Sailmaking State of the Art
Neil Pryde Sailmaker's Bob Pattison on the current state of the sailmaking industry
In a few words one can sum up the sailmaking industry by realizing that technology is never in steady state; rather you can rest assured it will always be moving forward. To this end, we have seen many changes in fabrics, design software and manufacturing techniques.
The most interesting trend of the last 3 years has been the reintroduction of Carbon into sailcloth. Previous uses led to short lived, fragile sails. This has completely been reversed with the introduction of Dimension/Polyants carbon sailcloth line. Their manufacturing technique now provides the sailmaker with a fabric that has better flex life than Aramid fabrics. In addition, the U.V. properties of carbon are much, much better than Aramid. The result is a fabric that last long both in use cycle and in U.V. exposure. This has been a tremendous breakthrough and has led to a widespread use of carbon in the higher end racing fleets. We have been extremely pleased with it in large boat racing applications and in some cases performance cruising sails! This use for a performance cruising application was accomplished by having a conventional Carbon race fabric receive an outer ‘skin’ of taffeta on either side of the laminate. The result is a fabric that has the above listed properties AND improved resistance to chafe, tear and U.V. that this outer skin provides. The photo of a custom Beneteau 51 at right illustrates this type of sail.
In larger cruising yachts both mono-hull and multi-hull we at Neil Pryde Sails use a lot of Spectra/Dyneema sails. Though these yarns have become more and more expensive, it is very hard to beat the flat out strength and durability of the Spectra/Dyneema. This type of product is time tested and provides us with the ability to make large roached mainsails for large multi-hulls that will stand up to the rigors of load and use found on today’s large multi-hulls. For instance, we just completed a new mainsail for a custom Wormwood 55 that is about 1200sqft, complete with 4 sets of reefs and full battens. The boat easily sails at 18knots of boat speed and has little trouble getting into the 20′s. The loads on this type of sail and boat are enormous and really require a fabric that has incredible strength and durability. The owner is setting sail for the south Pacific and the durability is a key criteria in this type of application.
And lastly, I should also mention that the durability, cost effectiveness, ease of manufacturing and ease of use will ensure that woven fabrics will continue to be the stalwart of the industry and sailors in a wide variety of applications. We build a tremendous number of Dacron sails everyday and these sails can be easily repaired, recut, refitted…all in away that exotic sails cannot. These are important attributes should you be a blue water sailor who finds oneself needing sail service in a far off port with only basic sail service facilities.
Like the fabrics, you can rest assured that the design and implementation of software in sailmaking is moving forward. This industry like many others, long ago embraced the digital age. We have been using sailmaking software since 1980 and have stayed pace with the refinements that have been fueled by new objectives in sailmaking and also by computing power.
The industry has spawned a variety of new manufacturing techniques. The hottest buzz now is the ‘string sail’ concept which is distant and improved relative to the old Genesis® product. This technology is currently available industry wide and is being licensed at a rapid pace. One such system is the D4® system that was just recently purchased by Dimension/Polyant Sailcloth. They will now be able to take a sailmakers design and manufacture the fabric directly into a sail. This ‘triangle’ then will be shipped to the loft for finishing. This is a dramatic improvement for sailmakers as it eliminates much cloth wastage that will certainly have a positive effect on sail prices. We expect to see a downward trend in the cost of high end racing sails as these systems come online. This will be industry-wide, as all the players in this market will be forced to reckon with new market forces.
The merit of the ‘string’ type sails versus the current panel technology is an argument that continues to be carried out where ever sailors meet. We see benefits to both technologies and think it important to weigh the balances of each when choosing a particular sail for a customer.
Consider for a moment that there are over 500 different types of sailcloth available at anyone time and you can quickly appreciate that it is imperative that we consider all aspects of a customers needs in order to truly ‘service’ our clients well and provide them with exactly the right product.
Most of the big lofts are now building some or all of there product offshore. This of course is to offset much of the overhead costs associated with having many big lofts in marine locations. This trend by others in the industry of course is a confirmation of the business philosophy that Neil Pryde set forth when he started the business in 1970…one that stressed centralized manufacturing to reap the economies of scale and complete control of the manufacturing process.