North Sails LOFT NEWS
DICK PARKER: NORTH SAILS DESIGNER AND SALESMAN
We checked in with him to learn about his new role supporting the local Grand Prix market
Dick grew up in Hobart and lived in Sydney for 10 years, so “I’m pretty familiar with it.” His English wife and two daughters, though, have had to adjust to “the spiders and snakes and all that.” But now that they’ve been there six months, they’re making friends and settling in and “it’s starting to be pretty good.”
Dick first joined North Sails Sydney in 1987 and worked there for ten years, until European sailing adventures called. But he returned to the southern hemisphere during the off-season; “I’ve had a lot of summers and not that many winters, actually.” In 2001 he joined the OneWorld America’s Cup challenge, and then worked with Emirates Team New Zealand from 2005-2007. He rejoined North Sails full-time in 2007, based out of the UK, and started a family. Last year, they decided it was the right time to return to Sydney full-time.
In addition to carrying on his design work, Dick is helping the local sales team service the Grand Prix market. “They do a lot of sailing in Australia, especially Sydney. You can find yourself a boat race every day of the week pretty much.” Most of his customers are racing offshore, and he says their year-round focus is the Sydney Hobart Race. “You talk to customers and it’s all about the buildup for the Hobart, what we need to do, what sails and crew. It really is a big deal down here.”
His primary sailing is on TP52s. “They’re just such awesome boats. I love sailing on them. They’re just the right size, not too many people which is quite nice. I really enjoy sailing them so I try to do as much of that as I can.” This winter, he’ll race the Fastnet and Middle Sea races in addition to local events and Hamilton Island Race Week.
When talking with customers, Dick says he keeps his explanations technical. “I just try and work on the facts. Clients don’t necessarily need to be talked in to anything, if you can explain well enough exactly what’s required. I tend to look at things more pragmatically, and at the whole project. A customer may say, ‘look, you know I’ve only got a certain amount to spend on sails.’ So it’s a matter of trying to work out how best to spend that money. Whatever the sum might be.”
Steering clients toward what will provide the biggest benefit to their program is a fringe benefit of more personalised selling, he says. “A customer might say, ‘I need to buy a new J2 jib.’ And you might sit down and have a heartfelt conversation and work out that what he actually needs is a new J3 or a new spinnaker. Looking at the whole sailing program rather than just selling an individual sail is the way I like to work.”
On the design side, Dick is excited about Helix and its potential across a wide range of boats and markets. He’s also continuing to help build the library of sail shapes for Desman, part of the proprietary North Design Suite. “All the designers around the world now use that bit of software,” he says. “It takes a lot of the grunt work out of design. North Sails has built so many sails now that the actual shape is actually the easy part. Getting the sizing right, the geometry right, is the most challenging – and the most enjoyable.”
Since he first started with North Sails in 1987, Dick says the biggest change is the company’s global unity. “It feels like a big multi-national company being run by some guys who know how to run a big company, as opposed to a small bunch of franchises being run by sailors. So, it’s certainly a different beast that’s for sure.” The software and products are always improving too, he adds. “3DL, then 3Di – we certainly changed the industry.”
One thing that hasn’t changed? He still loves getting out on the floor. “I get quite involved with re-cuts, trying to get a bit more life out of an old tired sail, which is a big thing in Australia. They tend to run their sails for a lot longer than the Europeans, trying to get the most out of their product. They’ll hang on to a sail for four or five years and keep re-cutting and improving it, so we do a lot more re-cutting of sails down here than Europe. I really enjoy that side of it. It’s sort of a black art; get the stick out and fair it up and see how it looks.”
Currently Dick’s work week is divided between global design work, Australian design work, and helping out with various projects. “I can design from pretty much anywhere really, because the company is so global.” Once he wraps up a few projects, he plans to do more to support the local sales staff. “They have so many customers that it’s hard to service them all.”
When he’s not working, Dick goes sailing on an NS14, which he describes as a small Taser. “Rotating ring, no spinnaker. I’m going to start sailing that with my girls as well.” His two daughters have been learning to sail at the Avalon Sailing Club and will move into Manly Juniors next season. He also enjoys taking the family out on a small motorboat, “swimming and hanging out with the kids.”
Looking ahead, Dick’s excited about the future. “Certainly 3Di has a massive advantage over the competition. Delamination of string sails is just such a common problem when you get into the warmer climates, Asia and Australia, the sails just don’t last. 3Di gives great value for customers; ultimately you just get so much more life out a 3Di sail verses a string sail, that is a real mantra down here for sure.”
When asked about any regatta wins he was particularly proud of, Dick has to stop and think. “With this line of work, all your goals seem to be your customer’s goals, not necessarily yours. I haven’t won Hobart, haven’t won Fastnet, haven’t won the Middle Sea Race. So there’s a lot to do, still.”