Since its beginnings in San Diego’s B Street Pier in 1957, North Sails has pioneered more technological advances than all other sailmakers combined: advances that have — time after time — defined the path forward in modern sailmaking. With the largest and most talented team of sailmakers and sail designers in the world, North has initiated virtually every major breakthrough in modern sail design. Going into its sixth decade, the company remains at the forefront of sail design and production technology.
In 1982, North was the first company to use three-dimensional computer modeling to design sails. Since then the company has developed several proprietary software programs that allow our designers to define and refine sails to a much higher degree of detail than the traditional “trial and error” method. (For more details about these programs, read “North Design Suite”.) While North’s design process may seem excessive for some applications, it insures maximum consistency and an optimum balance of shape, stretch, strength and weight.
Historically, downwind designs were much less quantitative than upwind designs because of the difficulty in accurately analyzing offwind sails. In 1995, North Sails teamed with the University of Auckland to develop a revolutionary “twisted flow” wind tunnel, which simulates differences in apparent wind speed and apparent wind angle between deck level and the upper part of the rig. Using this tool, North sail designers are able to observe and test model sails in their flying conditions from all angles.
By observing sails in their actual flying shape, we can measure how they behave when sheets are eased and the sail begins to twist. The models have the same controls that a real boat has: adjustable sheet tension, pole height and fore-and-aft position. This helps in optimizing designs, both in two-dimensional geometry (sail sizing) and three-dimensional shaping. Since conditions in the wind tunnel are always optimum (no windshifts and no waves), some extrapolation from the results is necessary, but test data created from relatively subtle shape changes has been invaluable in developing a new generation of North asymmetrics, symmetrics and Gennakers that perform better and are easier to use.
The results are impressive, with winners of the Vendée Globe, Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cups using North downwind sails. We’ve also helped owners earn countless race victories at the club racing level. And North’s G-Series cruising Gennakers help make downwind cruising more comfortable too.
North science redefined modern sailmaking in the 20th century, and we continue to make sailing more enjoyable and more affordable for 21st century sailors. Our goal today is the same as it was in that 1957 garage: to design and produce sails that are lighter, longer lasting and easier to use.
As the pioneer of modern computer assisted design (CAD) for sailmaking, North Sails developed the North Design Suite™ (NDS), the most powerful and diverse sail design tools in the industry. A family of 14 specialized software modules, NDS delivers unprecedented power and flexibility to sail design and rig/hull analysis. Each module can interface with any other module in the Suite, making it possible for North sail designers and engineers to virtually sail test a boat in an infinite variety of conditions before the boat is even built. NDS significantly expands a designer’s ability to compare different sail and rig combinations and accurately measure results. Equally important, NDS significantly reduces tuning and development time after launch.Learn More