Peter Milne – designer of the International Fireball dinghy

Peter Milne, who died in 2008 aged 73, was one of Britain’s most versatile designers of small boats. Milne was born in Stockport, Cheshire, on September 20 1934, the son of an engineer. It was near Chichester that he learned to sail and was influenced his father Cecil’s interest in making things. His first boat, bought for him by his father, was a Snipe dinghy.

Milne spent his national service time in the Royal Navy, serving in submarines. He recalled stories of water-skiing in the Mediterranean behind a motor torpedo boat: perhaps his first involvement with high speed craft.

He started his development of the Fireball, one of his most successful designs, when working for Norris Brothers, a family run engineering company based in Haywards Heath, Sussex, and built the first boat in 1962. The boat was marketed through Norris Brothers and became very successful.

Norris Brothers had a contract with Donald Campbell and his cutting edge Bluebird K7 project, which also involved development of Bluebird Jetstar, a waterjet driven speedboat conceived by Campbell. Milne worked on the development of this boat, and was involved in its early trials.  Jetstar was never built in large numbers, partly because its launch coincided with Campbell’s death when Bluebird crashed.

To publicise the Fireball, Milne took his prototype to the Southend-on-Sea offices of Yachts & Yachting magazine.  The Editor asked him to write an article about it, leading to Milne’s joining the magazine full time.  He stayed for seven years, becoming editor himself from 1965.  His design career continued in tandem with his journalism.

Peter Milne designed more than 40 sailing boats and powered craft. More than 15,000 Fireballs have been built worldwide.  His GRP Skipper 12, 14 and 17 dinghies, produced  during the 1970s, were cheap to buy and easy for the beginner to sail. He also designed the Salty Pup and Salty Dog small cruising yacht.  After designing the Bullet, a junior version of the Fireball, Milne won the 1975 Duke of Edinburgh Design Prize.

In the early 1980s Milne returned to writing about boats, editing Classic Boat. He also spent several years as technical editor of Yachting World.