Sailmaking ain’t what it used to be, especially out in the Nevada desert
Some years ago I visited the Bavaria factory and was amused at the thought of a powerhouse boatbuilder turning out its products smack bang in the middle of rural Germany, surrounded by fields of cows and crops. This past spring I visited two factory buildings in deepest Nevada that house the most sophisticated sailmaking operation I’ve ever seen. Obviously, building boats or sails by the water isn’t a big deal anymore.
Followers of high-level racing have no doubt noticed the increasing number of dark gray sails among the fleets over the last few years. These are 3Di sails, built at the North Sails factory—you could not call it a loft—in Minden, Nevada. What makes 3Di sails different is their construction—other sailmakers also use high-tech fibers oriented along the load paths in a sail, but the fibers are sandwiched between layers of Mylar film. North’s patented 3Di process does away with the film, instead using a clever system in which fibers are split into their elemental filaments, which are then laid up side by side into tapes, which in turn are made into sail panels by a robot and then thermo-formed into a complete sail on a three-dimensional mold.
The result, according to Minden plant manager Gautier Sergent, is a sail that is light, extremely durable and that holds its shape for a long time. The experience of the Volvo 65 one-designs and the big French Ultime multihulls would bear these claims out. With no film involved, there is nothing to delaminate. They can be torn, although with difficulty, but are easy to repair, and they take well to roller furling, unlike some film sails.
In short, the technology sounds ideal for cruisers, were it not for the expense involved in anything built with exotic fibers. The latest news from North, and the reason for my visit to Minden, is that the 3Di process is now being used to build Dacron sails. The 3Di Nordac sails will be built in exactly the same way as the sails for Grand Prix boats, but use polyester fibers and adhesives instead of expensive carbon and aramid fibers.
I took a walk around the factory buildings with Gautier to check out the process. I have to say I was impressed. Here’s how the sails are built…
To activate English subtitles in the above video, click the button “CC After this week’s dramatic rescue, French President Emmanuel Macron called Jean Le Cam (Yes We Cam!) and Kevin Escoffier (PRB) to wish them well and congratulate them on their effort. Escoffier was slammed by ...read more
Around 1345 UTC on Monday afternoon, Vendee Globe competitor Kevin Escoffier (PRB) activated his EPIRB 840 miles southeast of The Cape of Good Hope, in the heart of the Southern Ocean amid some of the most violent water anywhere on Earth. Shortly after, he managed to get a ...read more
Never chartered? No worries. A vacation under sail can be the most memorable time of your life. That said, it also pays to be prepared by doing some reading, building your skills and listening to what the experts say. First and foremost, not all charter grounds are created ...read more
Last week Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) led the fleet across the equator. As one of the class' top sailors who's been on the Vendeé Podium twice, it seemed possible that Thomson was going to grab an early lead and hold on to it all the way around the world. But early on Saturday, he ...read more
It’s been a rocky road of late for the charter industry, especially here in the Western Hemisphere. First came hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean followed by Dorian in the Bahamas. There has also, of course, been the coronavirus, which burst into global prominence ...read more
In recent months, US Sailing, like many organizations, has been taking a closer look at diversity to ensure it’s doing the best job it can of introducing people from all backgrounds and ethnicities to the sport. As part of this effort, this past summer it organized an online ...read more
On Tuesday, November 24, US Sailing’s Leadership Forum will present the latest panel discussion in their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion series. This event will focus on adaptive sailing and provide practical recommendations for organizations looking to expand their adaptive ...read more
Historic anniversaries have always held a special fascination for me, especially if they mark a significant nautical achievement. In 1992, on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ would-be voyage to India, I organized a transatlantic rally that followed the historic route of the ...read more