Skipper Jim Matthew is nice enough on land. He smiles, issues pleasantries with an English accent and talks about racing. On the water his whimsical Kirby 25 appears with big red lips on a white spinnaker. But don’t be fooled. The name of the boat is Poch Ma Hon, Gaelic for “kiss my ass.” And the sight of this boat frays the nerves of other Kirby sailors from the Barrie Yacht Club in Barrie, Ontario.
Out on the high seas of Lake Simcoe’s Kempenfelt Bay, crews’ faces twist and redden as they try to keep that giant mouth behind them. It’s war on the water on Monday and Wednesday nights during the summer. “STARBOOOARD,” echoes across the bay, drowned out only by the profanities spewing from arm-waving, deck-stomping helmspersons. While Matthew doesn’t always win, he’s always a thorn in the side of ambitious skippers.
Back on land after a club race, the warm smile and pleasant Dr. Jekyll nature reappear. And while his crew changes every year, the “captain” remains the same. Matthew is one of a few long-time Kirby owners at the Barrie Yacht Club. He’s had his boat since 1981 and has raced in Barrie since 1987.
As with other boats, owners come and go, but Kirbys rarely stray far from their home port. If a boat is sold and taken to another club, it’s the topic of conversation at the BYC bar until somebody can muster the cash to bring it home to Kempenfelt Bay. For example the sole Kirby from the neighbouring Lagoon City Yacht Club on Lake Simcoe was just bought by Bill MacKenzie, bringing the Barrie fleet number to 14. Now MacKenzie is the proud owner of twin Kirbys! The Kirby 25 is a popular one-design at the Barrie and Nepean Yacht Clubs. The fleet on the Ottawa River hovers at 16 and there are many others in Quebec and the Maritimes. In fact the Kirby diaspora reaches into the United States and on down to the Caribbean.
“But the Kirby 25 is very much a Canadian boat,” observes John Osborne, the former owner of a speedy Kirby called Mosquito. More than 200 Kirby 25s were built in Canada by Mirage Yachts in Montreal between 1978 and 1983. Dick Steffen, the former owner of the company which closed its doors in the early eighties, tells how he began building his 25s after his deal to build J/24s in Canada went sour. “I hung up the phone on Mr. Johnstone and immediately dialled Bruce Kirby,” explained Steffen. “I asked him to draw me a boat to beat the J/24s.” It just happened that Bruce Kirby had something in mind. “Steffen wanted a good, fast 25-footer,” said Kirby from his home Rowayton, Conn., during a recent telephone interview. “The J/24s were already in production and we didn’t want to be copy-cats. What I did was design that was a little faster than the Johnstone’s.” Designers, Steffen observed, can design a boat fast. “We had (Kirby’s) drawings within days and our tooling started within weeks,” explained Steffen. “Then Mr. Johnstone phoned back but I didn’t return his call.”
Built in Canada from a Canadian design (Kirby is originally from Montreal), it’s not surprising that the majority of Kirby 25s were sold to Canadians. And in spite of the fact that the 25 has been out of production for 10 years, the boat remains a popular fleet and PHRF racer. But this doesn’t surprise Kirby. In fact, Kirby’s wife thinks the 25 was the best boat her hubby ever designed. Considering that Kirby drew the lines for the first Laser (now an Olympic class), this is quite a statement!
Back in Barrie, Kirby owners will tell you why their boats are worth keeping, “People see it as a competitive and relatively inexpensive boat,” said Hugh Rowlinson, a former president of the Kirby 25 Association from 1981 to 1983. “As well, it’s ideally adapted to our relatively sheltered waters.”
“They are a reasonably priced one-design racer. That’s the attraction,” said Osborne, an Olympic medallist in the Tornado at the ’76 Games in Kingston. “They’ve bottomed out in price and will probably remain cheap.”
In comparison to other one-designs the 25 is a steal. While a competitive Kirby will run for $7,000 to $10,000, a pre-owned J/24 will set you back by $16,000 to $29,000. Owners describe Kirbys as great racers because they’re fast and agile. The hull will often plane in a strong blow and the fractional rig is easily adjusted for different wind conditions. “These dinghy-like qualities are not an accident,” said Kirby, who was concentrating on dinghy designs up to the 25.
“It’s a fractional rig,” explains Matthew, “so the genoa luff doesn’t go to the top of the mast. The idea with this ail plan is to allow the crew to really bend the mast to flatten the main in a blow or set the mast up straight with no bend for a full and juicy shape in the light stuff.”
Kirby 25s are also equipped with running backstays, which enable the helmsperson to adjust sail shape and headstay tension. It also means they have to be readjusted after every tack. “This configuration is designed for competitive sailors who don’t mind the extra work for the sake of a competitive edge,” said Kirby.
Each summer keen racers trailer their boats to a series of three major regattas; the Midland Walwyn One-Design Regatta in June at the Nepean Sailing Club on the Ottawa River; the Frenchman’s Bay Regatta in August at the F.B.Y.C. in Pickering on Lake Ontario; and the Kirby North American Championships held each September at the Barrie Yacht Club. Everyone at last summer’s Frenchman’s Bay Regatta had to poch Jim Matthew’s hon when his boat won. With a new paint job and crew, Captain Jim hopes to place in the top three at this summer’s Kirby events. So look out for those big, red lips!
LOA 25 ft. 2 in.
LWL 20 ft. 9 in.
Beam 8 ft. 9 in.
Draft 4 ft. 2 in.
Displacement 3,100 lbs.
Sail Area 290 sq. ft.
To see if this boat is available, go to http://www.boatcan.com for listings!