North Sails NEWS

November 16, 2017

North Sails Group selects Vannes for Global R&D Hub

Boat Industry interviews North Sails head of R&D, Gautier Sergent on his ambitions for the department

2018 will see North Sails found a center for Research and Development out of Vannes (France). Experienced designer and department head, Gautier Sergent, explains to BoatIndustry their objectives and philosophy, which have the potential to go beyond sails.

You are going to take charge of the North Sails R&D center in Vannes. Could you tell us how you got here?

Gautier Sergent: After completing my studies in engineering in France, I joined North Sails in New Zealand in 1999 for a final internship. At the dawn of the America’s Cup in 2000, the teams were very busy out there and so I was able to help, which got my foot in the door. I was hired by the sail loft whilst also undertaking a Masters at Auckland University in the Yacht Research Unit at the same time. I then worked on the development of the software for CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics), and then I became a designer.

In 2010, I returned to France to work on the Groupama project in the Volvo Ocean Race. I spent time with members of the crew who also each had their own teams, such as Thomas Coville. We built up some great relationships and I stayed in France to work on a number of IMOCA and Ultime projects.

In 2014, I became head of the 3D factories for the North Sails group in Minden (USA) and Sri Lanka. At the end of three years, which we had agreed would be the minimum required for such a post, we determined with management that my profile and expectations corresponded to the new project to develop R&D within the group. From October 1st 2017, I will therefore take charge of the new R&D center.

How has R&D at North Sails worked up until now and what were the reasons behind creating this R&D center?

GS: Of course R&D existed before this initiative. It is even part of the DNA of North Sails, but up until now it was spread within all the different entities of the group. It was never the priority of one person in charge, which could slow down the process. Moreover, it was never considered for all the markets and the information was scattered.

From now on, I will be in charge of structuring and coordinating the R&D efforts for North Sails around the world. Thanks to the R&D center, we will be able to streamline and ensure the research efforts are as efficient as possible. As a first step, I want to establish an inventory and back catalogue of North Sails R&D. From there, we will be able to establish a 5 year plan of attack and forecast the budgetary and personnel requirements.  The objective in the long term will be to hire 3-4 people.

What are the main areas of R&D that you are exploring?

GS: Even if the subjects are refined after the inventory, several research topics are already envisaged. There will obviously be development for CFD software. We will also work to simplify and integrate as much as possible, or even completely remove the some finishing aspects of sails, such as straps.  We are going to study the integration of the mast and sail with Southern Spars which, together with North Sails, is part of the North Technology Group. Electronics and the gathering of data is an area we’d like to streamline in order to better understand the dynamic behavior of sails, and apply this knowledge to physical test protocols and laboratory simulation for sails.

We will also focus on product development and continue to expand 3Di to cover all types of sailing. With this year’s introduction of 3Di NORDAC, we have made a huge step by using a new material: Dacron. With this result we will work to see the possibilities of marrying up polyester fibers with Aramid, Dyneema or Carbon, to draw out the best characteristics from each one.

Why did North Sails choose France to install its R&D center?

GS: The French sailing market is one of the least cautious. The projects that one can find between Lorient, Port-La-Forêt and la Trinité are exciting and the French are not afraid to invest in technology.

On the other hand, with the tax credit, it is possible to reduce personnel costs to the level of other countries. Among the hires at the R&D center, there will certainly be someone in charge of partnership management with universities, companies and grants.

This interview was originally published by

© Amory Ross/ North Sails
© Ian Roman / North Sails
© Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race