Walking the Plank: Donald Tofias

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If you’ve ever been to Newport, Rhode Island, or to any of the world’s great classic yacht regattas, you have seen them: the stunning — and winning — W-Class sailing yachts. In 1997, Boston real estate developer and passionate sailor Donald Tofias approached designer Joel White, of Brooklin Boatyard in Maine, with an idea to revive one-design match racing and spirit-of-tradition yachting.

Photo by Karen Ryan

“The vision that propelled me to develop these inspiring vessels was the ideal to compete in big, identical boats with identical equipment so that at the end of an exciting, close, competitive race, the best sailor wins. This is boat-on-boat, crew-on-crew competition,” Tofias has said.

Today there are W-Class designs in 22-, 37-, 46-, 76- and 100-foot lengths (W-class.com). The first W-Class 22, Filly (pictured here), was recently launched, and a second, Colt, is on the way. Combining the best of old and new, the yachts are cold-molded, with modern rigging systems and carbon fiber masts.

The private owners of several W-46s compete in races throughout New England. Wild Horses and White Wings, both W-76s, are campaigned in regattas all over the world.

Wild Horses and White Wings are also available for charter and have become a treasured part of many a sailor’s pilgrimage to Newport, where you can experience them on a day sail.

First memory of being on a boat: Sailing in an old catboat on Buzzards Bay at age 5.

First boat you owned: Alcort Super Sailfish, age 12, bought with my own savings.

Last or current boat: Just launched the new W-22, Filly. Hopefully selling whole fleets. 

Favorite boat you’ve owned: Whatever boat I’m on. My day at the office is always on a boat. 

Your dream boat: Our new W-100, which we developed over the past few years.

Most rewarding professional experience: Creating and running the W-Class Yacht Co. since 1996.

Your scariest adventure aboard: Chartering the J-Class yacht Shamrock V in the early 1990s. The yacht’s engineer lost his finger at the start of a race. We were able to get him admitted that day to Massachusetts General Hospital. An expert hand surgeon there reattached the finger.

Your most memorable experience aboard: Doing the America’s Cup Jubilee at Cowes in southern England, summer of 2001. The best day was the round island race day — 150 years to the day, plus a day, of the original race around the Isle of Wight. 

Longest time you’ve spent aboard: The first time we had the W-76s Wild Horses and White Wings in the western Mediterranean, in the summer of 1999. I was on board the month of June and for six weeks in late August through early October that fall.

Favorite destination so far: My current one, wherever that might be, but it’s always lots of fun sailing back home into Newport.

Favorite nautical book: First You Have to Row a Little Boat by Richard Bode.

Favorite nautical cause you support and why: Sail Newport. Brad Read does a great job teaching hundreds of kids to sail every year, plus running dozens of local, national and international regattas. Where else in the world does a not-for-profit sailing organization control such a major piece of harbor frontage? Only here in Newport, Rhode Island, USA.

Favorite quote about the sea: “Yachting is the winner!” We trademarked that line a few years ago, and we live that slogan with a passion! It does not always matter that we win, but we must enjoy participating, no matter the outcome.

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue.