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Sail Design

 The Sailworks loft
 CAD design files are output to a single-ply flatbed cutting table
 Designer Bruce Peterson assembling a FLYER prototype sail
 FLYER prototype, awaiting luff panel attachment
 Joining the luff panel to a FLYER proto
 Mast sleeve attachment to a MINI landsail
 Batten pocket stitching
 More batten pocket stitching
 Finished FLYER prototype, ready for water testing.

Sailworks is based in the small town of Hood River, Oregon, along the windy corridors of the Columbia River Gorge in the Northwestern United States. A 4,600 sq. ft. facility houses our research and development (R+D) Loft and North American distribution. Here, all our designs are created and prototypes built of every size and model. Our staff is a crew of talented hardworking sailmakers and hard-core windsurfers, whose favorite job of all is the on-water testing. We’re windsurfers who love to be on the water and we’re dedicated to making the gear work better.

The Sailworks design ethos is rooted in a philosophy of incremental improvement to proven designs.  We’re a product-driven company that takes our customers’ windsurfing experience and satisfaction very seriously. We strive to keep the choices simple, but highly developed, to meet all your windsurfing passions.

Here’s a brief tour of our design and production process.

The genesis of the Sailworks designs comes from Bruce Peterson’s 35 years of sailmaking experience. Bruce is a meticulous record keeper and maintains a design database dating back to his original sail designs made in 1983. Each Sailworks sail design is based upon a successful set of proven geometric attributes. Since 1993 the design process has been digitally automated with CAD/CAM technology using a proprietary sail design application and an Autometrix cutting table.

We created our own sail design software linking the graphical precision of AutoCad® to the numerical precision of an Excel® spreadsheet. We track over 350 data points that accurately define the enitire geometry of a sail. Once a new design is ready to cut, the sail panels are “nested” to ensure optimum material efficiency. The cut-ready layout is then outputted to a flatbed vacuum table that first marks reference assembly points, then cuts each panel using a small carbide rotary blade. The sailcloth is held firmly in place with vacuum pressure during the cutting process.

The cut panels are then expertly joined using double-sided adhesive seam tape. This is the most important step of the sail assembly where the predetermined three-dimensional profile of the sail is created through the joining of the sail panels (called broadseaming). We use three different methods of broadseaming, depending upon the profile that is required and the location on the sail.

The small patch pieces are prepped and pre-assembled, ready for application to the sail body. Every patch and reinforcing piece is taped into place before stitching. The adhesive bonding of the panels and layers of sailcloth is an integral part of the strength and structure of the sail.

Sewing the seams on a large sail takes a skilled operator and a LOT of table space. We use purpose built tables that have forced air blowing up to help “float” the sails during the sewing operations.

Laying and sewing the batten pockets requires precision and patience. You know your sailmaker’s got it going on if they can keep the batten pocket stitching straight on a 12.5 sail!

Attaching the mast sleeve to the body of the sail is perhaps the most critical seam. This seam contains a large portion of the shaping elements of the sail and also interfaces with the mast for tension control. Again, everything is firmly stuck in place to ensure accurate assembly.

Next, the corner finishing and reinforcement details, such as tack pulleys, grab handles, snap tie buttons, abrasion strips and grommets to complete the assembly process.

Depending upon the size and type of the sail it takes between 18 and 30 man-hours to build a Sailworks prototype sail from start to finish. The finished sail is rigged and “table checked” for shaping and tension profile accuracy. The final step is the proud application of the Sailworks name and logo.

Next comes the best part of all. The newly finished prototype sails heads to the beach for its first session and a shake-down water test.

Often we make small adjustments or re-cuts to the prototype sails to refine their shape or tension balance. These changes are meticulously recorded and entered back into the design geometry for the next iteration of the design.

Advancement of the sail design comes from careful testing by professional sailors in controlled environments to isolate and define performance differences. Sometimes the development goals are subjective, for example the rider’s feel of the handling response. Other times the goals are very objective – does the sail point higher? Testing and monitoring the intuitive usability and function of our sails with recreational and novice sailors is also vital to our sail development. All of the performance feedback is consolidated and condensed to plot the future development.

While the process of sail development is continually advancing, the pace and scale of improvements has slowed as we refine the small details of each sail. In many cases the changes are individually imperceptible, but a collective set of many small improvements makes a superior sail design.

Once a year we finalize the design for each sail size and create master templates for mass production of the sail at our factory in China. Sailworks is in the unique position of operating its own sail factory where no other sail brands but Sailworks are made. This gives us complete control over every aspect of the sail production. The design process never really ends. Each year’s final designs that go into production are just points on a continuing curve of design evolution. The next year’s designs begin with feedback on the existing production sails. Mast and batten testing in the production sails, leads to re-cuts and seam adjustments, and then the whole process begins anew with fresh prototypes built to explore development changes.

Want to see more of the Sailworks loft?  Here's a steerable 360 degree panorama inside the loft taken in July 2008.

Sailworks Loft Panorama