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THE NORTH SAILS FORMULA FOR WINNING A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Three 2022 Champions Powered by North Sails at Swan One Design Worlds
It might take a moment to digest the results in the table. Three new North Sails World Champions, just one place short of a sweep for the nine podium positions and all achieved at one regatta, the Swan One Design Worlds in Valencia. It was even better than that though, as Paul Westlake pointed out. “The thing that’s not seen in the podium results is that the competitors were a long way off, you start looking at fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, they’re all North boats in quite a lot of the fleets,” said Westlake, who leads the North Sails Grand Prix team.
“I just think it’s a credit to everybody,” continued Westlake. “Rosa Jorda is the office manager at the North Sails loft in Valencia, she keeps this site running like clockwork, a lovely lady. I left one night at about eight o’clock mid-way through the regatta, and there she was, outside, flapping a spinnaker, trying to dry it for the guys so that when it got up onto the [loft] floor it didn’t saturate it. I thought, what commitment is that? It’s awesome. That’s the team spirit of North Sails.”
It was just one tiny moment from the World Championship, but for Westlake, it exemplified the commitment that the whole company gave to the regatta. To every regatta. “Andrea Marengo did an amazing job. That’s a small service facility with only three people there. They were there when I was leaving at night, and they were there in the morning when I came back. Talk about going beyond, Andrea and his small team just took it on.”
“The message of what’s behind the results is really important because anybody can make exaggerated statements about their sails being lighter, faster, stronger, more… whatever. But you’ve got to have the complete package, absolutely the complete package, to be as dominant as we are and to have that success at the Swans.” It was, by any standards, an extraordinary performance in a fleet where the competition gets more intense with every passing year.
“Nautor Swan have done a very good job, there are a lot of passionate owners, and a passionate organization,” said Westlake. “They ran regattas when a lot of the world couldn’t travel. And so it was clear that as soon as the world opened up, the Swan One Design Worlds was going to be a big event because there was that pent-up energy, and the drive from the owners to be able to get out there and perform on the racecourse.
“We didn’t take that lightly. It would’ve been too easy for us to sit back and say, ‘Well, we’ve got good market share. Steady as she goes. That would have been a big mistake for us. Instead we went into development mode, and we wanted to hit this Worlds after watching what was happening last season. The competition’s always there. We respect our competition, but we also saw opportunities.”
Opportunities that have been more fully realized in the results than even Westlake could have expected. “That level of domination… I would’ve banked half of that if you’d offered it to me before the regatta started… I just think it’s a credit to everybody. We’ve got the product, the people and the support. And you can put them in any order. I feel that we’re doing a good job at North Sails when any client wants to reorder them with his own priorities, and we can meet their expectations.”
We’ve talked about the service provided by Andrea Marengo and his team at the Valencia loft, but they were a long way from the only people on-site offering customer support. “Right across North Sails Grand Prix, we have a heap of good people who are just really passionate about what they do. I think we had eight people actively racing in the fleet, eight full-time employees of North Sails racing on a client’s boat at the event. Then we had the support side. Dave Lenz and Magnus Simon were there as dedicated fleet coaches for the event.
“Dave is the manager of the European design team. That’s a big job. But he, like me, likes to get out on a RIB and actually see what’s going on on the water and then likes to be able to kick around the dock in the morning, having coffee with people, and in the evening having a drink with people just to see what they’ve got to say.”
“Dave and Magnus Simon [North Sails Germany] were there for the whole event. In the morning they helped out a little bit with any weather briefing stuff, talked to people about what we saw the day before on the water, and then docked out with the boats. We provided a RIB, and as soon as the boats were sailing, they go through and they start taking photos.”
“They endeavor to get at least one sequence of photos for each of the boats that’s competing in each of the classes. We do as much as we can pre-start, and you’ll usually get at least 50% of all the boats there. Once a race starts, we’re allowed to go behind the start line and go the whole way across the back of the fleet. It’s the perfect time to get the [sail’s] setup because most boats start on starboard, and you can usually get a good cross section of the fleet.
“Then you can usually position yourself up at the top mark, get a few [spinnaker] sets and then some downwind photos… And then all those photos, at the end of the day, get sorted into fleets, and they get uploaded onto a shared drive that we make available to all the teams who have entered the event, regardless of whether they’ve got our sails or not.” It doesn’t end there; the North coaches are always available.
“What we find is as the days go on, you start having people coming up and saying, ‘Hey, Dave, can you keep an eye out for me? I’ve got a little bit of a problem, finding it really tough into the waves. Can you have a look at that? Because I’m struggling against another boat,’” explained Westlake. “This is pure fleet coaching. And we do it for everyone, and we’ll be doing it again in Copa del Rey in a couple of weeks’ time… Whatever your program, whether you’re dedicated to trying to win the Sydney Hobart, the Fastnet Race, the America’s Cup, an Olympic medal, the Swan Worlds, Cowes Week, your local yacht club championship, or any other event, North Sails has the full package.”
North Sails has the people, they have the support and, of course, they have the product. But Westlake was clear that it isn’t just about creating the technology and designing fast sails – which we will come to in a moment – the sails still have to get to the boats. “I’m sure that for that regatta, we would’ve delivered in excess of a hundred sails, probably more. It’s a credit to the production facilities, to be able to get the quality and the standard of the sails where they are for that level of dominance.”
It will come as no surprise that the sails that dominated the Swan One Design Worlds were the very latest thinking from North: Helix Structured Luff, a development in the 3Di technology. “The beauty of North Sails is we centralize all our technology with our North Design Suite of design tools. And the two keys there are Flow and Membrain, which are our CFD [computational fluid dynamics] and FEA [finite element analysis] tools,” said Westlake.
“We use these tools to pressure sails in the simulation software, and then we look at the flying shapes and loads, re-trim, re-pressure the sails, look at the shapes and loads, and we keep going around that constant loop. And so, the work that’s been done with 3Di and Helix is that we have fine-tuned this matrix to get a little bit more [wind] range out of the sails, because we’re constantly evolving. The design process in our company never sleeps. The designers never sleep. The materials scientists never sleep. We’re always looking for the next logical steps of refinement along the way.”
“The Swan fleets were the perfect boats for the Helix technology. The ClubSwan 50, ClubSwan 42 and the ClubSwan 36 all need all the power that you can give them in the light air, under eight to ten knots, especially if it’s kind of choppy.” And it was choppy in Valencia. “It was quite rough because there’d been a lot of northerly systems blowing in the weeks prior,” added Westlake.
“Then you need to have the ability to peel the power off once you get up the wind range, starting to hit 13 knots. The poor old light jib ends up getting pretty beaten up because you tend to hang onto that sail. So, you need greater range. The Helix light jib and the Helix medium jib need a lot of range to be able to cover between five knots and 18 knots. It’s a big ask.”
“We learned that with careful attention to the layout, the structure inside a 3Di sail, we can generate more flying shape range by using the Cunningham more aggressively. That doesn’t necessarily mean more highly loaded. It just means it’s now key to a headsail trimmer’s toolkit, when they are changing the shape of the jib to get it through the wind range.”
“And then you suddenly get the performance gains once you start getting outside the norm. Acceleration, deceleration, tacking, ducking, the dynamics of sailing, put waves in, put a gust in… You’re sailing along, all set up for ten knots with your light jib, and then all of a sudden on the right-hand side [of the racecourse], it’s kicked up to 12 knots. Well, now you need a totally different flying shape in 12 knots, compared to 10 knots. The good sailors all know that, and now we’re giving them the tools to be able to do something about that so much more easily; Helix Structured Luff has become a game changer.”
Product. People. Support. In any order that you want to prioritize them. And Westlake won’t be resting on their massive spoil of the laurels from the Swan One Design Worlds. “We challenge ourselves all the time to be able to kick it up again. There will be a new regatta again in a few weeks’ time, and the Worlds will be quickly forgotten. It’ll be our challenge to keep the runs on the board the whole way through the end of the year.” And the next year, and the one after that, and the one after that… just as the generations of North people have done since 1957.