North Sails NEWS
CUSTOM SAILS: WHAT GOES INTO THEM?
Every Sail is Designed to Match Specific Customer Requirements
All North Sails are designed and built to match the specific customer requirements. According to our Director of Design and Engineering JB Braun, the result is that each sail made in a North loft is custom and personalized to your boat and sailing style.
“As much as we would like to compartmentalize them into some type of standard feature or standard item to try to reduce the costs… the reality is, all the sails we build are custom.”
Why does North put so much time into each and every sail? Because each and every customer and boat is slightly different. That’s why we’ve taken all the knowledge acquired from building high-end race inventories and let it trickle down to our cruising customers, because you, too, deserve a sail that perfectly fits both your boat and your sailing plans.
A custom sail design unique to each boat and sailor
The seamless collaboration between the sales and design teams at North is what makes such customization possible, JB explains. “The sales consultant works with the customer to define their goals and objectives. That information goes directly to the designer, who also takes into account the boat’s displacement, righting moment, sail area, type of sail, etc.”
How the customer interview influences the sail design
North Sail expert Mark Sadler says that initial discussion with the client is the most important step, because it helps him to establish exact requirements. “The next most important thing is being sure the design team has a clear understanding of the requirements and can feed back solutions.”
North Sail expert Hugues Destremau starts by asking what kind of sailing you intend to do. Your questions back to him might be more specific: “Why is this material better than this one? Which color will my sail be? How long is it going to last?” For help, he reaches out to the design team. The designer recommends a product tier and specific material, and clarifies any unique details.
You might even specify a desired “sweet spot” for a sail. JB gives an example; “I want the range of the sail to be 12 to 18 knots, and I want it to be the best at 14 knots.” All of that information is entered into the order.
Next, the designer creates a model of your boat on-screen and chooses the closest option from North’s extensive sail design library. Narrowing down to what’s best from a vast database of virtual shapes is why the sail consultant is so valuable, JB explains. “Their experience with the product, their experience as a sailor, their experience with the customer is a huge value to North.” The designer uses that additional input to decide on an exact design direction. “Once we’ve done that, a customized design pops up on screen with all the details in it. The result of all that work is a sail design uniquely set up for your boat and sailing style.”
Capturing the final details
In addition to basic dimensions and shape, the final design includes all the sail information the production team will need: the number and placement of battens and reefs, choices like bolt ropes or slides, and potential chafe locations (lifeline stanchions, pulpits, etc). The information gathering and design process are exactly the same whether you order a 3Di or paneled sail; it’s only once the sail starts the manufacturing process that the two types diverge. “If it’s a paneled sail”, says JB, “the panels will be laser cut and manufactured to the three-dimensional shape. If it’s a 3Di sail, the material is laid onto a three-dimensional mold and then vacuum-bagged and thermoformed into that customized shape, with all of the reinforcing details and additions that were ordered by the customer.”
Better Value with a North Custom Sail
“Selling each and every customer a custom sail provides the best value in the long run,” JB says. “And North customers get an unbelievable deal when they buy sails because we guarantee a perfect fit that will lead to a better experience on the water. We have always gone about the design, engineering, and manufacturing to make it the best that we possibly can, period—and then we figure out how to do it cost-effectively. Our sails are far from the normal, stereotypical design, because that’s not how we do things. It is a unique process—and a better value for the customer.”
How to spec your perfect sail
Choosing a custom sail inventory that’s right for you and your boat might seem overwhelming at first. Fortunately, boat size and your sailing plans will quickly narrow down what tier of materials will be the best match. From there, your sail consultant will work with you to fine tune the details, based on the intended use. “If someone is totally into durability, they’ll be steered toward our 3Di ENDURANCE line,” JB says. “If they’re totally into performance, 3Di RAW will be their best option. If they’re in the middle, we have products for that too.”
Another way sail consultants ensure a perfect match is by actually measuring your boat—even if it is already in the design library. “A customer might have added more rake or have a different furler. One person wants a higher clew, the other a lower one.”
And if you’ve had a sail built by North since 1990, JB can almost guarantee it’s in the database.
Future designs built to a perfect fit
Another process the North Design Suite makes possible is to design and build sails for boats that don’t exist yet. “I’m working on one project that won’t launch until 2023,” JB says. Designing sails for a not-yet-built boat makes it possible to optimize the entire aerodynamic package by including input from the customer, hull and mast designers, and project manager. “Everyone works together to satisfy the objectives of the client. It’s a circular process; you design a hull, mast, and sails—that’s one design cycle. Does that performance meet our objectives? Maybe the hull needs to be lighter. So you go through the design cycle again.”
JB is old enough to remember a less scientific approach to sail design. “Years ago, it was much more of a gut feel because you didn’t have as much information. We’re lucky to be able to run these simulations and come up with answers virtually. You don’t ever have all the answers, but you have many more pieces to the puzzle to make informed decisions, which leads to much better accuracy.”
Still in awe
After more than two decades with North Sails, JB still marvels at the level of detailed attention that goes into each and every sail order. “The whole thing is an unbelievable process when you think about it. I don’t think everybody realizes what’s going into these sails—it’s just amazing. There aren’t many industries that have the ability to customize a three-dimensional object!”
And it’s not just the details that impress him—it’s the final result.
“I just look at these sails and I’m always in wonder of them—it’s a fantastic product. Big boats, little boats—we have all different products that are engineered and designed to satisfy the goals and objectives of each and every client.”
Custom sails? Yes, every single one.