NEW YORK – Alfred Edward Luders Jr., 89, an innovative boat designer and racer who built the America’s Cup yacht Weatherly, died January 31, 1999 at his home in Stamford, Connecticut.
Mr. Luders, known as Bill, blended an avocation, racing sailboats, with his vocation as director of Luders Marine Construction Company in Stamford Harbor, a major builder of custom yachts. The firm was founded by his father in 1908 and was closed by Bill Luders sixty years later. The craftsmanship of wooden boat construction had been made obsolete by fiberglass, a material that held no interest for Luders.
He was an innovator in the use of molded plywood for hull construction of boats like the popular Luders 16 racing sailboat. More than 200 of these were built after World War II, with fleets established from Bermuda to San Francisco.
During World War II and the Korean War, Mr. Luders supervised the building of 100 ships for the Navy, including subchasers, minesweepers and harbor tugs.
When it came to racing, Mr. Luders’ early successes came in the International 6-meter class of his own design and equipped on tight budgets imposed by his father. "Briggs Cunningham was kind," Mr. Luders said of a well-financed competitor. "He would give me his discarded mainsails and jibs."
Mr. Luders was the last survivor among five distinguished skippers in the 1950s who made the International One-Design fleet on western Long Island Sound as competitive a racing class as any. The others were George Hinman, Arthur Knapp, Emil "Bus" Mosbacher and Cornelius Shields.
When the America’s Cup competition was revived in 1958 in 12-meter yachts, Mr. Luders built Weatherly to the design of Philip Rhodes, and Arthur Knapp campaigned her during the trails to choose a cup defender. Weatherly was not selected that year, but after a redesign by Mr. Luders, and with Mosbacher as skipper, she defended the cup in 1962.
Mr. Luders designed and built other 12-meter yachts, the most notable beingAmerican Eagle, which Ted Turner turned into an ocean racer.
Ocean or distance racing had no appeal to Mr. Luders. "I like to sleep in a bed, preferably ashore," he said.
The last racing yachts designed and built by Mr. Luders were the 5.5-meter sloops, a class used in Olympic and international competition.
Mr. Luders is survived by his wife, Margaret Masterson Luders; a son, John of New Canaan, Connecticut; two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.