Alfred Edward ‘Bill’ Luders Jr.,  1909-1999
Stamford, CT USA

T
he quintessential racing man, Alfred ‘Bill’ Luders loved the infinite complexity of an afternoon’s race at a time when Long Island Sound’s western bays were becoming home to the most competitive sailors in the country.

At 16, Luders was the youngest sailor ever to capture Long Island’s 6-Meter Championship; he did so twice in one of his first designs, a knifeblade, the 38’ Totem.

Winning was the point. And Bill Luders quietly reveled it in.

His was a happy start, born as he was into the world of yachts. His father, Alfred Luders, Sr., founded and ran the celebrated Luders Marine Construction Co. in Stamford, CT. Luders didn’t share his father’s passion for elegant and fast power yachts, his love was sail. Still, his father’s business offered him first-class training and he apprenticed himself there 1928. And took on full management in 1964 after his father died.

As the great ’20’s boom ebbed and the Depression began, the smaller boats in which the younger Luders specialized gave the yard business it sorely needed. He created the 26’ 4" Fisher’s Island Sloop, now recognized as the Luder-16. The yard built 15 of them in 1934. In the late 30’s, he designed Annapolis’ 44’ Naval Academy Yawls, training vessels for midshipmen. Like many yards during and immediately after WWII, naval contracts kept them afloat.

But Luders’ greatest contributions came in the post-war era. If a race course were a sail, Bill Luders understood every stitch of it. His uncanny grasp of the minutia of measurement rules and the intricacies of building yachts to them helped him create not only winning boats but often illuminated the downright weirdness of an outmoded set of rules.

In 1959, he skippered his own (sometime) ketch, the 39’ LOA Storm, sailing the entire racecourse, around Martha’s Vineyard, without a mainsail. He won -- on elapsed time -- sporting only a huge Genoa and handkerchief mizzen. "I wanted to try out the rig to see if it would work. But this is the last time. We’ve had our fun. I wanted to point out the loophole." The Cruising Club of America Rules Committee took due note and inked a rule that said a racing yacht must carry and use her mainsail.

H
is love of the close-hand contest found a brilliant expression in his design of American Eagle, a 1964 12 Meter candidate to defend the America’s Cup. She won, in fierce competition, 21 of her 22 contests in the summer of that year. Frustrated sailors chorused, "Beat the Bird." Edged out at season’s end by Constellation, American Eagle went on to campaign in the world’s ocean races. With Ted Turner at the helm, she won most of them. She still wins; in the 2010 Classics Race in Newport, 'the Bird' swept her class once more to take a first with Turner at the helm.

For Luders, one-design passions ruled. His sophisticated variations on the 23' International 5.5 Meters gave their owners winners in both World and Olympic Championships. His Luders L-16 and L-24 sail today. As do many from the last designs by his hand, the early 1980's production cruising sailboats, the 28', 30' and 34' Sea Sprites.

Bill Luders' lines were always graceful and appealing and he adapted to the world as he found it, moving from his father's legacy of construction in the finest wood to the post-war disciplines of laminated wood and hot plastic construction. By 1968, however, the world of fiberglass proved too alien and unappealing. Bill Luders was sixty as was his yard. He closed up shop and an era passed with him.

Bill Luders' life of innovation gave luster to the afternoon, to the 'round the buoy racers. He elevated the world of one-design, amateur racing to a high art. Like Vermeer, it could be said, he worked only a small canvas. Yet, like Vermeer, he knew his light; what a glow he gave every boat he touched.

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