Few have achieved more on the regatta circuit than this year’s winner
The winner of this year’s Legacy Award very nearly didn’t progress beyond his first experience of sailing – aboard a sailing school yacht in the English Channel during a gale. Lord Irvine Laidlaw remembers it as “rough, cold and a bit scary!” but it taught him that sailing was sufficiently demanding to be of interest, while it had the added benefit of forcing his mind off his demanding job.
A year later, he and a partner bought an unfinished Varne 27 that was languishing on wasteland near Tower Bridge in London. It took another year to get the yacht ready for launch, but in 1976 Tower Maid splashed into the Thames and was soon cruising the south coast of England. It wasn’t too long before he caught the racing bug, and the Varne 27 was followed by two fully owned Westerlys: a GK29 and GK34, the latter becoming the first of his now internationally famous series of Highland Fling yachts.
Moving to Hong Kong and then Singapore didn’t mean his racing career suffered – far from it. He competed in the 1981 Admiral’s Cup, and placed second in the 1985 One Ton Cup with his third Highland Fling. He later captained Singapore’s Admiral’s Cup team and was a member of the winning British team at Sydney’s Southern Cross event. A second visit to the Southern Cross in 1987 was less successful, but still notable: while there he met his wife, Christine.
A move into Swans meant he could still compete and drive his own boats, and a long association with the brand began. His Swans crept upwards in size from the 14 metre Highland Fling No. 4 to the 18.3 metre Highland Fling No. 7 as he raced at every Swan event and most of the world’s “serious but fun” regattas. A foray into the Wally Class saw him racing a 24.4 metre Farr design, after which he built the Reichel/Pugh 82, Highland Fling No. 15 – the incredibly fast sailboat that he currently owns, along with a Ker 46 that he keeps and races in Cape Town. He also has a Swan 112 in build.
This sort of sailing history would mark anyone out as a dedicated yachtsman, but this owner has a second arrow in his quiver: motor yachts. By the 1990s he had started working his way through a series of motor yachts, all named Lady Christine. First came a 23 metre Azimut, then a 38 metre Heesen and a 55.6 metre Oceanco, before building his current Lady Christine, a magnificent 68 metre Feadship that is currently in the Maldives. He has also owned the 34 metre Sunseeker Frivolous, and the 40 metre Seaflower, another Feadship, which he sold and has just repurchased.
There cannot be many yachtsmen who have achieved so much in the dual fields of sailboat racing and motor yachting over the past 40 years, and for this, our deserved winner of this year’s Legacy Award is Lord Irvine Laidlaw.