Winged keel an Aussie invention

Peter Ware at home today.
Peter Ware at home today.

Former kneeboard designer and manufacturer, Peter Ware, believes he played a role in developing the famous winged keel that propelled Australia II to victory in the 1983 America’s Cup – but didn’t know it at the time.

Last week he recalled that role to the Byron News in the wake of the new debate over who invented the winged keel initiated by Dutch naval architect, Peter van Oossanen, who claimed it was he and his team who invented it and not Australian yacht designer legend, Ben Lexcen.

Peter Ware, who has called Byron Bay home for nearly 30 years, said his role in the saga began in 1979 when he designed and later made a radical four-fin kneeboard at his Friar Tuck factory in the Byron Bay Industrial Estate.

His concept evolved from surfing champion Mark Richards’ twin-fin design and came only after many years of honing his skills designing and shaping boards at Brookvale in Sydney, which at the time was the epicentre of Sydney surfboard manufacturing and which was buzzing with new board design ideas and concepts.

He worked and associated with many of the big names in the surfing and yachting worlds, including world champions Midget Farrelly and Nat Young, and 18ft sailing champion Ian Murray.

Despite kneeboarding’s minority status in the surfing world, the design and performance of his four-fin kneeboard received widespread coverage in the surfing media of the day and Peter made regular trips to Sydney carrying up to 50 boards on the roof racks of his Ford Falcon for surf-shop and private customers.

One day out of the blue in 1981, he got a phone call from a man called Robert Miller, who had heard about the boards and wanted one.

Peter made the board and delivered it himself to Miller’s house at Mosman overlooking The Spit Bridge in Sydney.

He recalled the delivery turned into a marathon nine-hour discussion with Miller, who he learned was a yacht designer and sailor, about design and shapes and the principle behind the four-fin design.

That four-fins principle was simple – to stop the board sliding sideways on waves and to keep the craft travelling along the same line, he said.

It was that theory that had Miller excited about how it could be adapted for yachts, said Peter.
The discussion continued during dinner and well into the night.

Said Peter: “When I left, it felt like it had been only an hour. He was a great guy. So full of knowledge.

“I came out of there completely drained and enthusiastic because I learned a few things I never knew.
“His passion and enthusiasm for design was incredible.”

It was the first and last discussion Peter had with Miller.

Over the next couple of years every now and again he saw a face on television he thought familiar, but couldn’t put a name to it.

But it all came together after Lexcen’s death in 1988 when Peter was watching a television documentary on his life and it showed his home at Mosman.

Peter recognised it straight away as Robert Miller’s house and checked his records to prove it.

Robert Miller had changed his name and was, in fact, Ben Lexcen.

“The penny dropped,” he said.

The realisation came to Peter that, given his lengthy discussion with the yacht designer at Mosman in 1981, he had probably played a small role in the development of the winged keel which gained international notoriety just two years later.

“I am totally convinced I had,” he said.

Having previously designed two boats that had failed to wrest the cup from the Americans, Lexcen had been ‘searching for an edge’ for the 1983 challenge, said Peter.

And that edge, of course, turned out to be the winged keel, which worked on the same principle as Peter Ware’s four-fin design.

“The main reason I am talking about it now is because of people saying it (winged keel) wasn’t developed in Australia,” he said.

“It’s an Australian design.

“The basic principle came out of the surfing industry.”

 The four-fin board has made a big comeback, says Peter Ware.

The ‘quad’, as it is known today, is all the buzz in the surfing world.

Peter, who surfed the big waves at Fairy Bower and North Narrabeen in his younger days, switched to kneeboards because of their speed.

His surfing mates christened him Friar Tuck, or FT, because of the brown wetsuit he wore and the Friar Tuck-like bald spot in the middle of his head.

These days Peter surfs a longboard, plays golf and is also a highly respected local soccer coach.


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