John Booth, an unassuming generous, mechanical genius

John Booth

May 9, 2019

John Booth, who passed away just a few weeks ago was one of the most amazingly gifted and generous persons that I’ve ever met. He was involved in so many different projects and types of work that I’m certain that there are many that I’ve overlooked. Here’s a short list of memorable works;








John Booth at the Helm of his T BirdThunderbirds.

It’s almost impossible to overstate his importance to this fleet. He built his first wooden ‘Bird, #660, in 1966 before he was involved in the design and building of the molds for the first fibreglass ‘Birds. This involved doing the pitching experiments with John Dewey to ensure that FRP ones would not have an unfair advantage over wooden ones, thereby preserving the fleet for all; working on the design and construction of the ‘high aspect ratio rudder’; and, helping on the development of the aluminum mast for the ‘Bird. John probably built 30 FRP ‘Birds, and helped repair and rebuild untold numbers, all done with little thought of being paid. This was John’s biggest fault – as a businessman.


The Ever Helping Hand

John Booth was the ideal that a lot of us should aspire to in terms of lending a willing hand to his fellow competitors, even when hard pressed to be preparing his own boat for a major regatta, or even during the regatta. He was so self -effacing that often precious hours of work were simply relegated as “It was nothing”. I witnessed this first time when I became a member of the Thunderbird Fleet in 1984. His help was invaluable in my first regatta with the ‘Bird, and I simply could not believe the generosity of spirit that accompanied not only this first acquaintance, but in virtually every regatta since then.

This helping hand also extended to those from visiting clubs. In 2009, my daughter was returning from a Swiftsure in a Royal Van boat when they hit bottom off of Trial Island, and began taking on water. It was his shop that came to the rescue on the weekend; and, it was his shop and skills that so memorably impressed our visitor. Yet again, “It was nothing”. Nothing indeed was charged, just a beer.

Mini Twelves

John’s important contributions to the health and vitality of the club over the decades can be seen in the very Fleets that John has had a major hand in building – the ‘Birds and the Mini Twelves – but also sustaining them with his energy and construction skills. He made the molds for the Mini-Twelves, etc and did seemingly endless repairs for them, even when he was 80 and had a difficult time bending down to get into the damaged hull. His zeal, energy and support with no real thought of compensation are highly laudable.

John In His ShopBooth 8 Dinghies

There must be 300 or more of these built. Which west coast sailor has not rowed one of these fine dinghies? He also built Mintos and Whitehalls. The latter had an ingenious sliding seat, like the racing shells, but based upon the wheels from in-line skates.

Catalina Rudders

John is famous in the Catalina world as many have his improved rudder – based upon a scaled up version of the T’Bird’s high aspect rudder. It apparently transformed the sailing characteristics of the Catalina. For many years, there was always one being built every couple of months. A lot of happy customers, all spread by word of mouth.

Dock Carts

Every time you use a dock cart, there’s a good chance that it’s one that he built. He worked with Century Plastics to build their mold to produce the plastic versions.

Molds and Pattern Making

John trained as a pattern maker in England before returning to Canada. He impressed them as being a bit of a mechanical genius. Try thinking about how things are made – backwards and inside out. He worked with various foundries and plastic shops to make molds for, and or built;

• Canada II’s keel. Metallex poured it.
• domes of various mosques
• domes for Seastar Chemicals plant
• bell for navigation buoys
• custom Harley ‘hawg’ fenders and tanks
• battery boxes and other plastic roto-molded parts
• floats for oyster farms
• almost indestructible carts for the city’s garbage trucks
• the clock bezel and ‘pawns’ that adorn Victoria’s City Hall
• rudders and centerboards for various sailing dinghies
• avant garde artwork of unusual appearance by Roland Brenner & other artists

John and Vidas John to the left and Vidas on the right inspecting the new keel for ZigZag

It’s hard to imagine a more diverse list. Nothing seemed impossible. In fact, if it seemed impossible, John was more likely to try.

Nothing tickled John’s fancy more than finding a good deal, or seeing what a Thunderbird could do against faster boats. The pinnacle of this was the “Zig Zag Project”. Who would have thought that a revised ‘Bird could pass a Hotfoot 27 or Martin 242? He took particular glee in helping me make the mold for a new keel, based upon a Melges. The fact that the ‘local’ foundry had a 900lb limit, together with the fact that John had never handled melting/pouring lead cannonballs for fishing, made him even keener to try pouring 1000lb or more at his shop full of combustibles. The fire marshal just happened to visit the shop a couple of days after the successful pour! John was beside himself with mirth!


I have a hard time thinking of a finer person.

Article by Vidas Stukas

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