David Sadler, designer of the original Contessa and Sadler yachts, has died at the age of 93 at his home in New Zealand

David Sadler – best known as the designer of the renowned Contessa 26 and 32, and the early Sadler yachts – has died at home.  

His yacht designs won many accolades from owners and the yachting press, including ‘Boat of the Show’ at the London Boat Show and winners of two Yachting World ‘One of a Kind’ Rallies. His designs were raced successively including several 1sts in Cowes weeks and a multitude of wins in Poole, his home port until he retired.

David was born in the Essex fishing village of Tollesbury on the 13 February 1921. Much of his childhood was spent with his grandfather, in his fishing smack, on the river Blackwater. His early education was at the local village school where he won a scholarship to attend the Colchester Grammar School. At the outbreak of the 2nd World War, he was studying mechanical engineering at Kingston Technical College during the day, and worked in an armaments factory in the evening when he met his wife Tessa working on tank turrets. He then served an apprenticeship in Farnborough repairing aircraft until 1946, and then accepted a job at Airspeeds in Christchurch, Hampshire.

Living within walking distance of the harbour, David was able to fulfil his love of sailing. He joined Christchurch Sailing Club and bought the bare hull of his first of four Merlin Rockets, sail number 238, which with the forbearance of his wife, he completed in their lounge. He won many trophies locally and travelled to open meetings and championships with his family, towing his boat behind his 1935 Austin10.

In 1962, David bought his first cruiser, a standard Folkboat built by the Medina Yacht Company in Cowes. He soon learned of its shortcomings and developed a new design, which he commissioned J C Rogers in Lymington, to build, based on the Folkboat hull. He called her Contessa of Parkstone and gained forty six firsts in two years. He redesigned her for GRP construction and the Contessa 26 was born. The name Contessa was derived from his wife’s name Tessa. This design was followed by the Contessa 32, The Quest 27 (later known as a Frigate), and the Sadler 25, 32 and 29.

Most of David’s career was spent as a design and development engineer for the Ministry of Defence on a wide variety of projects from aircraft and power boats, to fighting vehicles such as the Chieftain tank.  

In 1977, he retired from the Civil Service to join his son’s business, Sadler Yachts, which was expanding rapidly after winning the Yachting World ‘One of a Kind’ Rally with the Sadler 25 and having a successful Southampton Boat Show the previous year.

David retired permanently in 1981 and immediately sailed to the Mediterranean in his Sadler 32, Young Alison with a dream of sailing around the world.  

Two years later, he returned to the UK and, with his partner Diane, purchased a Contest 42 which they named Marathias, and refitted her for a round the world voyage. This voyage took some ten years, spending several years in the West Indies and then several more in the Pacific Islands and New Zealand, returning to the UK in 1993.

A few months of a British winter convinced David to emigrate to The Bay of Islands in New Zealand, where he and Diane married and built a home overlooking the Bay. He enjoyed his latter years playing bridge and fishing. He is survived by his two children, five grandchildren, ten great grandchildren and second wife.

Image courtesy of Chilli Pepper TV