Introducing Chris Tunstall, ILCA Chief Technical Officer

By Chris Tunstall

I thought I was approaching retirement when I was made aware that the ILCA Chief Technical Officer role was being advertised. After a 40-year career in the marine industry and five years in automotive, I joined ILCA in October 2022. 

First, to share a little bit about myself, I’m married to Beverley and have two grown-up children, Michelle and John. I also have a grandson named Marco, two cats named Bella and Guss, and a dog called Lady Grey. I’m part of my local church leadership and enjoy sailing, skiing, and road cycling.

In 1975 I moved from Aberdeen to Southampton to study at Southampton College of Technology. At that time, I was racing Fireballs but figured finding a reliable crew as a student would be difficult, so I purchased a Laser. My first outing was in an open regatta at the Royal Tay Yacht Club. It was blowing a force 6 wind over tide. I thought it would be easy in such a simple little boat. I capsized 12 times, came home buzzing, and named my boat “Sheer Enjoyment.” 

Having settled into student life, I joined Hamble River Sailing Club and trained over the winter. The following year, I qualified to be part of what was the British Laser Sailing Team.

My industrial placement was with Performance Sailcraft UK Ltd., and in 1978, I was employed as Technical Manager. My main focus was quality control and problem-solving. At that point, the company was building 132 Lasers per week in Southern Ireland and 56 per week in the UK. 

Economically it was a difficult time nationally, with strikes and three-day working weeks, and in 1983 the company went into receivership. I was made redundant and planned to move out of the area. 

Tim Coventry restarted the company as Performance Sailcraft Europe Ltd. and asked me if I would come back and help him develop the business through new product development. The company was now independent and free to grow. It was a challenging and exciting time. Under Tim’s leadership, the company launched an average of two boats a year, including Laser 2 Regatta, Laser Radial, Laser 4.7, Laser 16, Laser 13, Laser 2000, Laser 3000, Laser 4000, and Laser 5000 – to name a few. 

In 1996, we pioneered three-layer foam-sandwich rotational moulded sailing dinghies with the Pico and introduced five more models after that. Each one pushed the boundaries a little further, and Performance Sailcraft became the largest dinghy manufacturer in the world. My role was to project-manage the development of each new boat or catamaran from design to manufacture, working with the designers, spar makers, sailmakers, fitting producers, and manufacturers.

As early as 1980, the potential of Olympic status was being considered for the Laser class. To qualify, we needed a manufacturer behind the “Iron Curtain.” This led to my first outsourced manufacturing adventure with a factory in Gdansk, Poland. There was an uprising in the shipyards, and food was scarce, with long queues for bread and basic essentials. Two weeks into my trip, the Russian army had lined up on the borders, threatening to invade. 

Seven years later, I was back in Poland again, setting up Laser production. In 1993, I was tasked with harmonising Laser production worldwide and rewriting the construction manual. This took me to Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Chile, Brazil, and South Africa. Materials and processes were assessed and written into what is the basis of the current construction manual. Paul Milsom joined ILCA as a technical officer, and together we completed the manual. After several joint visits to all the builders, Laser manufacturing was harmonised globally, and Olympic status was granted.

In 2007, Performance Sailcraft Europe and Vanguard sailboats merged to create LaserPerformance. This transition changed the business model from being a licensed boat builder to a lifestyle brand, with much of the manufacturing process outsourced. 

Over the years, as a builder’s representative, I have worked with ILCA technical officers Paul Milsom, Adam French, and Clive Humpris as they audited our manufacturing and in the development of the class, with the introduction of the ILCA 6, ILCA 4, and ILCA 7 rigs, foils, and the modern control systems.

In 2016, I left LaserPerformance and joined Jaguar Land Rover as a lead specialist in Strategy Development. Later on, I shifted my focus to Technology Forums. After five years at Jaguar Land Rover, I made the decision to join ILCA as the Chief Technical Officer and manage the ILCA Technical team. 

The ILCA Technical team serves as the custodians of the ILCA one-design class. We work with the builders and suppliers to ensure they are manufacturing to the specifications and methods stipulated in the construction manual. 

Takao Otani of Performance Sailcraft Japan has summarised our objective in the acronym “OSEPODS,” which stands for off-the-shelf, equal-performance, one-design sailboat. The team achieves this through regular audits, problem-solving, manufacturing process improvement, and quality control. 

During audits, events, and regular communication we capture live data, as well as digital data, through the use of modern technology such as scanning moulds and hulls. This data  enables the team to make informed decisions, reduce tolerances, and improve quality. Analysed data has already driven process improvements, including the implementation of  a standardised bonding/glue jig.

We currently have nine builders, with a tenth in the approval process. We also work with suppliers of spars, sails, foils, and fittings. Our ongoing work involves partnering with builders and suppliers for the upcoming Olympics in 2024. It has been an exciting few months. I am fortunate to work with an amazing team of six talented engineers. Clive Humphris is still engaged as a consultant/engineer and continues to be a highly valued member of the team. We are making significant progress and firmly believe the class is in good hands for the future.