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sail on

Tom Speer passed away at home on November 8th after a year-plus battle with cancer. He attacked his medical condition with engineering precision and characteristic optimism, hopeful that the state-of-the-art cancer immunotherapies might prevail. He documented the decisions in his detailed, yet matter-of-fact style, sharing via a Caring Bridge journal.

His online writings conveyed his logical approach, with clear explanations of everything related to fluid flows around sails, wings, hulls and hydrofoils permeating the discussions of boats (including dirt boats) and airplanes on many internet sites.

Raised with three siblings in Iowa, he graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. His interest in sailing grew from modifying his family’s canoe to sailing dinghies with the university sailing club yet his aeronautical expertise led to an Air Force career improving and testing aircraft flight control systems. He was stationed at Edwards AFB, California, Dayton Ohio, Cold Lake Alberta, and southern England where liquid water allowed him to sail a Cherub dinghy.

Boeing hired him in the Seattle area where he excelled on the KC-46 aerial tanker project. I met him 22 years ago when buying some hydrofoil extrusions he had listed in Multihulls Magazine. He soon visited my waterfront home and sailed my Slatts 22 hydrofoil stabilized tacking outrigger with me. He tirelessly refined his plans to build a foiling trimaran with his updated concepts evolved from Dave Kieper’s Williwa. Basiliscus (one who runs on water) was his name on Sailing Anarchy.

I invited him to attend a meeting of the Northwest Multihull Association. He soon bought a partnership in an F-24 trimaran and explored Puget Sound. He bought a Chris White-designed 34’ trimaran in Texas with the intent to modify it into his hydrofoil testbed. He instantly gained the respect of my father, a retired test pilot, while crewing on his F-33 tri.

When racing around Vancouver Island in the Van Isle 360 on a carbon and foam F-9A, Tom determined that body heat could be conserved by warming a spot on the overturned hull until rescuers arrived more than 24 hours later. Perhaps this experience led him to obtain the house heating super-computer cluster which occupied his basement and ran his fluid dynamic simulations for his consulting business.

His patient, professorial illustrations of complex engineering concepts attracted a following on the internet and the attention of the America’s Cup syndicates delving into unleashing the extreme performance potential of multihulls, wings and foils. The Oracle Team USA lured him on to their tribe of wizards which produced a string of astounding victories.

His quiet retirement diverged further from plan when he moved near Team Oracle’s development base in the Bay Area and met his future wife Kathy. She joined him in traveling to several regatta locations and eventually a house hidden away on Hood Canal. Two well-trained dogs attentively awaited their adventurous walks on nearby trails through the deep northwest forest.

Chasing his curiosity down untrodden paths eventually led to Tom hoisting the “Auld Mug” overhead after reaching the pinnacle of the sailing world known as the America’s Cup.

How can you top that? Tom continued to satisfy his curious mind with experimental radio controlled aircraft hand built with the hot-wire cutting, vac-u-forming, 3-D printing and laser cutting tools of the trade that crowd his warm basement lair.

I am fortunate to have years of shared experiences with such a friend who will be missed by so many. In aerodynamic engineering parlance; the flow has separated… -Greg Jacobs.

There is a thread.