Obituary: Sir Owen Aisher

OWEN AISHER was for over 40 years a leading figure in the British yachting scene, writes Peter Cook. He was introduced to sailing in the early 1930s at Ranelagh Sailing Club on the Thames at Putney by his friend Norman F. Wates. Later he sailed in CRC (Centreboard Racing Club) 14ft dinghies from Cracknell Hard at the top of Southampton Water. Here he met the designer of the CRC dinghy, Charles A. Nicholson of the firm Camper and Nicholson, which resulted in a lifelong sailing friendship.

In 1935 Aisher commissioned Camper and Nicholson to design and build a 56ft ketch which he called Yeoman, a name he retained for all his yachts. In 1950 another Nicholson-designed yacht was launched which gave Aisher his first important racing successes. In two years he took 52 prizes in 61 starts including winning the Fastnet Race in 1951.

He then turned his attention to the newly introduced international 5.5-metre class of which no less than eight carried the Yeoman name during the 1950s and 1960s. Although he failed to gain Olympic selection himself, his younger son Robin won the bronze medal in the 5.5-metre class at the Mexico Olympics at Acapulco in 1968.

When the 12-metre Sceptre was built for a Royal Yacht Squadron syndicate to challenge for the America's Cup in 1958, Owen Aisher bought the most successful pre-war British 12-metre, Evaine, re-rigged her and funded her campaign as a trial horse for the challenger. Evaine was used for the preliminary crew selection trials and, with her professional skipper, Stan Bishop, proved more than a match for Sceptre. Sceptre went to the United States but was soundly beaten in four straight races by the defender, Columbia.

In acknowledgement of his contribution to the challenge and services to yachting Aisher received the Yachtsman of the Year Award in 1958. In the 1964 America's Cup challenge he managed and part- funded Kurrewa which was the trial horse to Tony Boyden's challenger, Sovereign.

Aisher was first elected to the Council of the Yacht Racing Association which later became the Royal Yachting Association, in 1949. He served on the council and on many committees and was President from 1970 to 1975. He took a particular interest in introducing young people to sailing and as chairman of the RYA Training Committee was instrumental in the introduction of a national proficiency scheme. In 1973 he was the guiding light in the formation of the RYA Seamanship Foundation, a charity which funds schemes to train young sailors and provide sailing for the visually and aurally impaired. He was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Royal Thames, Royal London, Royal Ocean Racing and Little Ship Clubs in which at one time or another he held posts as flag officer, admiral or president.

Over the years a succession of yachts have borne the Yeoman name and the latest, Yeoman XXVIII, a Sigma 38, raced at Cowes Week in August this year, chartered for the first few days, as usual, to the Duke of Edinburgh. Sadly Owen Aisher was unable to race himself due to ill-health.

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