Irish sailing has lost one of its best friends and greatest mentors with the passing at the weekend of Theo Rye. Maritime historian, technical expert, yacht designer and repository of much arcane lore in all areas of old and classic boats and their rigs, Theo was generous with his time, enthusiasm and expertise, however large or small, or significant or obscure, the project might be.
He was very easy to get along with, one of those people with whom you might resume a conversation as though you’d been with him only the previous day, yet a year and more might actually have elapsed. As for the range of his interests and expertise, it is simply summed up by saying that he was the key adviser in the recent total restoration in Southampton of the magnificent 135ft Fife 23 Metre Cambria, and at the same time he put equal commitment into designing the special CityOne training dinghies for his close friend Gary MacMahon of the Ilen Boatbuilding School in Limerick.
The outline drawings he created for an 80ft sail training schooner, which we featured here in Afloat.ie a couple of years ago, showed that had he so wished, he could have been a top rank yacht designer in his own right, with his own signature style. But his generosity of mind and breadth of interests was such that interest in advancing his own creative talent was inevitably subsumed into ensuring that the legacies of master designers like G L Watson, William Fife and Nathanael Herreshoff were properly preserved and accurately restored in many major international projects.
Among the craft in Ireland with whose restoration he was directly involved are Hal Sisk’s G L Watson-designed Peggy Bawn of 1894, Darryl Hughes 1937 Tyrrell ketch Maybird, and the Conor O’Brien ketch Ilen of 1927 in West Cork. Most recently, he has been consultant to the project to re-build the Dublin Bay 21 Naneen (1903) for Hal Sisk being undertaken by Steve Morris in Kilrush. And in his capacity as Technical Editor of the magazine Classic Boat, his latest contribution, in the current December 2016 edition, is a discussion of Conor O’Brien’s world-girdling 42ft ketch Saoirse, built in Baltimore in 1922, with Theo Rye’s thoughts being based on plans from Gary MacMahon’s archives, the lines having been taken directly off Saoirse’s hull by Uffa Fox in Cowes in 1927.
Although he lived deep in the heart of the south of England with his wife Sarah whose interest in horses complemented his own love of boats, Ireland was always rather special for Theo Rye. He had a distant ancestor actively involved in the Rising of 1798, and his parents – his father was a clergyman – were both graduates of Trinity College Dublin where they had met, while he himself had a strongly spiritual side.
But in his lifeview, he was a citizen of the world in the most positive way, and those fortunate enough to have known him, however slightly, have lost a wise friend who greatly improved every project with which he became involved. Thus many people were very directly affected and touched by the news in June of this year that he had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain cancer tumour, and his passing at the tragically early age of 47 leaves a deep void. Our heartfelt condolences go to Sarah and the family.
In America, Tom Nitsch has recently made this video in honour of Theo Rye, and it shows him (in beige cap and well-worn red oilskin trousers) tuning the rig on the classic International 8 Metre Invader, which went on to win the season’s championship at Oyster Bay on Long island Sound