The family’s wealth almost evaporated during the Depression, leaving the Kirbys with a 10-bedroom house, plenty of boats, and, for the children, virtually no choice but to sail. “You grow up doing it; it was like asking someone if they remembered learning to speak, ”Mr. Kirby told Nautical Quarterly magazine in 1982.
He followed in his father’s wake, racing small boats on the Ottawa River during the fleeting summers of Canada and devouring copies of Yachting magazine in the winter. The best small-boat sailors of the day raced the International 14, two-person boats, each typically built at home or in a garage to design specifications. Mr. Kirby began to travel and collect trophies in the classroom.
If his first love was sailing, his second was journalism. Lung disease kept him from going to college and, thanks to his father’s connections, he became a reporter for The Ottawa Journal at age 20 for $ 25 a week (the equivalent of about $ 290 in Canadian money today).
His knowledge of sailing led him to report on an oceanic sailboat in Europe. Moving to the Montreal Star, he joined his copy office but also covered the America’s Cup. He left for Chicago to become editor-in-chief of One-Design & Offshore Yachtsman in 1965.
Never far from sailing, Mr. Kirby qualified for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, in the single-handed Finn class. He then competed in the 1964 Games (in Tokyo) in the same class and in the 1968 Games (centered in Mexico City) in the Star class for two.
He developed his designs using his intuition and reading Norman Skene’s “Elements of Yacht Design”. His I-14 designs were stepping stones to the Laser, which in turn opened doors for him, bringing him a host of design commissions, including one for a yacht named Runaway, Canada’s entry into international competition in 1981. of the Admiral’s Cup. Runaway put him on a world stage.
Then came Canada I, the 1983 Canadian entry for the America’s Cup, and its design elevated Kirby’s reputation to new heights.