Yacht racer and boat builder Jeremy Rogers has died at the age of 85. He was best known for building the Contessa 32 and Contessa 26

Boat builder and celebrated sailor, Jeremy Rogers, who co-designed and built the hugely successful Contessa 32, has died at the age of 85.

During his decades-long career, he became known for designing and building exceptionally seaworthy boats, and also using new techniques. He was one of the first to embrace the use of GRP in the 1960s, and later developed the use of vacuum assisted resin transfer moulding, which was used on the OOD 34.

A son of an RAF officer and keen sailor, Rogers was born in Thaxted in Essex on 16 September 1937. He was evacuated to Canada during the Second World War, where he built model boats with his brothers. Whilst at Clayesmore School in Dorset, he built his first dinghy: Rogers was just 10 years old.

A contessa 32 yacht sailing

The Contessa 32 is one of the most popular designs by the Jeremy Rogers yard. Gigi, pictured, went around Cape Horn. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

After school, he became an apprentice to Fareham wooden boatbuilder, Jack Chippendale, considered by many to be one of the UK’s best builders of small boats.

He opened Jeremy Rogers boatyard in 1961, aged just 23, initially producing dinghies in a shed behind his house in Lymington before moving into a factory.

He sold cold-moulded Finn and OK dinghies as well as Folkboats, and soon acquired a reputation for his good workmanship.

Rogers was always a yacht racer, and yearned to build a lighter, faster boat. GRP was the new material of the age and he soon began building dinghies out of the spun glass fibres and polyester resin. It was only a matter of time before he took it one step further, and the Contessa 26 was born.

Jeremy Rogers was a lifelong sailor and yacht racer.

Jeremy Rogers was a lifelong sailor and yacht racer. Credit: Rogers family

It was hugely successful, and was quickly followed by the Contessa 32, which Rogers co-designed with David Sadler.

The boat was launched in 1971, was voted the London Boat of the Show the following year, and its popularity has never diminished, and is considered by many to be one of the best cruisers ever built.

In the 1979 Fastnet Race, the Contessa 32, Assent, was the only boat in her class to finish. Five years later, American sailors John Kretschmer and Ty Techera sailed the Contessa 32, Gigi around Cape Horn, cementing its seaworthy status.

New Contessas were also launched aimed at the cruiser-racer market, following Rogers partnership with Doug Peterson.

A racer at heart, Jeremy Rogers proved their designs on the race course, winning the 1974 One Ton Cup in the Contessa 35, Gumboots, famously abandoning the race to rescue the crew of a burning yacht, which resulted in him being named Yachtsman of the Year.

He won the British Admiral’s Cup in 1977, skippering the Contessa 43, Moonshine, and his Contessa 39, Eclipse to second place in the 1979 Fastnet Race, behind Ted Turner’s 61ft Sparkman and Stephens yacht, Tenacious.

With the Dysca Folkboat outside Lillington House. Credit: Rogers family

With the Dysca Folkboat outside Lillington House. Credit: Rogers family

By now,  Jeremy Rogers was an MBE and his boatyard was exporting boats all over the world, many to the USA. But the recession was soon to decimate the British boatbuilding industry.

The moulds of the Contessa 26 and 32 were sold when the boatyard went into receivership. Instead, in 1988, Rogers began building Etchells keelboats and one-off racing and cruising boats.

In 1995, Jeremy Rogers bought back the moulds of the Contessa 32 and went back into production, building them strictly to order, as well as renovating  old 32s.

A black and white photo of Jeremy Rogers

Jeremy Rogers in 1979. That year, he skippered his Contessa 39 to second place in the Fastnet Race. Credit: Rogers family

In 2012, he handed over the management of the business to his son, Kit, but remained a firm part of the team, on hand to offer advice.

It also allowed him to oversee the refurbishment of his own Contessa 26, Rosina of Beaulieu, which has won the Gold Roman Bowl for overall winner of the Round the Island Race in 2002, 2003 and 2006.

Jeremy Rogers leaves behind his wife, Fiona and his three sons, Simon, Kit and David.