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Yacht designer legend Don Shead dies

Donovan ‘Don’ Shead has passed away, at the age of 87 leaving a remarkable legacy in the world of yacht design.

His career spanned decades, during which he redefined yacht design, combining performance, style, and practicality, making him a pioneer in the field and he is particularly remembered for his significant contributions to Sunseeker International.

Don grew up around boats, and in the late 1960s and 1970s made a name for himself as an offshore powerboat racer.

He decided he could improve on the designs that were available and soon Shead-designed race boats were winning in a multitude of classes.

It was noted at the time that ‘Don Shead put the deep into deep-V’.

His fame began to grow outside of the racing world and he received a commission for a larger yacht, a 92-footer for Tom Sopwith which in turn led to further orders.

In the  late 1970s, Don joined Sunseeker and became the studio designer and naval architect for the boatbuilder with his first major project the Offshore 28 in 1978, a new kind of cruiser for the Mediterranean market.

The Offshore 28 was Don Shead's first major project for Sunseeker. Photo courtesy Sunseeker
The Offshore 28 was Don Shead’s first major project for Sunseeker. Photo courtesy Sunseeker

The yacht was the first of its kind made in Europe with her innovative hull performance setting the standard for performance crafts.

Don continued to work for Sunseeker, selling the Don Shead business to Robert and John Braithwaite in 2007 and staying on as a consultant until stepping down due to ill-health.

“Don, in collaboration with an ever growing in-house team led by John Braithwaite, continued to innovate, create and lead the industry with many iconic and world famous Sunseeker craft,” said a statement from Sunseeker.

Ewen Foster, chief technical officer at Sunseeker, remembers Don as an intuitive inventor and mentor and highlights Don’s ability to blend his racing experience into yacht production seamlessly.

“Don was an inventor but with a ‘seat of the pants’ ability to intuitively know when something was right,” said Ewen.

“He pushed boundaries in performance, style and seakeeping in his racing life, and that distilled effortlessly into our production world.

“He was a friend and mentor to me since the mid-1980s, and Sunseeker owes so much to him.

“Our industry has lost a giant, both in stature and achievement.”


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