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Des Townson's biography sails into my library

One of the most fun funerals - ok, strictly a memorial - I ever attended was yacht designer Des Townson's. It was led by his close friend Brian Peet who had grown up knowing Des as a family friend. At Des's insistence, everyone clapped after every eulogy.

I approved. Most people put a lot of work into a eulogy, and it's unnerving to step down from your lovingly prepared speech into.... silence.

As Des, an intuitive introvert, understood.

The first time I met Des, he came with a reputation for being grumpy but I learned that applied only if he was interrupted before 4.30 in the afternoon when he was building his one-metre, radio-operated Electrons. His cat jumped onto my lap. ‘She never does that,’ he said. We bonded over a mutual love of cats and the English language. I phoned later to say how much I'd enjoyed meeting him.

'Well,' he said, in his gently melodious voice, 'I've sort-of met you before. Many years ago I met your parents at Akarana Yacht Club and your mother was very pregnant.' We counted back the years. Yep, that was me.

From then on, with one exception, whenever I met Des, I was always carrying a notebook. I interviewed him about his Electrons which were sold to billionaires and passionate sailors around the world. Building them to identical perfection required concentration and a curing schedule which is why he didn’t like being interrupted before 4.30pm.

I interviewed him to honour the 50th anniversary of the sailing dinghy Zephyr, which he'd designed as a young man. But, unlike most of my interview subjects, he interviewed me too. We talked in depth about love; the struggles of men and women; the blight, as he called his cancer. His shyness. ‘I walked backwards through life,’ he said.

We sat in the saloon of his yacht Talent on a rainy day at Half Moon Bay Marina. He had recently been awarded the MBE. It gave me a perfect excuse to write my tribute to him while he was alive to enjoy it.

The last time I saw Des, I carried no notebook. Instead, I had made him a banana cake. He was sitting up in bed. Death was just two days away. We said goodbye.

It was simple. The way he liked it.

I am proud to have Brian Peet’s book, Des Townson – a sailing legacy for sale on my website.

Des Townson – a sailing legacy by Brian Peet, coffee table-style, 344 pages, 2019, $80.

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