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3 legendary designers explain how they got their big break

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Andrew Winch

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At the recent _ Superyacht Design Symposium, we asked three of _ the world's most famous yacht designersto explain how they got their big break. Here's what they had to say...

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.

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Terence Disdale

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Founder, 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.

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Martin Francis

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Founder, 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 Contest 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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