The death of Steve Jobs last year was one of the most discussed topics on the internet last year. Anyone who has an Apple product - a Mac, an iPod, and iPad or an iPhone, to name a few - tends to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of the technology. It’s technology that for many people has been life-changing, and I guess that’s why there was such an outpouring of collective grief when Jobs died aged just 56.  

The death, on 12 May, of Frank Bethwaite reminded me of Jobs’s passing. Not that there was as much reason to mourn Frank’s passing as Jobs’ - in the sense that Frank lived into his 80s and died in peace, where the Apple founder’s life was cut short by a long and painful battle with pancreatic cancer.  

It was great to see Frank’s life so celebrated by sailors sharing their thoughts on the internet. As with Jobs’ fans, most never met Frank, but many of our lives have been touched by him. I only met him once, about 10 years ago in Sydney when his son Julian introduced me. It was one of those moments that, although it may not have lasted long, was a moment to savour. A feeling that you’d met someone who had made such an impact on your own life. I’m not Catholic, I’m not religious, but the closest thing I have to a religion is an obsession with sailing fast boats. So for me, meeting Frank was like meeting the Pope.  

Even if you don’t sail a Bethwaite-designed boat, it’s not hard to appreciate the beauty of the designs drawn by Frank, and more recently by Julian. The Bethwaites took 18ft skiff design to a new place, where the hull became so easily driven that the speed hump between displacement and planing modes was almost imperceptible. I remember the first time I went sailing in a 49er, on a virtual flat calm at Datchet Water, and this white, beautiful shape from outer space was sitting there, slightly menacing, but very enticing too. With my Laser 5000 partner, Steve Kyffin, we pushed the skiff on to the water, and the sensation of effortless speed - even in next to no wind - was immediate. It was a jaw-dropping moment. It seemed like we were the only boat actually moving, the 49er gliding along without the slightest hesitation.  

I was hooked from that day onwards, sailing the 49er for the best part of seven years, and getting to know Julian Bethwaite along the way. The influence of the Bethwaites is everywhere. You could see it in most of the skiffs that came to compete at the women’s Olympic skiff trials in Spain recently. And the Musto Skiff which I sail now is - in hull shape terms - more or less a singlehanded 49er.  

Steve Jobs believed that technology should be beautiful to use and beautiful to the eye. Similarly, Bethwaite boats combine form and function into one beautiful package. Of course, even an Apple Mac will crash from time to time, and the 49er is known to do the same, known in the trade as the dreaded ‘pitchpole’. But the occasional pitchpole is a price well worth paying for all the other thrills of high-speed skiff sailing.  

Even some of Frank’s older designs, notably the Tasar designed in 1975, look bang up to date. A lightweight, hiking-out doublehander with just a main and jib that operates on about the same handicap as a Fireball - I’ve never understood why the Tasar hasn’t ever really caught on this country. It’s an awesomely efficient design and, I’m told, a lovely boat to sail. Frank Bethwaite really moved the game along, and for all the joy that he has brought me and so many others, I say thank you.  

Black and White  

Aged just 19, Asenathi Jim has qualified to represent South Africa at the Olympics this summer. More remarkable than his young age is the colour of his skin. I am told that Asenathi is set to become only the second black African ever to compete at the Olympics in the sport of sailing. He is also the first person from Nelson Mandela's family tribe - the Xhosa - to compete in the sailing discipline, and only the third Xhosa to compete in the Olympics. Asenathi did not come from a cultural or family background that showed any relation to the sport. He is a product of the very successful Race Ahead project put together by former Fireball sailor and Olympic representative in the Flying Dutchman in 1992, Dave Hudson. And it’s none other than Dave’s son, Roger, who will be crewing at the front of the South African 470 exactly 20 years after his dad.  

Having raced against the Race Ahead teams in the SB3 (or now known as the SB20) fleet, it’s been impressive to see how effective the Hudsons’ efforts have been. Taking young black kids with no prior exposure to sailing and turning them into world class sportsmen, that’s no mean feat. Following on from the mixed colour America’s Cup campaign of 2007, Shosholoza, it’s great to now see a young black African make it into the Olympic Games. The very best of luck to Asenathi and Roger in Weymouth this summer.