How a sail
Behind the scenes on how a sail is built
At Incidence Sails, everything is designed, built, finished, and internally monitored in France. Nothing is outsourced.
Whether it’s for a production boat or a racing boat, each stage of the design and construction of a sail is "handmade" and monitored on the group’s premises.
A dozen different skills are put into the design of a sail, from a number of complementary professions, all of them creative and constantly evolving thanks to new software, modern materials and the ever increasing demands of master sail makers, as well as the sailors themselves.« Every team and each individual person takes responsibility; and there is an interaction between the teams, this is why it works well. »
1. Definition of the specifications
The sail-makers’ sales team is comprised of sailors from the racing and offshore worlds.
Through listening to the boat -owner, the racer, the traveller, or the person who sails for pleasure, they will use their all their expertise to understand what they want, and to offer them the most suitable sail for their needs and to suit their budget.
They will then accompany the project until the first sea trials, and through any subsequent adjustments.
The Incidence Group has three design offices in La Rochelle, Brest and in Périgny for Incidence Technology. The designers, all of whom are sailors and yachtsmen, design sails on specialist computer software.
They make studies, calculations, and virtual designs for the sails on-site, so they can design, work on and refine the cut and reinforcements, and define which materials to use, depending on the specifications provided to them.
Once all of these elements have been determined, they create a "sail form"; a roadmap of the various stages of sail construction that lists the specific materials needed, as well as the design of all panels, measurements, the clamps, the reinforcements, the accessories ... everything is included.
3. Supply of Fabric
One person per production site is in charge of the supply of fabrics. At the end of the production line, each batch of fabric is tested by the producer, who then provides a graph of the resistance of each batch.
This information will help optimize the use of these rolls of fabric: they will only be used for sails where the specification requires these technical features. If the resistance is not satisfactory, a batch can be refused.
For membranes, the Incidence Group production sites are supplied with D4 and DFi® by Incidence Technologies. These membranes are used to custom-make sails according to requirements.
From the "sail form" provided by the designers, the lengths are positioned on the fabric roll in a way that fully optimizes the used of the material.
The cutting machine is a quality, French-brand machine, with a maintenance service and with reactive troubleshooting. Each of Incidence’s production units produces 80 to 100 sails each month. The machine provides the "raw material" directly for 35 people, so it is critical that it doesn’t break down, and if it does, then, only for a short time…..
Each employee brings a different skill to assembling the sails. Some sail-makers specialize in the assembly of spinnakers. To do this, it is a veritable jigsaw puzzle with the materials. They scrupulously follow the plan provided by the designers, piece by piece. It could require anything from some hours to several days to put together a spinnaker, depending on the size and complexity of the design.
Others prefer to work on small sails, and in Brest, there is "Madame Figaro," while the most physically strenuous work (by men or women) is assembling the large sails.
Experience and concentration are a must for sail making. It is not possible to pin them, and even if the pre-assembly of spinnakers can be done with tape, it’s necessary to place the panels perfectly as and when the machine stitches them.
The work is varied and specific at the same time: with the one objective of creating a sail.
There is a strong team working on "the preparation." So, for each sail, it’s necessary to prepare something known as "a case".
It contains all the reinforcements, fittings, straps, tapes, daisies, and batten pockets necessary for a sail. For each boat, this could take anything from 2 hours to some days.
At the boatyard workshops, a template file is prepared and validated, following a careful system. With requests for specific custom-designs and for racing boats, the preparation team, in close dialogue with the research department, researches, innovates, tests, refines ... to achieve the optimal custom piece.
The custom parts that are developed are stored in the "template file" to be used again when similar situations arise or as a basis for reflection to adapt to a new challenge.« The work is constantly evolving! It is a creative art, and it’s interesting. »
This is the part where they stitch together all of the accessories from "the case" (eyelets, straps, strips, housing, reinforcements...) for the sail. It takes about 6 hours for a series boat, and, for example, 20 hours for an IMOCA 60.
As in the other stages of sail construction, the team's roadmap is the ‘’template form’’ made by the designer, but creativity is also essential. This profession is constantly changing; there is a constant search for the best weight and reliability. For racing boats as well as for production boats, they need to be aware of new materials and develop new techniques to meet changing requirements.
Incidence is one of the few sail-makers in France to not have outsourced the finishes on its sails: a guarantee of quality, creativity and responsiveness.« The work is not monotonous and it's always a pleasure working on the sails. » « I hand stitch ... I check the finishes. »
8. Bonding and head ropes
For large sails and membrane sails, the panels are not stitched; they are bonded. There is no room for even the slightest mistake in this precision work, which will give the sail its final shape.
The bonding is carried out mostly on rigid materials, on large panels, which are difficult to handle.
The edges are then adjusted and the head ropes are attached.« If the sail does not bond well, it will not work! This work has a lot of responsibility and pressure. »
9. Anti-UV treatment
Some sails for racing boats must be treated against UV: again, this work is done within Incidence Sails.
10. Repairs and Alterations
A workshop for repairs and alterations supports all types of sails (classic yacht IMOCA 60, to monotypes, to sailing yachts...) and all types of work.
This support requires a good knowledge of fabrics and materials, the constraints of each type of boat and their respective needs. It also requires some knowledge of the different skills needed in sail-making to be able to grasp what work needs to be done overall.
For racing boats, specifically, any work on the finishes will be carried out in collaboration with the design office.
11. The workshop manager
A key figure on the " workshop floor, he is responsible for starting the production and managing the workshop schedule of the teams. He also controls all of the sails, step by step (stitching, assembly, finishing), and ensures that they meet specifications.
He must know about all aspects of the sail, and have an overall view of work, with an eye on every detail...« I have worked in all of the positions, starting with the finishes. I like everything about what I do! »
12. Bags and boat covers
The manufacture of standard sail bags is outsourced by Incidence (to rehabilitation workshops), but the sail bags for larger boats are made in-house, as well as the protective boat covers, called ‘ lazy-bags’.
In this case, as well, we need to be able to adapt, customize and invent ...« It's great because it always requires a lot of thought in advance, in dialogue with the design office. »