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North Sails NEWS

November 17, 2017

NORTH SAILS DOUBLES DOWN ON R&D

At North Sails, product development and technological innovation have been core functions for 60 years. As we look toward 2018, the company will further solidify its research and development roots by establishing a formal R&D hub at the loft in Vannes, France. Head-up by French designer, Gautier Sergent, the R&D center will organize the activities and energy that have historically been widespread throughout North Sails.

Most of the significant breakthroughs in sailmaking, from 3D molded sail manufacturing through to today’s 3Di composite foil structures, have been achieved by merging sophisticated computer modeling with creative mechanical engineering and bold ideas hatched on the water. With the Vannes R&D center, North Sails takes a proactive approach to bringing these three pillars of progress together.

Tools of the Trade

Fluid-Structure Interaction, or “FSI” in engineer-speak, is the practice of analyzing the relationship between a structure and its fluid environment, such as a hull passing through water or a sail through the wind. North’s development of bespoke software began in 1977 with the digitalization of 2D curves on the world’s first computers. Over the years it evolved to include a family of modules, notably MemBrain™ and Flow™ in 1987, which couple to apply wind pressure to a sail’s surface, calculate the load forces created and the resulting deformed shapes. Today, North Sails Design Suite™ (NDS) is the most powerful and diverse sail design tool in the industry with 14 modules delivering unprecedented flexibility to sail design and rig/hull analysis. By interfacing with Open Foam software, NDS offers a complete FSI and the ability for North Sails designers to virtually test a boat and sails in an infinite variety of conditions before the boat is even built.

Even Better in 3D

If designers use software to draw a perfect shape, it’s the engineer’s job to build it in real life. North Design Suite is fully integrated with North’s automated 3D manufacturing, providing the designer and the engineer complementary tools to achieve results. Starting with raw materials, the North Sails R&D team is able to design and manufacture a sample completely from scratch within a controlled manufacturing process. This opportunity for in-house development has fueled the patent of new manufacturing technologies and breakthrough products. The 1992 introduction of North Sails 3DL marked the first sails to be built on a three-dimensional mold according to a design load path. North Sails 3Di followed in 2010 to mark the first composite sail ever brought to market. Also built on a 3D mold, North 3Di has set a new standard for shape and structural durability, with clients sailing upwards of 5,000 hours on the same set of sails, while breaking the toughest records on the ocean.

Dreams with Discipline

Our founder, Lowell North, pioneered his own approach to sailmaking by applying a scientific method to the pursuit of his vision. Remaining at the forefront of development is possibly the clearest example of how Lowell’s core values have enabled North Sails to prosper well beyond his own tenure.  No idea is rejected for being too difficult. All development is carried out with the discipline of scientific method.

It takes confidence to dream, and expertise to make dreams reality. By anchoring North Sails R&D in Vannes, the team joins a community that has consistently pushed the boundaries of our sport harder, and earlier, than anywhere in the world. North’s track record of disrupting the industry with new technology matches the ambition of the world’s top sailors, many of them based in France.

As the new leader of North Sails R&D, Gautier Sergent brings a wealth of experience and fresh energy to the department. A French native, Gautier started out as an apprentice designing for a senior team at North Sails in New Zealand – another highly innovative sailing pole – after which he took on a sequence of major design projects for the company. Gautier is the Volvo Ocean Race sail designer of record for the VO65, including the 2014-15 and 2017-18 race inventories, and designs for a handful of high profile clients currently making history on the water; Thomas Coville, Francois Gabart, Jean-Pierre Dick to name a few. As Thomas broke the Transat Jacques Vabre course record this week, Francois broke his own standing 24hr solo distance record on Tuesday, November 14th. At the moment the young Francois is sailing well beyond the pace needed to surpass Thomas’ circumnavigation benchmark, on a boat that dates our wildest dreams by a year or two.

After breaking the singlehanded circumnavigation record last Christmas, Thomas Coville thanked North Sails.

“I want to thank North Sails for trusting in me. It’s easy to find people to trust you after the idea works, but North Sails was with me from the start. And that is why I am here today. With our project, with our dreams, you prove there is nothing and no one who can stop you if you have a dream.”

In the past three years, Gautier relocated to Minden, NV in the United States to manage the company’s 3Di production hub.  The 3D factories are special places where material science, mechanical engineering and machine build are all handled completely in-house. Three years of working in close proximity with North’s inventive staff has given Gautier a solid foundation in our capabilities, the potential of our materials and the R&D process that has proven successful.  Along with his background in sail design, this experience combines well with a personal passion for cultivating ideas and leading a team to pursue the impossible.

Images © Amory Ross, Thierry Martinez