Charles William "Bill" Lapworth

December 12, 1919 - April 3, 2006

Detroit, Michigan

Bill Lapworth was one of the first naval architects to successfully embrace the change from building boats out of wood to fiberglass.   The revolutionary material dramatically increased the longevity of yachts and made one designs easier to replicate.  His line of boats started with a fast 24-footer and rapidly expanded to a long series of yachts ranging from 24 feet to 50 feet.  He attended the University of Michigan and earned a degree in marine engineering and naval architecture.  During World War II he served in the United States Navy as an officer in the bureau of ships and moved on to the ship repair facility in San Diego.  He teamed up with Merle Davis who had a naval architecture office in Los Angeles after the war.

Davis died one year later leaving Lapworth to manage the enterprise. He had a strong record racing International 14s and other small boats on the East Coast and in Canada in the late 1940s. The racing experience would serve him well as he developed new keelboat one design boats.

Lapworth realized that light displacement hulls were fast, particularly on the West Coast where there was a premium on downwind boat speed in races like the Transpacific Race.  Lapworth’s first yachts were built out of wood but that changed to fiberglass when he partnered with builder Jack Jensen.   The pair decided to name their new line of small yachts, “Cal.”  Jensen Marine built 1,900 Cal 20s between 1961 and 1972.   Lapworth became a household name around the waterfronts of the world in 1963 when a West Coast sailor, George Griffith, shared a concept for a new 40-foot design with him.  The first Cal 40 was built by Jensen Marine in 1963.  The boat only displaced 15,000 pounds and featured a canoe shaped hull and carried a lot of sail area.  The Cal 40 won the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit in February 1964 and was front page news.  The boat won many other races and attracted some big-name sailors like Bus Mosbacher and Ted Turner.  A fleet of Cal 40s was raced in the Congressional Cup for many years off Long Beach, California.  Proving the yacht’s racing prowess, a Cal 40 won the 2006 Newport to Bermuda Race and Stan and Sally Honey won the Newport to Bermuda Race in 2022 in their beloved Cal 40.

Lapworth and Jensen would collaborate on 32 different designs. Lapworth cruised for many years on his own Cal Cruising 46 with his wife, Peggy and their five children.  His shipmates and crews described Bill as having a “calm demeanor” when racing. Bill Lapworth’s concept of light displacement yachts that were fast and made easily affordable by fiberglass construction has been proven by their impressive record in offshore races many years after his designs were first launched.

Gary Jobson

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