Frank Bethwaite passed away peacefully after a short illness on Saturday 12 May 2012, surrounded by his family. A pioneer in small boat design and research, Frank was the author of "High Performance Sailing" (1992) and "Higher Performance Sailing" (2002) and had just completed his third book on apparent wind sailing to be published later this year by Adlard Coles.
Born in Wanganui, New Zealand in 1920, Frank learned to sail on the Wanganui River, building his own boats, experimenting with rigs and hull designs. He joined the Royal NZ Air Force during World War II and flew bombing raids in the Pacific for which he was awarded the DFC. Frank met and married Adelaide (Nel) Mills, a cipher officer in the air force, in 1945 and moved to Torbay, just north of Auckland.
Continuing his interest in flying, Frank joined TEAL (later Air New Zealand), at the same time experimenting with model aeroplanes to find the most efficient wing shapes in competition. After five years of testing various designs and studying thermal lifts along the coastline, Frank won the world endurance record of over nine hours aloft in 1952. This was followed by 2 more world records. Four children were also born over 11 years.
By 1968 Frank had established a small manufacturing company called Starboard Products inside an old dance hall at Naremburn. While producing wooden masts and other parts for boats, he also conducted experiments on wind flowing over sails inside a small wind tunnel that he created on the premises.
Only satisfied if the experiments were measurable and repeatable, Frank's knowledge of airflow over masts and sails became extraordinary, leading to innovative breakthroughs in rig design and performance.
The 1980s and 1990s saw Frank involved with Sydney's famous 18ft skiffs, assisting Dave Porter on the "KB" to a world championship. At the same time, he was also consulted for the Little America's Cup, collaborating with his innovative way of thinking and research that lead to several victories.
Frank's younger son, Julian, was now part of the design business at Starboard Products and the two of them formed a formidable team, bouncing ideas off each other and working together to produce the most incredible skiffs that Sydney Harbour has ever seen.
By 1995 Julian had come up with the 49er concept and with Frank's very practical assistance the boat was developed into the Olympic skiff that was selected for the 2000 Sydney Games. 15 years later, the same hull has just been selected for the 2016 Games in a new skiff class for women, as no other hull since has been able to match it for performance, consistency in production, cost and accessibility. In 2000, the business name was changed to Bethwaite Design.
In 2000 Frank Bethwaite was awarded an OAM for Services to Sport.
Frank Bethwaite is survived by his wife of 67 years, Nel, his four children Christine, Mark, Nicky and Julian, and his five grandchildren Campbell, Luci, Harry, Angus and Alex.
By Nicky Bethwaite- read more on ISAF’s website here.