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Honorary Degree Orations


Nigel Irens

Public Orator, Dr John Tyrer presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Monday 17 July at 10.30am


Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, new Graduates, ladies and gentlemen

A vehicles performance is limited by its ability to convert the available power to stable and useful thrust. The dynamics of the vehicle are crucial to the control. How you make the vehicle will determine its endurance. Put these together well and you could have the basis for a successful concept. Include aspects of desire – the beauty that comes within a design based on the fusion of art and science - you could have World Beater. These are vehicles that people want to race and cherish.

In the World of Yacht Design you require all these factors if the boats are to succeed. To design boats which can circumnavigate countries in record times you would be considered by your peers to be outstanding. To design and build boats which can circumnavigate the world in record times you must be exceptional.

Nigel Irens does this almost as a matter of ‘routine’. Nigel is a designer of boats which are either sail or powered, that achieve such distinction. Most of you will know of at least one of his boats, the 75 foot trimaran ‘B & Q Castorama’ – the boat Ellen MacArthur sailed around the world in 71days 15hours. That’s about 2/3rd of the time of an undergraduate summer vacation and most of you thought that was too short!

Nigels CV of boats he has produced is very extensive and it comprises not only of multi-hulls but also very efficient and graceful single hull vessels, from the very traditional sailing cruising yachts to state of the art powered cruisers. The list includes;

  • The 60ft racing trimaran Apricot which he designed built and crewed with Tony Bullimore to win the 1985 Round Britain Race

  • The 70ft powered trimaran iLAN VOYAGER which he designed and built to win the round Britain Powerboat record completing the 1568 mile trip in 72 hours with no fuel stops on just 2000 litres of fuel. That’s a long weekend to most people – or an average weekend to some students!

  • The 115ft powered trimaran ‘Cable & Wireless Adventurer’ which in 1998 set the world circumnavigation record at 74 days with 62 of those at sea.

By his own admission his is an anathema, the self taught practioner. Born in 1946 and educated at Clifton College he gained a Diploma in Boatyard Management at Southampton College of Technology. He wandered in his formative years looking for career direction. He had started an engineering apprenticeship with Rolls Royce Aero engines at Bristol, his father an Engineer with British Aircraft Corporation tried to encourage career direction and set up an afternoon meeting with a designer Alex Moulton to inspire the young Nigel. Of Alex Moulton – we shall hear more of next. What a link between two eminent designers on the stage in front of you today!

In 1972 he and a partner opened the Bristol Sailing School. In 1973 as a casual visitor to the Greyhound Pub in Bristol he became part of a team of individuals seeking to compete in the world sailing record at Weymouth with the ‘Clifton Flasher’. That led to working on multi-hull boats and after buying and rebuilding a wrecked trimaran went on to start racing. His designs start on paper and once sketched out he can cut out the hull design with scissors and balance the template on the edge of a rule to confirm his ideas!

With the help of colleagues he has brought himself up by the bootstraps. He has enjoyed phenomenal impact in the world of naval architecture and competitive boat building. He told me it was really the only field left worth tackling in which rich technical problems could be tackled in areas of commercial significance and still enjoys creative flair. A boat designer with a Global Reputation, therefore Chancellor I present Nigel Irens to you and the whole University for the degree of Doctor of Technology honoris causa.


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