Mike Butterfield; barrister, sailor and innovator

Mike ButterfieldMike Butterfield, who died peacefully at home on 13 May, aged 89, was a multihull pioneer, innovator and adventurer and his exploits gave inspiration to many to join the multihull fraternity. His funeral was on 8 June.

Mike was enthusiastic about everything he did and seemed to have endless energy and find time for all he enjoyed.

Sailing, and multihull sailing in particular, was fortunate that this was something that he was truly passionate about throughout his life. A prolific owner of multihulls he never seemed to tire of innovation and frequently upgraded in his quest for performance and adventure.

Mike was involved in the early days of offshore multihull development in the Solent, sailing with designer Michael Henderson on ‘Golden Miller’ a 21ft catamaran with ballast keels.

This led Mike Butterfield to commission in 1961 a larger development built by Souter’s of Cowes, the 30ft catamaran ‘Misty Miller’ which he competed in 1964 Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race.

A keel broke off in mid-Atlantic which Mike said made life inconvenient. Huge holes appeared in the bottom of the hull where the keel bolts had torn out. For the rest of the trip, 30 minutes pumping was need every 2 hours. When asked what happened if he overslept: “No problem, I was woken by the water rising up and invading my bunk”.

Water stopped the batteries working he had no radio communication and stores were ruined. Mike struggled on to Newport, Rhode Island to finish in 11th place in a time of 53 days, the second multihull after David Lewis’ 40ft ‘Rehu Moana’.

After repairs, ‘Misty Miller’ was sailed back to the UK experiencing more keel problems.  Mike entered ‘Misty Miller’ now without keels, in the inaugural BP Crystal Trophy 300 mile multihull race in 1967, 1968 and 1969.  Also competing in the Island Sailing Club Round the Isle of Wight Race in 1967, 1968 and 1969.

By 1968 Mike also owned ‘Sounion’ a 10 ton sloop and was a member of Royal Ocean Racing Club, Royal Lymington YC,  Ocean Cruising Club, Cambridge University CC, Crouch YC, Island SC and Bar YC.

Multihull Offshore Cruising and Racing Association (MOCRA) was formed in April 1969 and at the first AGM on 16 January 1970, Mike was re-appointed as  Honorary Secretary.

He competed in many Crystal Trophy races, Fastnet races, his last in 2015, and always as many MOCRA events as he could fit around work and family commitments.

For 1970, Mike had a new catamaran ‘Apache Sundancer’, one of the first of the 40ft Apache class built by Sailcraft in Brightlingsea to designs by Rod MacAlpine-Downie.

First official race was the Crystal Trophy, 2nd boat to finish out of 12 finishers.

This was followed by the two-handed RWYC Round Britain and Ireland Race crewed by Peter Ellison. At the Lerwick stopover ‘Apache Sundancer’ was in second place behind the 71ft monohull ‘Ocean Spirit’.   On the last leg of the race from Lowestoft to Plymouth the fleet were beating along the south coast in a gale. ‘Apache Sundancer’ was in close contention with the 36ft ‘Snow Goose’ off Selsey Bill and capsized. Mike and Peter were rescued from the liferaft by a Belgian coaster. Sadly the upturned catamaran was deemed a danger to shipping and rammed by the Trinity House vessel ‘Winston Churchill’ in an attempt to sink it.

The following year Mike crewed for Patrick Boyd on the 30ft Iroquois ‘Pyewacket of Wight’ in the Crystal Trophy race.

Mike’s next catamaran ‘Advocat’ was built by Mike and friends in timber over a number of years during the late ‘70’s.  ‘Advocat’ was entered for the 1978 Round Britain Race, but was not ready. Advocat’s first race was the 1981 ISC Round the Isle of Wight Race.

‘Advocat’ started the 1982 Round Britain Race where Mike was crewed by Bill Howell who had also competed in the 1964 OSTAR. A disappointing 81st place at the first stop over at Crosshaven saw retirement from the race.

In the mid-1980s ‘Advocat’ was based in the Mediterranean, eventually succumbing to woodworm.

By 1985-86 Mike was crewing on micromultihulls including the Richard Wood’s designed Gwahir ‘Rush Rush’ and Strider  ‘Scorpion’ with Mark Orr.

Mike joined Russell Madden to sail one of the first Dragonfly 25 trimarans in the 1990 ISC Round Wight Race. Tacking against the tide on the final beat past Ryde Sands, Mike assured Russell that there was enough depth of water –“I have been sailing here for 40 years  – man and boy, there is plenty of water…” crash, the daggerboard broke off after hitting the bottom. ‘Daisy a Day Lady’ struggled the final miles upwind against the tide amongst the round the island monohull fleet.

As a replacement for ‘Advocat’ Mike purchased ‘Super Rose’ another Apache catamaran, initially kept in the Mediterranean.

1993 saw Mike racing with Mick Welch on the Dragonfly 800 trimaran ‘Brighton Marina’s Dragonfly’ in the Royal Southampton YC Winter Series.

For the 1994 season Mike acquired a Dragonfly 800 ‘Demoiselle’ and launched into a busy season: Brighton Easter Regatta, Plymouth-Falmouth-Fowey, May Solent Regatta and competed in the Scottish Islands Peaks Race with son John, Craig Thornton and runners Peter and Jean Cairn. The race starts in Oban, sails to Mull, Jura and Arran where the two runners in the crew run up the tallest peaks. ‘Demoiselle’ finished 23 out of 51 starters.

By 1995 Mike had acquired a 33ft Dragonfly 1000 trimaran ‘Dragonflyer’, again competing in the Scottish Island Peaks Race. 1996 Easter Regatta at Brighton, May saw Mike crewed by Mike Tebbutt for the RWYC Plymouth-Falmouth-Fowey race with ‘Dragonflyer’ overall winner from six multihulls.

1997 saw ‘Dragonflyer’ racing at the first Multimanche, based out of Dinard YC, near St Malo. This was followed by the first RORC Fastnet Race which permitted Multihull entries for over 30 years. 

1998 saw Apache ‘Super Rose’ back in UK waters and Mike entered in the 1998 RWYC Two Handed Round Britain Race with crew Guy Gibbins. ‘Super Rose’ finished 27th out of 41 entries.

2000 saw Mike team-up with Harvey Bowden and commission ‘Dazzler’ a 50ft custom design Dazcat catamaran from Darren Newton and Simon Baker’s Multimarine at Millbrook.

Launched on 1 July, ’Dazzler’ competed in the RORC Cowes-St-Malo on 7 July and went on to compete in the RORC  non-stop Criterion Round Britain Race in August with a full crew. Starting from Cowes, heading west, near the finish, ‘Dazzler’ was in a close battle from the Thames Estuary with Alex Thomson on the Open 50 ‘Sailthatdream’, Dazzler finishing first by around 1 hour 40 minutes.

Mike had been a member of Ocean Cruising Club since the 1960s and enthusiastically supported the organisation of rallies to the Azores. In 2001 ‘Dazzler’ capsized off the Azores.

For 2002 Mike needed a new boat for the RWYC Two-handed Round Britain and a new 40ft Dazcat ‘Dazzle’ was completed just in time. ‘Dazzle’ finished 11th out of 18 finishers with Mike handing over to Mark Orr with Guy Gibbins halfway through the race.  This was Mike’s last Round Britain Race.

2003 Fastnet Dazzle 2nd out of 4 on corrected time and in Fastnet 2005 2nd out of 7 on corrected time.

For 2006 Mike again entered  ‘Dazzle’ for the Round Britain Race with Guy Gibbins, but did not start.

n 2011 40ft ‘Dazzle’ was replaced by a 46ft Dazcat ‘Dazzla’, competing in the RORC Fastnet Races in 2011, 2013 and 2015.

Apache ‘Super Rose’ was deployed to the Caribbean and Mike competed in the 2012 Caribbean 600 Race.

Around 2015/2016 ‘Dazzla’ was deployed to Caribbean competing in the 2017 and 2019 RORC Caribbean Races.

‘Dazzla’ was back in the UK for another RORC Cowes-Dinard Race in 2019 with Peter Ellison as crew which was to be their last race.

Mike was instrumental in the development of the Multihull Offshore Cruising and Racing Association (MOCRA) and in the 1980s and 1990s was an ever-present committee member. He was a past Commodore and eventually it’s President. Many past committee members will recall attending meetings in his London Barrister Chambers, moving legal papers, to find a seat and wondering just how many cases does a successful Barrister need!

Mike’s generosity of spirit extended to all he met, whether gathering ideas, encouraging people to participate, catching up on sailing scuttlebutt; you would see that glint in his eye and some cunning plan was developing in his able brain! Mike shared his enjoyment of sailing with many and was always encouraging people to join him on his adventures afloat.

He will be missed as one of the pioneers in the development of fast cruising multihulls and for inspiring many to take up the sport.

We wish him many further adventures where the sea will be flat and the wind on the beam!