SAILMAKING SAFARI DAY 3
No Shoes! This is what happens when you wake up in a house with four dogs! I think the little grey one named Bella has a thing for my grey Vans sneakers that disappear from the bedroom into the living room. Dressed and ready (with shoes) I slug down a magic cup of instant coffee and off to work I go. When I get to Ullman Sails Laminating Department this morning, guess what? No Shoes!
This time it is in preparation to enter the massive flat floor in the 5th building at the end of the Ullman Sails South Africa compound. There is not a dog that steals your shoes away, but there is a redhead guy name Ollie who runs the setup and makes sure you are barefoot or in socks. No shoes allowed. Keeping the floor and environment clean and dirt-free in this building is critical to tight and perfect lamination of sails that measure from a small Fireball sail at 8 mtr2 to large mega yachts sails at 260+ mtr2!
If you are not familiar with FiberPath (membrane) sails, here is a brief introduction. FiberPath sails are an integral part of the Ullman Sails product line. Our FiberPath Series is Ullman Sails’ flagship cloth and sail choice for offshore and buoy racing, hi-performance cruising, and large and mega yachts. FiberPath membrane technology uses a manufacturing process that aligns fibers (polyester, Kevlar, vectran, carbon) along the primary and secondary loads in a sail, laying more fiber in the high-load areas and less fiber in the low-load areas. Every sail is custom – the designer maps the fiber according to the expected wind range, loads related to rig and hull setup, and selects the best fiber for ultimate shape retention and durability.
Once I removed my shoes and enter behind the red door, Ollie walked me through the process of making a membrane. The recipe for a membrane is simple. First you need an extra big, extra flat, hard floor. Second, you need a plotter to string and plot your sail. For the ingredients, start with an outside (bottom) layer of film and structural scrim with 2-3 directions. The next ingredient is your fiber choice - either polyester, Kevlar, vectran or carbon - plotted in the load trajectories on the film. The third ingredient is the other outside (top) layer of film. Not to get scientific or give away an Ullman Sails’ special technique, but the actual lamination to make this membrane bond together uses a combo of high heat and high pressure. This is the absolute key to making the sail right. Ollie and the US RSA membrane team spend extra time and preparation to guarantee the laminating process. This FiberPathmembrane is the best I have seen anywhere!
The loft here is so confident of the structural integrity of these membranes that Ullman Sails warranty’s the sails for 3 years. There are not many sailmakers that will offer that! Almost unheard of!! FiberPath is really that strong and well-built!
A new feature to the FiberPath sails this year is the internal laminated scrim patching. This construction provides seamless smooth and strong patches. The removal of stitching patches to a FiberPath membrane also gives it better and longer durability. Looking at the corner reinforcements, the key word is sexy!
Once the FiberPath membrane cloth is laminated and cured, the cloth is moved to the Membrane Finishing shop / department. That is where Tyran takes over. His team turns the FiberPath cloth into FiberPath sails. He builds out all the fine finishing details, including 2nd layout, batten pockets, reef diamonds, head, tack and clew boiler patches, etc…items that make a sail a sail. They ultra-bond joiners for high strength shape holding, just the same as we do at Ullman Sails Newport Beach with our laminate racing sails! If the FiberPath membrane has a taffeta-based film for the outside layers, then there will be some sewing involved to lock the taffeta-to-taffeta seam (versus the film-to-film surface that is only ultra-bonded).
FiberPath membrane sails are extremely strong and worth taking a look at if you need high performance racing sails or want to have extra speed and shape-holding on cruising and day sailing sails. The flexibility for the designers to customize each square inch of the sailcloth is awesome. Now seeing and knowing how much care the Ullman Sails Design and Membrane Team takes to get your sail perfect is astounding and appreciated.
Next report will have more happenings in South Africa!