• +44 (0) 125 4773 277
  • yachts@1uk.com

    Yachting & Superyacht News

    News stories & articles about the Yachting scene in the Mediterranean
    The Pursuit Of Better Sails

    The Pursuit Of Better Sails

    “If I started a sailmaking company, would you buy a sail from me?”


    That’s what Lowell North asked his friend John Shoemaker, one afternoon in 1957, while seated at the bar of San Diego Yacht Club. John replied, “Yes, I would,” which surprised Lowell. Sure, they were friends, but neither man could predict that Lowell’s new company would eventually grow into the largest sailmaking business in the world. Or that along the way, Lowell would become a world champion sailor and two-time Olympic medalist.

    During a recent interview at his house in Point Loma, Lowell told us John’s answer “gave me the encouragement to start North Sails.” He admitted that before starting the company, he hadn’t built many sails. He said it took him years to figure out how to make a fast shape, but Lowell quickly became known for his unique approach in an industry where he had little experience. And 60 years later, a scientific approach to material and product testing, as well as analytics-based sail design and performance development, continues to be the backbone of North Sails.


    “The realization that I didn’t know anything about sail shape was really a big help,” Lowell explained. “I was then able to test a great variety of shapes, some of which tested faster. This objectivity helped us to make a lot of progress in sail shape.”



    After that drink with John Shoemaker, Lowell dove in. It all started in a rented 20 x 80 foot space at B Street Pier in downtown San Diego. He quit his job as an aerospace engineer at Narmco, and went to work on the floor building Snipe and Star sails. The early days were shaped by a tight group building a modest business. Lowell’s first wife Kay did the bookkeeping. Their first hire was a seamstress, Daisy. Next was Paul Merrill, who had worked for Herb Sinnhoffer sailmakers; he bridged the delicate gap between employee and teacher. Other early staff included friends like Earl Elms and Tom Nute, and later Pete Bennett from Murphy and Nye in Chicago.

    “Pete brought a lot of really good production techniques with him, and established ways of cutting and sewing sails more accurately and efficiently,” Lowell said. “We started making Snipe sails, which was the first class we were really successful in. Meanwhile, Paul’s plan was to retire a few years from then and sail around the world.”


    “Did he do it?” we asked.


    “I haven’t seen Paul Merrill in years. I suspect he did.”


    Around 1962, Lowell and production manager John Rumsey began empirically testing sailcloth stretch and fatigue. They read the numbers and confirmed the market standard was far too low. They could do better.


    “The sails on the market weren’t good enough. I started re-cutting my Star sails from the prominent West Coast sailmaker at the time [Kenny Watts].”


    “We began testing cloth samples by attaching them to the antenna of my car. We called it flutter testing, it seemed to match the real life degradation of the material and gave us a pretty good inkling of how the sail cloth would degrade in actual use. We later simulated the car antenna flutter testing by building an in-house machine which spun the attached samples on a rotating wheel or arm.”

    This was the beginning of a long history in material development. The “30/30 benchmark” became known among cloth specialists: 30 minutes at 30 miles per hour. Looking past woven polyester, Lowell and textile converter Noah Lamport created the first laminated sailcloth, used on the 12 Meter Enterprise in 1977. In 1980, launching NorLamTM (a polyester/Mylar laminated sailcloth) complemented the company’s introduction of radial panel sail layouts.


    Lowell’s legacy continued with patented three-dimensional membranes (1992), followed by the first warp-oriented polyester sailcloth, North Sails Radian™ (2008). North Sails 3Di composite membranes went to market in 2011, and they are continually improved by materials research out of the Minden loft. The capacity of North Sails 3Di technology continues to expand as designers and product engineers learn to adapt the product to new sailing markets. Ask North Sails designers today, and they’ll tell you it’s all about the strength and shape of the membrane – which goes right back to the same qualities Lowell was testing for.



    On the water, Lowell is known as one of those guys who just “got it.” Renowned for his results in the Star Class, he medaled in 12 World Championships over 25 years and won gold at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. He also won a bronze medal in the Dragon at the 1964 Tokyo Games. It was during this time that North Sails was first getting off the ground, and Lowell met many people who would become key players in its expansion.


    “Peter [Barrett] and I met in Japan at the 1964 Olympics. I think Eckart Wagner was there too. Charlie Rogers and Dick Deaver crewed for me in Japan. They were all instrumental in the early success of North Sails.”


    Peter Barrett founded the second North Sails loft (Seal Beach, CA) before moving home to Pewaukee, WI to start North Sails Midwest, the first loft outside California. Eckart Wagner broke ground in Germany in 1966, followed by Andre Nellis with North Sails Belgium. Later, North Sails Italia came online with the arrival of Robin Morgan.


    “At some point I went to a school for executives. They taught me if you put together a group of men that were fairly hungry for something, and you worked to provide them with what they wanted, they would help create a successful organization. The term Tiger seem to fit the personality of our loft managers at the time; they were hungry.”


    At this point in the interview, Lowell’s wife Bea chimed in. “We were in Portofino, in a little medieval castle in the old port, to accept a “Life of Sailing” award for Lowell. The Italian TV guy asked me, “Do you know who you’re with? Do you really know who you’re with?” and I said, “Well, who am I with?” He said, “The man that revolutionized the world of sailing.”


    Lowell replied, “I think I brought together a great group of guys whose ideas and thoughts made for a very innovative company, and a profitable organization.”


    For 27 years, Lowell led North Sails to new heights by being a true pioneer. He crafted ways to test the strength of raw materials, introduced computer-driven cloth-cutting machines, and performed the first computerized structural analysis of upwind sails. Along the way, he built a trusted team from the ground up and found personal success with the products he offered. By devising his own approach, he established a new industry standard and left his company with an ideology that still survives today.


    As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of North Sails, Lowell reflected on how the sport has changed by weighing in on a much-debated topic between traditional and modern sailors. “Sailing has changed very little, in that wind and water are the same. Racing and winning still rely more on the skill of the skipper then on the equipment. 60 years from now? Not much difference: bigger, faster and more aerodynamic boats, bigger sails and probably more foils.”


    We asked, “What makes a master sailmaker?” and “What is the greatest strength of North Sails?” Lowell had the same answer to both questions: “The ability to build fast sails.”

    We asked his favorite place to sail and he replied truthfully, “In the ocean off Point Loma in San Diego.”


    “The worst place?” we asked.


    “I stay away from places like that.”


    An Interview with Lowell North



    News Mallorca
    All News Articles are very kindly provided courtesy of The Islander.net and Simon Relph.

    Varnish 101

    Varnish 101
    Varnish 101

    The Railstar source control system was not developed by an intern at one of the large marine conglomerates, nor does it reek of high-tech. This was derived over time and many refits in an on-going quest for a pragmatic approach to achieving a greater millage of product delivered via brush to intended yacht structure...

    Read The Full Article

    Marina Spotlgiht - Ibiza

    Marina Spotlgiht - Ibiza

    Marina Spotlight - ibiza

    Marina Spotlight - ibiza

    For better or for worse, depending on which side of the fence you prefer to sit, the Balearic island of Ibiza has completely transformed over the past few years.

    Left drained, depleted and relatively unknown at the close of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, it gradually gained its place on the tourism radar and earned favour with film stars escaping prying eyes, alongside bohemian hippy types enchanted by the rolling countryside, pine forests and deserted white coves.

    Read The Full Article

    Marina Spotlight - Grand Harbour Marina, Malta

    Marina Spotlight - Grand Harbour Marina, Malta
    Marina Spotlight - Grand Harbour Marina, Malta

    Dropped into the Mediterranean, around 90km south of Sicily, Malta is one of the smallest and most-densely populated countries on the planet – in fact, it features in the top ten. When I say ‘Malta’, I actually mean the Maltese archipelago of Malta, Gozo and Comino which between them cover 316 square kilometres and share a dainty population of around 423,000. By way of comparison, for those with a Balearic bent, Mediterranean bedfellow Mallorca covers more than ten times the area (3,640 square kilometres) yet barely twice the population (860,000) – Malta is indeed a fun-size powerhouse.

    Read the Full Article

    Ship Shape

    Ship Shape

    Ship Shape

    Staying fit before I started living on a boat was a matter of going to the gym. However, this is not generally possible when living aboard. I have had to adapt my fitness plan to what is practical in, on and around the boat.


    Seagoing life can often be harsh and challenging. This, coupled with long hours of work during times of heightened tempo, creates an environment in which the crew will be subject to increased levels of tiredness and stress. I believe, and have found, that maintaining good fitness enables me to conduct tasks professionally when under such conditions.


    Long periods of healing over at 40 degrees, rain showers and big seas. No space. No privacy. The idea of maintaining fitness at sea was always a daunting challenge. But looking back, I am surprised at what I have achieved in such a small and and often unstable space.


    Finding the motivation to work out in such conditions can be a test, so it is necessary to get creative! If the wind and sea state becomes too high, then a yoga session will always be more sensible and convenient – staying closer to the deck and incorporating the healing of the boat into the stretches. However, should the conditions become too severe, then I wouldn’t hesitate staying safe and missing a workout.


    A workout mid Atlantic is a pretty amazing experience. Being set up on the aft deck or bow of a small sailing yacht, with no visible land in any direction, was very therapeutic.


    After a long distance passage, the crew arrives and collapses from exhaustion, caused by the incremental effect of a lack of sleep and long watches. I underestimated how hard your body muscles have to work, whilst trying to maintain balance on board a continuously rolling sailing yacht; they even have to work when you are asleep to keep you in your bunk!

    My TRX strap has been an ideal piece of equipment for me as a sailor. If you don’t want to spend the money on one, then find a length of one quarter inch surgical plastic tubing, with handles and a piece of webbing that has a grommet to attach the band to something on the boat – it is just as good! I have used this for a wide variety of arm and back exercises by anchoring the centre point to something on the boat or by standing on the tubing. You can also adapt the lead from scuba diving belts you may have on board to make hand weights.


    You can use your boat as a gym: I can do dips and hip circles in our companionway and have used fenders as a makeshift exercise ball. I have also used a variety of exercise programs that I follow on my phone.


    When I don’t feel like exercising on the boat, and when the opportunity arises, I try to take long walks or go running to explore my latest destination – it was one of the main reasons why I started working on yachts; to travel and see the places I sail to. When at anchor, I often kayak to shore early in the morning, with my trainers, socks and a towel in a dry bag. I drag the kayak up the beach and rid the sand from my feet with a towel, before putting on my trainers and finding the best place to watch the sunrise. Being prepared the night before has enabled me to slip away quickly in the early morning and be back before the guests are awake.


    As a chef, I often spend long hours on my feet working in a small galley. This isn’t particularly good for me, so it is important that I keep stretching and moving when I can. If I need a pan from the bottom locker, then I squat down to get it. Getting creative with my everyday movements helps me to challenge my muscles and keep them active whilst I work.


    I have always been a keen long distant runner. I find it to be a fantastic way to explore new destinations: Running along the waterfront in Mallorca, or up the hill to the castle, Bosc de Believer. There you can watch the sunrise stretch over the beautiful architecture of the city and the marinas. Then take a pit stop at ‘Ziva To Go’ in Santa Catalina for a smoothie, juice or homemade cinnamon granola with almond milk on the route back to the boat yard. Sometimes I rent a bike from one of the shops on Calle de Joan and cycle east along the cycle pathway towards El Arenal. I also love to stop off in Fibonacci for a coffee, or take away wrap, and continue towards the small rocky beaches – a perfect place to sit and eat lunch.


    Buying good boots and decent socks has set me up ready to go hiking. Venturing up Mallorca’s mountains, to the famous lamb restaurant, Es Verger Alaro. Setting up camp in the forests between Valdemossa and Deia, where I can journey up the valley to a point where you can view the whole of the island stretching from North to South.


    I have heard crew say that, during charter they find it difficult to slip off the boat for a run or swim, or find an opportunity to fit a workout in on the aft deck. It can be particularly difficult if the only space on deck is above a guest cabin (you don’t want to be jumping around completing a set of burpees immediately above sleeping guests!). I try to set myself a standard. I approached the captain from day one and explained how important it is for me to maintain my fitness. With the right approach, the guests and crew have become used to my antics and I am no longer embarrassed to be covered in sweat, jumping around on the aft deck whilst someone is on watch.

    Since the Mediterranean season I have really started to enjoy my swimming! There is nothing more satisfying than jumping in the ocean after a long day spent hidden away in the depths of the boat.. Swimming has become a regular and enjoyable part of my daily routine, particularly when we are set at anchor.


    During charter, my typical morning starts at six o’clock with a quick jump off the boat. I loved this as it gives me a morning kick-start, often needed after a late night working. If I’m lucky, we will be at anchor in a secluded, beautiful bay where the water is clean and crystal clear. I find it always satisfying to break the surface of flat, undisturbed water that flickers tinges of orange and pinks as the sun comes up. Swimming in tropical waters can be an incredible experience. The first signs of light in the morning can set off a mesmerising display of fish jumping as they hunt for their first meal of the day, you may see stingrays gliding or turtles breaking the surface of the crystal blue water to take a look at today’s sunrise.


    I find the trick is to fit your routine around the routine of the boat. Assuming the crew or guests wouldn’t be up until later, I would do a deal with the Captain to cook dippy eggs for breakfast if he drops the swimming ladder when he hoisted the ensign at 8’o’clock. Perfect! This gives me two hours where I can swim to the nearest beach, stretch, walk or just sit and enjoy being off the boat and away from the galley.

    There are plenty of places to swim, hike and run in Antigua. However there are only so many times you can walk the Goats Trail in English Harbour. In the past, I’ve hired a car and driven to the south coast – just up from Cades Bay, by the famous Antiguan Black pineapple plantations, the World’s sweetest variety of pineapple, and walked up Mount Obama through the Caribbean jungle. Its a steep climb, I followed the rocky trail through soaring thick bamboo, millions of spiders webs and then tackled lemongrass fields. After working up a sweat, I drove straight to the nearest beach to cool off in the sea!


    I am learning to adapt to my environment and try to make the most of all the places and opportunities that arise as I travel the seas – opportunities that could so easily be missed when you have your head down working in the marine industry.