Cpt. John H. Illingworth had a varied and interesting life that is somewhat documented in his autobiography “The Malham Story.”
He experienced the end of an era of Imperial rule in Japan where he was stationed from 1927-29. He started racing in the Japanese and Hong Kong waters with his first yacht ‘Queen Bee’, an Albert Strange designed gaff yawl of 25 foot. Upon his return to England he soon had another beautiful yacht, a 1911 Norwegian 9 Meter named ‘Lo III’. He raced her in and around the English waters during the early days of the Royal Ocean Racing Club until, in 1931, he was drafted to Malta. He kept his hand in by racing the then new, LINKUffa fox designed International Fourteens, which were popular with servicemen at the time.
He was back in England in 1933 until going back to Malta for the outbreak of WWII. During his time home he had bought another gaff yawl of 35 foot, named Thalisa, and converted her to a bermudan rig. He raced her avidly for three seasons before selling her and setting his mind to a new design he had been conceiving for some time. This was to be the first of his famous ‘Malham’ yachts, Maid of Malham. The details of the design he gave to John (Jack) Laurent Giles, with whom he had raced on many occasions. He had also sought advice from the likes of William Fife (then in his late 70’s) and Alfred Mylne no less.
Using knowledge gained by alterations made to rig and sail plans on his early boats, he laid plans for a new racing cruiser. He specifically drew from his pre-war experience with Maid of Malham and his post-war experience on Rani; his 34’8″ canoe stern, Bermudan Cutter with which he sailed the legendary performance of the first Sydney-Hobart (this story is well worth a browse and can be found here). A proven master at getting the most out of a boat, he was, then, very particular in the design of his new rig; the lines were negotiable but the rig and sail plan, not at all. Jack Giles offered up three sets of lines before his vision materialised, and so was born Myth of Malham which dominated the sport for years and altered the course of yacht design. It is no surprise then, that he is dubbed the founder of modern ocean racing. His skill and accomplishments as a skipper were only surpassed by his pioneering innovation and influence in the sport itself.
He was Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, founder and Commodore of the Royal Navy Sailing Association and Co-Founder of the Junior Offshore Group. His book ‘Offshore’ was published in 1949 and quickly became the Bible for the development of modern offshore racing. On top of all this he instigated a truly world wide, lasting legacy; the Sail Training Association. He was personally responsible for those first events in the beginning of the 60’s, even going so far as to lobby the Royal Families of Northern Europe to sponsor the event, which they very much did.
In 1971 he was awarded the Royal Yachting Association’s award for his long service to the sport. He passed away, aged seventy three in 1980, the same year Angus Primrose was tragically lost at sea.