Bernard Smith 1910-2010

Bernard Smith : Sailing's True Rocket Scientist

It is with much regret that we inform you of the passing of Bernard Smith on February the 12th; a brilliant mind in many fields not least of which was sailing. Born in New York’s Lower East side in 1910 from a long line of blacksmiths, Bernard went on to be one of the founders of American rocket science and later to become director of the Naval Weapons Laboratory in Dahlgren, Virginia.


Amongst all this, Bernard’s seminal book, “The 40-knot sailboat” was published in 1963. It was a simple and easy to read book that outlined Bernard’s farsighted concepts for tackling the issues of high speed sailing. Most of Bernard’s radical concepts confronted the big issues of sailboat stability head on and were free of the shackles of convention. His book and the craft within (which he described as ‘aero-hydrofoils’) inspired many designers aiming to unlock their secrets and the potential for power and stability that they promised over conventional craft.


It wasn’t until the 27th of November, 2007 that the Vestas Sailrocket team finally broke through 40 knots in a craft based on Smith’s ideas. They were delighted to contact Bernard and tell him at the ripe old age of 97 that his ideas worked. A year later they called him to tell him that his 40 knot concept was in fact a 50 knot concept and at that stage the fastest sailing ‘boat’ in the world. Bernard remained sharp as a tack until his passing in Boca Raton, Florida last week.


The Vestas Sailrocket team continue to develop his concepts and believe that one day, he will be broadly acknowledged in the sailing world for the true visionary genius that he was and the originator of a whole new era in high speed sailing.


Bernard is succeeded by his wife May and daughter Susan Ida Smith.


See Bernard's concept in action: a video of Vestas Sailrocket's fastest run.

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