Local Loft Versus Web-based Service



Not every sailor has a selection of local sailmakers to choose from. He or she must instead rely on Internet research and phone conversations to find the best sail for the best price. As most of the world’s sail production takes place in a handful of high-volume production lofts abroad (China, Sri Lanka, and Africa), U.S. sailmakers have taken on the role of sail designers—rather than sailmakers.

In our recent study of mainsails, we found that sails made abroad make excellent value, thanks in large part to computer-aided design and panel-cutting. Nevertheless, the sailor needs to be specific regarding the measurements and the details of construction, and his relationship with the sail designer/salesman is as important as ever—particularly in the event that something goes wrong.

Locally built or finished sails tend to be more expensive, but the advantage of having a sailmaker check your measurements on board and then make sure the sail fits and performs as designed is often worth the extra money. This kind of attention is also possible with offshore-built sails from major lofts, so long as the sales rep regards this as part of his job.

During the design of our main, the sailmaker spent over an hour onboard measuring the hoist, outhaul, etc, as well as answering our questions and discussing the various options available. As with any major purchase, there’s a good deal of reassurance in knowing that the person selling you the sail is the one that will be making it and is willing to join you for a sea trial to answers questions or address problems should they arise.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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