Colin Mudie: Ship designer, author and balloonist
LYMINGTON-based yacht and tall ships designer, balloonist, author and disabled-sailing advocate Colin Mudie has died aged 93.
His vessels ranged from leather-skinned recreations of ancient craft and even a Chinese junk to powerboats, to the world’s best-known tall-ships for sail training launched by royalty.
A record-breaker in his own right, Colin grew up in the post-war age of heroes like Everest conquerors Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tensing, land and water speed record breaker Donald Campbell, whom he knew, together with aviation record-breakers Neville Duke and Peter Twiss.
He also mixed with knighted global sailors Francis Chichester and Robin Knox-Johnson – “He knew everyone,” said his son Max.
Colin was born in Edinburgh in 1926 but studied naval architecture at Southampton University and served his design apprenticeship at the British Power Boat Company in Hythe, founded by Hubert Scott-Paine.
Max said: “Working for British Powerboats set dad up for his career, working for three months in every department, hands-on, proved invaluable for the rest of his life.
“From glass fibre production boats to steel-hulled tall ships, gunboats to powerboats, he was an accomplished chartered engineer.”
Vessels he designed became the pride of Britain, some named by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
Colin’s highest accolade was to be appointed a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) in 1995, while in addition to his engineering qualifications he became a fellow of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects, the Royal Institute of Navigation and the Royal Society of Arts.
His charitable involvements included the RNLI, of which he was a life vice-president, and the Jubilee Sailing Trust which said in a tribute: “Colin, involved with the JST from the start, was commissioned to design what was to become Lord Nelson.
“His work meant that many thousands of people, whether physically disabled or not, were able to experience the joy of sailing on a tall ship.”
Colin was not just a figurehead for the national RNLI, he was involved at the local level in Lymington where he was part of the lifeboat team, as well as belonging to both the Lymington Town Sailing Club and Royal Lymington Yacht Club over the years.
Max recalled: “One minute he might be looking after the RNLI’s national finances and the next waiting for a call as Lymington RNLI’s deputy launching authority to fire a maroon for a lifeboat launch.”
Colin worked for yacht designers Laurent Giles and Partners in Lymington as well as under such luminaries as Uffa Fox before establishing his own firm, first in London and then, from 1968, working from the family home with the finest views on the bank of the Lymington River.
Max said: “It was just a small family team, dad, mum and me – nobody would believe how much paper we got through!”
He added: “He was probably the last person to design ships with pen, ink and a curved piece of plastic. On a new project he would sketch over ideas with the client for a preliminary design and turn something from an artistic 3D into science and technology.
“He was really good at coming out with details, his draughtsmanship and illustration was amazing, so good he could have made a living just from that.”
But Colin was an adventurer in his own right too. In 1952 while Hilary had his sights set on Everest, he and Patrick Ellam were crossing the Atlantic in the 19-foot yacht Sopranino – without radio or engine.
Max said: “Neither thought it was exceptional but they were feted by the Americans, and when dad and Patrick were reunited with the boat 20 years ago the spirit was still there, and they would doubtless have done it again given half a chance.”
The tiny Sopranino, now restored, is in the Classic Boat Museum in Cowes.
Then in 1958 – in a storyline paving the way for Richard Branson 30 years later – Colin attempted to cross the Atlantic in the hydrogen balloon Small World with his wife Rosemary and Bushy Eiloart and his son Tim making up the crew.
Max said: “The Americans had the helium market cornered and using hydrogen was a risky business.
“After 94 hours aloft, the balloon, piloted by Bushy, crash landed into the sea but dad had designed the gondola as a boat and he took command and they sailed 1,500 miles to Barbados, arriving two weeks later to a tremendous welcome because the locals remembered his yacht crossing.”
Colin carved his own niche in offshore racing in 1967 with the 12m News of the World racing powerboat which he also drove.
He designed motor cruisers and powerboats for Hardy Marine and for Shetland Boats, making modest vessels with distinctive blue hulls and rope fenders which, generations on, are much treasured.
But Colin developed a global reputation for designing tall ships, starting in 1971 with the Royalist, a 23-metre sail training brig for the British Sea Cadet Corps which won the Lloyd’s Award for best design and construction that year.
Then in 1986 came Sail Training Ship (STS) Lord Nelson, a 43-metre barque for the Jubilee Sailing Trust, designed to enable disabled and able-bodied crew members together to take an active part in sail training offshore. Winner of a British Design Council Award in 1993, she made a round-the-world voyage in 2012-14.
In 1987 Colin was commissioned to make Young Endeavour, a 35-metre brigantine which was the official gift of Britain to Australia to mark the 1988 Australian Bicentennial.
Two years later came KLD Tunas Samudera, sister ship to Young Endeavour to be operated by the Malaysian navy.
The tall ship portfolio continued in 1997 with the INS Tarangini, a sister ship to STS Lord Nelson but with altered rig and different layout, built in Goa as a sail training ship for the Indian Navy, followed in 2011 by its sister ship INS Sudarshini.
In contrast to glass fibre super yachts and steel-hulled tall ships, Colin Mudie also designed a succession of historic recreations.
He designed expedition boats for Irish explorer Tim Severin, starting in 1975 with the Brendan, a leather reproduction of a 6th century Irish Curragh, used to recreate the transatlantic voyage of St Brendan. Looking to the legendary Far East seafarers of old brought the Sohar in 1980, a 20-metre reproduction of a medieval Arab dhow in which Tim followed the route of the ancient seafarer Sindbad from Oman to China.
This was followed by the Argo (1984) – a 16.5m Greek galley which retraced the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts and, in 1985, the journeys of Ulysses returning from the Trojan war.
Further exotic vessels followed with and Aileach (1991), a 12m 16th century Highland war galley or birlinn, Hsu Fu (1993), an 18m oceangoing bamboo sailing raft for a 5,500-mile ‘China Voyage’ across the Pacific, the Matthew (1995), a 19.5-metre recreation which in 1997 retraced John Cabot’s historic voyage from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497, and in 1997 the Dunbrody, a 53.6 metre wooden barque reconstruction of an 1845 emigrant ship built in New Ross, Ireland.
The Jockey Club Huan followed in 2005, a 34.5-metre sail training junk built in China for the Adventure Trust of Hong Kong.
A distinguished author, Colin’s books included Sailing Ships, Motor Boats and Boating, Power Boats, Sopranino (with Patrick Ellam), and with wife Rosemary The Story of the Sailing Ship, Power Yachts and The Sailing Ship.
Colin is survived by Rosemary, his wife of more than 65 years, son Max who is a renowned tall ships photographer, daughter-in-law Lucy and grandson Miles.
There will be a private family funeral service to be followed by a public celebration of Colin’s life later in the year.