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Production Profile: Milford, CT, USA
The North Sails loft in Milford, CT is one of two major production sites in the United States. Milford has deep roots in the company’s history and covers a diverse range of skills, often taking on niche projects that require increased attention and extra working hours.
Milford’s early success can be attributed to their support of sailors competing at the highest level. Like Vannes supports skippers in the Vendée Globe, and Auckland every Kiwi Cup challenge, production in Milford began in the 1980s in support of American-based Cup teams.
When North Sails moved its headquarters from San Diego to Milford in 2001, the sail loft expanded to a multi-faceted hub, encompassing everything from sail production and service to large-scale production of North Cloth (North’s in-house sailcloth division). It also included a parts warehouse, worldwide shipping department and corporate office complex.
North Sails is now a global organization with seven manufacturing hubs spread around the world. While many of these lofts have a specialty, Milford’s wide range of capabilities is what sets it apart.
“We are one of the few North Sails lofts that still do a little bit of everything,” said Steve Gruver, who manages the floor, as well as service and one design distribution for North America. “We do not have 3D molding capabilities, but pretty much can take on anything else; finishing molded sails of all sizes, as well as producing a fair amount from scratch.”
Steve’s production team is versatile. Manufacturing one design sails requires error-free repetition, careful attention to detail, and keen organization skills. On the main floor, the team is often presented with large, complex jobs that require flexibility, problem solving, and a well-rehearsed bank of skills (including physical strength). Milford is always up for the challenge of an oddball request, which often turns into a success story.
“We are most proud of the special projects,” Steve explained. “The bigger jobs require a lot of planning and deliberate work, like right now we have a mainsail in progress for a Hoek 52 meter sloop that has a 54.5m luff and 21m foot. I’m up to my eyes in Spectra Carbon!”
In 2016, the team surpassed all expectations when they constructed a 17,222 square meter spinnaker in 4.5 days for superyacht Seahawk. Today, a framed thank-you portrait of the sail hangs proudly in the loft. Steve makes note:
“It’s important to celebrate the team’s hard work and their positivity when faced with challenging projects and timelines. “
Veteran sailmakers are supported by a few apprentices. The core group emigrated to America 20 years ago and, due to their work ethic and dedication to the company, they have become expert sailmakers as well as friends.
“Regina, Margaret and Basha are part of the Polish community in Milford and came to us as young mothers ready to re-enter the workforce,” said Steve. “Regina was the first to start as a sewing machine operator and soon the word spread. Today she does all of our pre-fabrication work. Basha does impeccable finishing, assembly, and seaming work. Margaret runs a lot of the big projects on the main floor.”
When the 3D facility in Minden built a finishing floor, the company asked Margaret to relocate for a few years to work alongside the new staff. She was both a source of knowledge to the young sailmakers and a representative of the Milford loft’s experience.
Looking ahead, Steve acknowledges that the industry is changing.
“Clearly we are moving more and more toward 3D sail production, but I think there will always be a place for traditional paneled sails. I predict the bigger sails will keep getting bigger as long as technology allows it.”
His management priorities remain the same. “First and foremost is quality, and of course we have to deliver on time. I also remember to respect the staff and appreciate that they have lives outside of work, and we cannot achieve the quality we need without an excellent staff.”