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Bruce Kirby

Bruce Kirby is the most successful designer of racing sailboats in the world. The Laser sales alone lock that in. He has a proud record in production and one off cruising and cruiser racer designs, as well.

He is also the designer of the Norwalk Islands Sharpie range.

And that’s the pinnacle, as far as we are concerned!

The Norwalk Islands Sharpies have evolved from over 200 years of American East Coast working boat tradition.

The working sailors needed fast, safe, economical, and easily handled working boats that could go out in all weathers gathering oysters and then run breaking bars to get their catches to market as early as possible. These boats were all more or less flat bottomed, vee sided and unstayed cat ketch rigged. They were all centre boarders, and were usually handled by no more than two men.

The modern plywood epoxy composite range Bruce Kirby designed in the mid 1980's grew out of his need for a fast shallow draft cruiser racing boat that could cope with the silting estuary near his Connecticut home.

It was natural that he would turn to the local work boats as his inspiration. It was also natural that he would wave his performance magic over the range.

The Norwalk Islands Sharpies have evolved over the years; The rigs are now lighter and better.

Carbon masts , booms and our truly revolutionary super easy mast raising and lowering tabernacles,  our CNC cut plywood component kits are now ‘made to order’, and have taken the NIS concept to a whole new level.

We are working on upgrades across the range, with a new NIS 35 replacing the 29 and 31, and a completely new version of the 43.  Both of these fast, easily handled, versatile,  proven open ocean capable  boats are being set up for comfortable live aboard cruising, with some 21st century tech thinking going into them.  The Mk2 Kit NIS 18, 23 and 26 are proven home building projects, and proving themselves out on the water. while the scale of bigger boats assumes more building experience.  Thats not because they are more difficult to build, they are not, except for the sheer mass.  Turning over is more difficult, , setting up the ballast is just, well, BIGGER!

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All owners report comfortable, quiet dry boats, easy single handed sailing, the self tacking rigs, with their natural balance and easy tendency to self steering contribute to this. The fully battened sails mean no flogging, even when lying a hull with the sheets freed off.

The shallow draft and very strongly constructed hull bottoms mean that you can take moorings where most others cannot. The self righting capabilities are up there with most blue water racing yachts.

Much has and is still being been learned from the hundreds of ‘our’ owner builders and their cruising and club racing exploits around the world, especially here in Australia.

For the past 5 years we have been reworking the plans to take into account the many innovations that have come largely from 'our' owner builders, and at the same time, digitising all the plywood components so that we can offer kits to streamline the building process.

The first kit boats are now on the water in Australia. Builders report up to 50% time saving in the hull construction.

The Mk2 Kits are being laser cut in Australia, the UK and in New Zealand.

The Norwalk Islands Sharpies stand on a grand tradition.

Our owners and builders are extending the lore!

We welcome you aboard.

Robert Ayliffe - October 2010

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Robert Ayliffe
Robert Ayliffe

‘The seas were high and so was the wind noise, spray everywhere.

We were crossing Investigator Straight between Kangaroo Island and Port Vincent in St Vincents Gulf, in late 1988, in NIS 23 Charlie Fisher, a boat that was only weeks old, and largely new to me.

The conditions were at variance to the forecast.

It felt pretty brisk all right, but were in no danger. The boat itself was quiet and handled the somewhat spectacular conditions well.

As we dried out the next morning, bow run up on Port Vincent’s dry beach sand, a yachtsman rowed past.

“There’s a rumour you guys sailed from Kangaroo Island, yesterday?”

“Yep”, we said.

“Some boat!”

“What do you mean?”

“It was gusting 60 knots all day out there. None of us would dare be out in that.’

Since then Robert and many others have successfully raced and cruised their Norwalk Islands Sharpies in big water all around Australia, and other parts of the world.