Ian Proctor: The Creator

Writer, Innovator of Small Boat Designs & Champion Sailor

Ian Proctor 1983
Ian Proctor at the 1983 Worlds in Southampton

Born in 1918 and passing away in 1992, Ian Proctor’s life was full of challenges, achievements and some disappointments.

He dedicated the later years of his adventurous life to the design and manufacture of over 100 different boats. As a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Royal Designer of Industry, he greatly popularised the sport of sailing throughout the 50s and 60s, thanks to his groundbreaking innovations in the creation of smaller sized dinghies. He was also known as a published writer and journalist. Between the years 1950-64, he was the Yachting Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, he also published books covering topics such as the intricacies of Sailboat upkeep, Combat Aircraft History and the History of England’s Rugby Clubs.

Gifted his first sailing boat at the age of 21, the young Proctor’s National 12 proved to be the gateway to his sailing success as he was elected Rear Commodore of his sailing club. During this time he was studying Medicine at the University of London, however he did not enjoy his work. Following the outbreak of World War II, he left his studies to join the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. But, he was never far away from the water, commanding an air-sea rescue unit in the Mediterranean.

A year after his marriage to Elizabeth Lywood, a union that would last for the rest of his life, he contracted polio whilst serving in Egypt. By 1947 he was invalided out of the RAF. Paralysis to his right arm, as well as damage to his chest muscles had made him unfit for service, but he was for Ian, this was merely the start of a new adventure.

A group of Wanderers compete in a National competition at Whitby in 2009. Photo Credit: Terry Pullen

Taking up work as a manager of a boatyard in Portsmouth, he made his first foray into writing, taking up the post of joint editor of the Yachting magazine. Shortly after he took up his role with the Telegraph. Simply writing about sailing was not enough to keep such a competitive spirit at bay. During the fifties, Proctor expertly balanced his journalism with competitive sailing. He also began his work as a designer, winning the Merlin Rocket class 1952 championship in his own Cirrus design, alongside future business partner and friend, Cliff Norbury. He followed up his early design successes with the Osprey, another race-winning design that was considered for use in the Olympic Games.

Despite his earlier designs closely missing out on Olympic selection, he found success in the following years with his popular Tempest design in 1968 and 1972. A pioneer in the use of trapezes, as a a tool for boat crews to use their own weight to counter-balance that of the boat’s, it was in the design of smaller vessels that Proctor was to truly make a name for himself.

Proctor designed well over 100 boats during his long career, however it was the Wanderer – a light-weight version of his initial breakthrough, the Wayfarer – that has arguably had the biggest impact on sailing as we know it today. Often referred to as a Topper, this 11-ft single handed dinghy used a single sail and required a lot less strength making it a perfect fit for beginners and children. The Wanderer was first made of a lightweight glass fibre, but soon Proctor redesigned his boat, using a then innovative process known as injection moulded plastic. Production soared along with demand – over 50,000 of these boats have been produced, many of which are used in sailing schools today.

With his wife serving as a manager of his various business interests, Proctor was left to design and innovate in his field for the rest of his life. He passed away at the beach on Hayling Island, rather aptly, whilst launching one of his own Wayfarer dinghies competing in a world championship series.

Despite the challenges that he faced in his life, Ian Proctor was a man that continued to persevere in every aspect of his significantly wide-reaching and influential life.