North Sails NEWS

April 9, 2019


Looking Towards A New Challenge

Design expert Mike Marshall joined North Sails in 2013 because he wanted to combine sailing with working in aerodynamics. “The two mesh well in designing sails,” he says. Working with the North Design Suite and learning from JB Braun was a great opportunity, and “the job stays fresh because each challenge is new and different.” After a few years commuting from his home base in Rhode Island to JB’s office in Marblehead, MA, he’s now based out of the Portsmouth loft, which has expanded to include a small design team.

Mike also coaches youth sailors, which has helped his latest design project: refining the North Sails Optimist inventory. “The coaching experience allows me to relate to the sailors to get quality feedback.” Combined with his sail design expertise, he can then interpret that feedback based on what he’s seen on the water.

© Charmaine Gittens / North Sails Leading Edge Optimist Clinic

Opti sail design is a unique challenge, he continues. “The designs are based on weight ranges and we get calls from people who say, ‘Well, what if my kid ate a big breakfast sandwich?’ Really, the important thing is that the sail works and that the sailor can use the same shape sail for a significant amount of time.”

When he looked at existing designs, Mike realized that sprit tension is the biggest driver of sail shape. “Most coaches just tell their sailors, ‘make the wrinkles go away,’ but there’s a lot more to it than that.” The new design is radial in the clew, which makes it possible to adjust sprit tension to a wide range of conditions. “I think of it as a halyard; more tension closes the upper leech. Closing the leech when you are hiking and not overpowered—that’s really powerful. Yes, you can get rid of the wrinkle by pulling more tension, but removing the wrinkle is not really what you’re trying to achieve.”

“The job stays fresh because each challenge is new and different.”

Mike’s own sailing currently focuses on world-level one-design racing, mostly in small keelboats. He recently won the J/22 Midwinters, and in 2016 won the J/22 World Championship. He’s also done well in the J/24, J/70, and VX-One. Making keelboats perform definitely helps his design work, Mike says. “In both design and racing, the details are really important, but I try not to get too caught up in the small stuff and focus on doing the big things well.”

As for hobbies, Mike laughs at that question. “Sailing?” he quips, before adding that “kiteboarding and diving are definitely hobbies, not that I get to do them that much these days.”

© Charmaine Gittens / North Sails Leading Edge Optimist Clinic
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