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North Sails LOFT NEWS
BEN KELLY JOINS THE NORTH SAILS BRISBANE TEAM
The sailmaking veteran focuses on multihulls for Australasia
Ben Kelly has been working with racing and cruising multihull clients for twenty-four years, but he grew up sailing skiffs and dinghies. “People always say, “Oh, you’re a cat sailor,” he explains.”And I say, “No, I’m not. I’m a sailor.” I still love to jump on all sorts of boats. But it’s a little bit of an awakening, when skiffies and other sailors realize, “they’re not all weird over here.”
After so many years in the sailmaking business, it’s easy to forget that Ben originally planned to study architecture. Instead he apprenticed at the sail loft owned by friend and mentor Colin Metcher—because “life just looked too much fun as a sailmaker,” he says with a laugh. “On my school holidays, I worked to try to pay back all the sails we dreamed up for the various boats I was sailing. I was pretty handy at making my own sails, and I loved it. I just got sucked into the creative side, learning the art of building strong but light sails.”
In 2004, Ben and his wife bought the business; after a few years, they changed the name to Sailtech Sails Australia, to better capture an increasingly national customer base. Around the same time, Ben was invited to sail on Trilogy, a Grainger 31. “Here in Australia, we have a huge range of multihulls that sail to a rating rule called OMR, a bit like IRC. The fleets include a wide range of boats and a mix between inshore and offshore racing, a bit of an Aussie thing.”
Over the next ten years, Ben helped Trilogy win seven national multihull championships and also won national titles aboard Voodoo Spirit and Mad Max. Along the way, he developed a specialty in multihull sails. “I really enjoyed going fast and working with a small team to get results,” he explains. “It just became the type of sailing I mostly do.”
By 2012, Ben had realized that future sailmaking success would require connection with a global brand, so he sold the loft to Quantum Sails. In 2015, he took over management of the Australasia area as director of sail design; a year later, he won first prize in an internal company competition for customer service, which made it possible to take his family on a four week trip to Europe.
Meanwhile, competing with North Sails was becoming increasingly difficult. “It was very hard for us to sell against a team of highly skilled people that offered state of the art products with ever-increasing durability,” Ben explains. “North is working hard on low-stretch and durable options that perfectly suit my clients. I started to see the potential of being part of that, which would help me help my customers.”
Ben’s departure will shut down the sail loft where he’s worked since childhood, so the move is definitely bittersweet. “I’ve been involved with this business, this actual business, since I was ten,” he explains. “Colin’s kids were my friends, and we all sailed together. But North has great systems and great people, and they are acknowledging what I specialize in and the success I’ve had. I can be more successful with that platform.”
He’s also excited about the rapid growth of multihull sailing. “In Australia, you can’t ignore the Mum and Dad sailors. I feel like I’m in a great position to broaden the footprint I work with and generate a path for multihull sailors to get really good racing and cruising sails, and work with really good service teams.”
Ben and his wife have a nine year old son who, like his parents, loves being outdoors. “Mountain biking, sailing – he comes out with me on customers’ boats.” Proudly, Ben adds, “He’s been spoiled. He’s done 20 knots lots of times.”
Ben’s next regatta will be Airlie Beach Race Week, sailing on one of the four Extreme 40s based in Brisbane. “It’s a lot like sailing skiffs with training wheels,” he says. “All four are my customers, and all four will meet for the first time in the Whitsundays. And then we’re going to Hamilton Island Race Week. That is going to be a serious amount of fun.”
Whether off at a regatta or in his new office at the North Sails Brisbane loft, Ben says his focus will remain on customer service: “Each and every one of those guys is incredibly important to me.” He’s also excited to share the multihull experience. “There’s some really good sailing to be had, and in recent years there has been more sailors experiencing what multis have to offer.” Last but not least, he admits that he’d love to be dropped onto Francis Gabart’s big tri Macif for a day. “Sailing fast, it’s so addictive!”