Legendary designers explain how they got their big break

Espen Øino

They're massive now, but how did it all begin? We ask five of the world's most famous yacht designers to roll back the clock and explain how they got their big break in the industry...

Espen Øino, founder of Espen Øino International

I have a painting that hangs in my office, which was what we used to do in the days before computer renderings. I found it when we moved office, so I took it out and reframed it. This design was the first thing that I did when I started out on my own, and it was called Project 9408.

I was lucky enough to have it published in Boat International in 1994 and thanks to that I was introduced to one of my first clients, Guido Krass, with whom I’ve now built five boats for SilverYachts. The concept never got built (it was designed for a Mexican owner and the Peso went through the floor shortly afterwards) but it was an interesting exercise and it got something out of it because Guido saw it and thought: ‘That’s a nice design, who is this Espen Øino?’

German Frers

I started sailing very early, when I was a baby, really. My earliest memories are sailing with my father in his boat, learning all about it and then sailing in dinghies. I won my first sailing championship at the age of eight, this was before the Optimist class. Since then, I have always been involved in sailing, enjoying life at sea.

I designed and built my first boat, Mirage, when I was 17. I’ve been designing boats ever since. The passion for sailing is not something you can explain easily. I think I get more out of design than sailing, but they’re definitely linked together.

Andrew Winch

Andrew Winch, founder of Winch Design

I started sailing when I was about 12 and fell in love with being on the water. I went to art college at St Martins and I went on to Kingston College to do 3D design, where I wanted to design yachts, while everyone else wanted to do hairdressing salons and restaurants.

I found myself with the one man in the world who designed yachts at that point, our mentor, Jon Bannenberg, who kindly agreed to tutor me in college, so I took that. I didn’t really realise how much that meant at that point. There was no-one else I could ask, because there was no-one else doing what we now all do today. Jon kindly said 'Yes' and asked me if I knew how to draw a boat and I said 'No', so he gave me a spline and a set of weights and he showed me and Tim Heywood (who was sitting next to me) how to draw the lines of a boat. So I lofted the lines of a boat and off I went.

Terence Disdale

Founder of Disdale Design

I left school at 15 with no ambition to get involved with boats. I was an apprentice sign writer with a shop-fitting and exhibition company. My job there was basically mixing paint until they realised I could draw, whereupon I became a shop-fitting and exhibition stand designer overnight.

I moved from various shop fitting companies doing very high-end shops in Bond Street and Carnaby Street, then I just decided that I wanted to work for someone who did more exciting work and Bannenberg was one of the people whose work inspired me every time I saw a picture of it.

I wrote to him and he never wrote back, naturally. And one day I went and knocked on his door with a big portfolio and his secretary said, 'Do you have an appointment?' And I said, 'No.' And she said, 'He doesn’t see people without an appointment.' And I said, 'That’s okay, I’ll wait.'

Jon heard me next door and obviously thought: 'Let’s get rid of this kid.' So he brought me in and looked at my portfolio and said, 'When do you want to start work?' And I started on the next Monday. In those days it was a two-man band, so it was a very interesting way to enter.

In 1973 I decided to leave and go on my own. Jon was very thoughtful, he thought I had the talent to survive the system and he said, 'Good luck, just remember, the first 10 years will be the worst.' And he was actually quite right. So I pass that to the future generation of designers also to remember.

Martin Francis

Founder of Martin Francis Design

I’m the odd one out in that I never went to a design school. I'm dyslexic and incompetent with all sort of things numerical and written so I came of out school with minimal A-Levels, but managed to get into the Central School of Art and Furniture Design (now Central St Martins) and from there I became a cabinet maker and I made furniture.

From there I migrated into engineering with an engineer called Anthony Hunt, who was the engineer of the moment at Foster and Rogers. I then started working with Sir Norman Foster and Hunt on buildings until 1976 when there was a major recession.

I had a young family and thought we’d walk about and we ended up in France where there was no architecture and nothing to do, but a lot of boats. I was passionate about boats and had built a 27-footer from a bare hull before migrating up to a Contessa 32. I tried to market those but I have been, and still am, very bad at selling.

I then got involved in the idea of ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to sail around the world?’ I couldn’t find a boat that suited me, so I designed myself a boat and built it, putting it in the water to see if it would work because I didn’t know if it would float.

It went very fast and everyone said, ‘Wow, this guy must be really good.’ Suddenly I found myself with six boats on order on the strength of this one and that was it, I started doing big sailboats and after that I got into the business by accident.

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