Stuart Gaunt

GXSA Day Trip to North Sails, Fareham

By Stuart Gaunt

Timeline: 10th March 2017



Another pleasant day drip for the GXSA membership, ably organized by our Chairman, Bernie Smallman.

In this article I’m going to cover the Day Trip, and provide some interesting educational articles about Sail Trimming that we can all use to improve our technique, and make our sails last longer.

North Sails

3Di Sails:
Areas of the sail have between 6-80 layers of tape,
depending on load

North Sails are one of the world’s leading sail makers, with many significant racing crews and events amongst their customers.  North make the sails for America’s Cup, Volvo Round the World Race, and many One-Design Dinghy classes, together with fitting out many of the individual yachts entered into global yacht races, such as Antigua Week, Sydney-Hobart, and Cowes Week races.  Also, 80% of their business is making, repairing, and renovating sails for cruising boats, like you and I sail every weekend.  North are very proud of their sails, and their website contains lots of educational tips about how to get the most out of your sails, by tuning each of the strings that you probably hardly ever touch!

Several GXSA members are regular, and occasional North Sails customers, which led us to persuade David Swete of North Sails to host a trip around their new sail loft facility in Fareham, followed by a detour to Portsmouth and up the Spinnaker Tower to see the view over Portsmouth, Gosport, and the Isle of Wight.

Old Sails

If you currently have sails, that are getting a bit old and baggy, North reckon that there is a good chance that they can renovate them by re-cutting.  They suggest that you send photos of your sails, “at‑work” to their experts who will be able advise the optimal way forward.  Just contact North Sails in Fareham to get the ball rolling (023 9252 5588).

New Sails

There are several general groups of sails in use today, made from a very limited number of materials, with varying properties – the choice is yours, and depends on the depth of your pockets!:


Sail Groups

Materials (Brand-names in brackets)


  • Panel
  • Radial
  • 3Di


  • Polyester (Dacron)
  • Nylon
  • Polyethylene( Dynema, Spectra)
  • Aramid (Kevlar, Twaron, Technora)
  • Carbon fibre
  • Stretch
  • Brittleness
  • Ultra-Violet resistance
  • Cost
  • Weight
  • Mildew resistance
  • Shape-holding


All sails are a compromise of these features and materials.

North Sails guide to fibres & fabrics


There have been a variety of materials used in sailmaking over the years.  The chart shows some of the properties:

North have been building 3D laminate sails for 25 years, and they claim that their new(ish) 3Di technology is 25 years ahead of any competitor’s product.  They reckon that 3Di is a market-beater, so watch this space (spoiler alert: I bought some – currently awaiting delivery; March 2018).


Lifetime Cost

Chart showing the operational lifetime and relative cost


Sail Types

Panel Sails (Woven, Laminate)

Radial Sails (Woven, Laminate)

Molded Sails (3D)



Here some links to North Sails training resources that you might find useful:

There are lots more guides on the North Education website.

Tour of the Sail Loft

North Sails small sail table

The day started with a 9am (early for some) departure from Gerrards Cross on a very comfortable Heyfordian coach.  At 10:30 we arrived at an un-presupposing industrial unit on Fareham Industial Estate, for refreshments in the staff canteen, and use of the facilities, before the tour began.

Our first stop was their huge sail-making table – North believe that there are only 2 like this in Europe.

Imagine that you have a sail from a 15m mast (which isn’t that big, really).  That equates to a huge piece of fabric.  Traditionally, this has meant manually dragging the sail across the floor and through the sewing machine, with lots of room for error when the sewing machine stitches the fabric.

On the North system, the fabric stays still, and the person/sewing machine move on a conveyor belt that is geared to the feed-rate of the fabric through the machine, so each stitch is exactly the right size and tension for the fabric being sewn.

For curved seams (eg. Around tack, clew, or head) they have a moving sewing machine that moves on an arc, again geared to the speed of the machine, making perfect stitches.


North Sails large sail table

Then we moved to the main sail-making table.  This looked to be the size of a football field, and filled the warehouse.  I’m not sure what is the biggest sail they could cope with, but there were TWO sails from 100ft yachts on the table at the same time, and LOTS of room to spare.

Frankly, this is where the Sail Sales bit took over, as we got to touch/examine/caress/fondle an example of the North 3Di Nordac cruising sails.  These are custom built from polyester (dacron) on a mold to a perfect aerofoil shape, with the fabric-thickness depending on the stress/load for each specific area of the sail (North believe that these are the cruising sails of the future).  Here’s a YouTube video about how 3Di sails are made.  The effect on the GXSA tourists was quite bewildering, as we all felt the fabric, jaws open, and tongues hanging out.

The effect was mesmerizing, but we needed lunch.


After some sandwiches and cake, David Swete gave us a presentation (and a nice red baseball cap).  As well as a North Sails Salesman, David is an international yachtsman from New Zealand.  His role is usually sail-trimmer, so he really knows about sails, with a pretty impressive CV:

  • 2 x Volvo Round the World races
  • 2009 World Match Racing Champion
  • Held the ISAF World Number 1 position for over a year
  • Won 5 World Tour Events
  • Has taken part in 3 Sydney to Hobart races

Dave has some interesting YouTube videos to watch about his sailboat racing career; other websites are the Volvo Ocean Race in particular, in Team Alvimedica.

Dave gave us an insight into what it’s like to be a long-distance racing sailor.  With each race-leg being typically 25 days away from home, it’s not necessarily something for a person with a young family…or for somebody who likes their bed!!  4 hours on-watch, 4 hours off-watch (if you're lucky), hot bunking, cramped conditions.

It was a very interesting talk….and we got a hat !!!

Looking UP the tower

Spinnaker Tower

After a short coach trip to the other side of the harbour we arrived at Gunwharf Quays Shopping Centre in Portsmouth (now, that’s a day trip in itself for shopaholics), where the Spinnaker Tower is located.

Haslar Marina & Haslar Creek

The tower was opened in 2005 to celebrate the millennium in 2000 (yes, I know…there were lots of financial issues to overcome).  It’s 170m tall, and gives a fantastic view over the harbour and surrounding area.  The internal lift takes 30 seconds to go 100m to the first observation deck, and there are another 60 steps to the top-level observation deck.  Surprisingly, there’s not much sense of vertigo, unless you choose to stand on the glass plate where you can see all the way to the ground, beneath your feet – it’s just like flying (but not necessarily my thing…so no picture!)

On a good day, you can see over 35 miles, but today we could only just make out Ryde on the Isle of Wight, but the view was still pretty impressive, as you can see from the collection of pictures, below.


View to the North
Rat Island, fareham Creek, Port Solent,
HMS Queen Elizabeth, HMS Warrior
View over Portsmouth towards Langstone Harbour



Everyone had a great day out.  The coach trip provides an excellent opportunity to chat with friends, and GXSA day trips are a fantastic opportunity to renew and make new friends.

Come along on the next day trip.  You'll have a great time!!


Thanks Bernie, Dave, and North Sails.  We had a great day out.