Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone had a wonderful day with friends and family. Let us distract you from football, leftovers, and shopping to update you on the latest from Maine.
In this November Dispatches:
Sail Tech: Re-engineering the Past for Future Performance
Bickering about sails used to be easy. Dacron sails were old-fashioned, slow, and cheap. Kevlar or carbon fiber sails were new-fangled, fast, and pricey. But such simple textile logic is now wearing thin as the sailmaking business shapes an unexpected course.
Talk of recession aside, sailmakers are posting brisk results: Major lofts, like Doyle Sails and North Sails, are reporting sold-out capacity well into 2020. Such backorders are driving brisk demand for the textiles used in sails. These textile makers, like Dimension-Polyant and Bainbridge International, are expected to grow at 3 to 4 percent annually through 2025, according to GYR Research. “I have been doing this for 30 years,” says Chris Howes, vice president of sales at Doyle Sails, located in Salem, Massachusetts. “And this past October was my best ever.”
What’s intriguing is analysts expect traditional polyester fabrics, like Dacron, to hold on to the lion’s share of that growing sail market. And not merely because Dacron is inexpensive. Demand for Dacron is also due to unexpected innovations in how traditional materials are used in sails.
To start, classic and Spirit-of-Tradition regattas, like the Camden Classics Cup or the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta, often mandate Dacron foils. Such rules have pushed competitive race programs to invest in sophisticated sail-engineering programs aimed at Dacron. Smaller one-design fleets also drive innovation. The 22-foot International Etchells or 16-foot Marblehead Town Class often feature a wide range of newly-designed Dacron sails.
Those close to such retro-racing efforts say new ideas culled from classic racing are part of a larger flow of innovation into the middle market. “The Bristol 35 sail we make today is much better than the one we made 10 years ago,” says Mike Toppa, Super Yacht Expert for North Sails, who also manages the design efforts for classic race boats.
“The tools we use to model and predict sails for Grand Prix race boats are applied to classic yacht sails and can help us make better sails for any type of boat.”
What Makes Old New Again
Toppa and Howes are part of a wave of 21st century sailmakers who act as a kind of advanced technology integrator, but for sail design and construction. Today’s sailmakers — the good ones, anyway — routinely model once-impenetrable data points like mast bend, forestay sag, and rig flex. Modern sail designers can also account for the three-dimensional attachment points where sails meet rigs. They can measure complex mainsail girth or a trailing edge on a headsail.
Such raw survey data can now flow easily into design software that outputs carefully shaped panels and laminates. These sail prototypes can then be cross-referenced against tens of thousands of digitally archived rig and sail designs that makers have been storing since the 1990s. Finally, these finished sail patterns can be exactingly constructed by cutting and shaping machinery that optimizes carefully specified fibers, like high-end Kevlar and carbon or more middle-market Dacron.
What’s been unexpected are the recent gains found in robustly engineered sails made from mid-market Dacron. “I don’t want to call anybody out, but once we got our Dacron sails and wooden spars dialed in, we were as fast or faster than some modern boats with brand new technology, ” said Dennis Gunderson, who managed and raced a highly competitive classic yacht program and is now a project manager at Lyman-Morse.
A New Kind of Sail Purchase
Low-cost, higher performance sails are changing the purchase logic for boat owners. Sailmakers are adamant that sails made from less expensive polyesters will be heavier and flex more than higher-cost Aramids or carbon fibers. Modern, high-modulus sails almost always outperform traditional polyesters.
But for owners of older boats, who have a wider definition of performance to include durability and ease of use, a properly engineered Dacron sail can offer real value. Of many examples, Chris Howes, of Doyle Sails described a new overlapping Dacron genoa he developed for a Lyman-Morse Seguin 44, originally built in 1984. The sail cost 50 percent less than higher-tech Aramid sail. Yet, the performance gain was substantial.
“If an owner gives us any kind of time to measure and design a sail, old-school Dacron can be awfully close to carbon or Aramid sail on an older boat,” Howes says. “It’s just that the Dacron sail weighs more, and it won’t hold its shape as long. But the cost can be so much less, that it makes sense.”
Stunning & Seaworthy: Hood 57 Construction Update
Express cruisers are the crossover, sport-utility vehicles of boats. They must be fast enough to impress. Seaworthy enough to explore. Flexible enough from which to swim, dive, or fish. But function is only half the form, when it comes to these SUVs of the seas: Comfort and aesthetics are essential features in a well-designed express cruiser. Today we expect pleasant surroundings for a day, night, and absolutely for a week, if an adventure requires that kind of time.
So, building an all-custom express cruiser is all about the method and sequence of the execution of myriad details that such cross-platform vessels require. As an example, let’s look at the express cruiser currently under construction at Lyman-Morse, the Hood 57. And, in particular, its twin Volvo Penta IPS 1350 HP propulsion system that drives the vessel at up to 40 knots. The system relies on twin propulsion pods that must be carefully installed into mounting rings that sit flush with the aft running surfaces of the hull. Such mounting rings come pre-made; but they can’t be simply bolted into place. Instead, each must be precisely aligned with carefully incised holes that account for the various thicknesses of the hull laminate.
“There are subtle variations in how propulsion units can be mounted that can affect the smoothness of the hull and the overall performance,” said Lance Buchanan, a project manager at Lyman-Morse who is supervising the build of the Hood 57. “The mounting required a fine-tuning process between us, the boat’s designers, and the engine maker to get the drive pods properly angled.”