accurate hull measurement of Mike McNamara’s boat “Cordon Rouge” carried out by Ian Proctor in 1991. We were thus able to compare the hull shape of the prototype with existing hulls that between them cover the full range of variation accepted by the class as being within the rules and normal manufacturing tolerances. Having witnessed this measurement exercise and analysed the results, it is my considered opinion and advice that this new hull will have a good performance in relation to all existing boats. It could be bought with confidence by new owners but need not be feared by existing owners. The measurement process of course showed some variation in hull shape between the boats, some as a result of the normal variation that occurs over the years in the shape of GRP plugs, moulds and hulls, and in the case of wooden hulls the wide building tolerances accepted by the class rules. The measurements of the new hull fell generally within the range of the other boats. In those areas which could possibly affect performance, the new hull seemed to be a sensible but not extreme shape.

The impact on the Class: The emergence of a competitive, attractive, modern and well priced boat is bound to be a great move forward for the Class. It is in line with Ian Proctor’s objective over the years in introducing new marks of the Wayfarer. The new boat will give the class the opportunity to adopt the principles of a Manufacture Controlled One Design Class, in line with all the modern new classes that have been so successful, starting with the Laser and now including such classes as the 49er and the RS series of boats. These classes have very few hull measurement rules and ensure close one-design control by ensuring that all boats are built from moulds that emanate from a single master plug, with a tight manufacturing spec. The Class would be advised to update it’s rules, generally following the example of the 49er, which I played a role in writing. All existing boats currently racing in the class could be grandfathered.

Finally may I say that this is a very exciting development. I wish the Class and the new copyright holder every success for the future. Cliff Norbury.”

Cliff Norbury is a former close colleague of Ian Proctor, the Wayfarer's designer, and former Managing Director of Proctor Masts the company originally founded by Ian Proctor to develop and sell lightweight aluminium masts for racing dinghies.

Wayfarers are being built to the Morrison design [11]

Morrison appears now to have established himself as Britain's third great class dinghy designer after Jack Holt and Ian Proctor. Between 1944 and 2005, these three designers have designed 28 out of the 110 active dinghy classes listed by the Yachts and Yachting Magazine in the UK at the beginning of 2005, including the Cadet, Mirror, GP14 and Enterprise (Holt), Wayfarer Wanderer and Topper (Proctor), and nine of the Laser and Racing Sailboat ranges (Morrison). See Dinghy Classes [12]

Row Boat Designer

Morrison has also established himself as a designer of ocean rowboats [13]
"Phil Morrison, although now retired is without question the most experienced Ocean Row Boat designer of our time." [14]

Stevie Morrison

Morrison's son Stevie Morrison has established himself as a successful international yachtsman with a string of international successes in classes from International Cadets to 49ers [15] He was the British Olympic Yachting selected helmsman for the 49er class in the 2008 Olympic Games in China.

External references

World-renowned naval architect Phil Morrison [16]