The Hyde Loft - A look at how your sails are made

So what happens after you place an order with Hyde?

We look at the life of a sail, from concept, to design and final race-winning product.

While one-design production sails can be ordered direct online, any custom sail order starts with a consultation with the relevant member of Hyde's highly experienced sales team, who are all knowledgeable sailors and sailmakers themselves, and keep a careful eye as the order progresses.

So what happens to that sail before it arrives on your doorstep? We follow the journey of one set of sails in particular, which are set to race round the world on one of the fleet of ten 68-footers poised to compete in the Clipper Round the World Race…

The Loft

While the design work is completed in the UK, Hyde's sails are produced in the company's wholly-owned loft in the Philippines. Hyde moved its production overseas six years ago. A bold move at the time, it has stood the company in good stead, enabling its UK-based workforce to concentrate on customer service and product development. The loft is a model sailmaking facility, clean, light and air-conditioned. Hyde is committed to being the employer of choice in Cebu and we ensure that working conditions are world class. The Philippines was chosen as the site for the loft mainly because the first language of the country is English. This has made staff training much easier than it would have been in other countries in South East Asia

The loft has expanded massively from an initial staff of 16 - led by an experienced team from the UK. Run by General Manager Ian Flanders, who has over 20 years experience of working with Hyde, the loft has gone from strength to strength, with production more than double that of six years ago. The loft's highly skilled staff now number over 270, working two shifts, six days a week to keep up with the demand which now accounts for an output of some 40,000+ sails and over 10,000 accessories each year.

With every sail there is a design and specification sheet, which details fabrics, thread and make-up. Every detail and instruction that is written in the make sheet is followed by the team working on the sail. Ian Flanders explains: "The Filipinos have taken to sailmaking remarkably quickly. Their thirst for perfection is key in maintaining the highest standards of production. Add to that the fact that a huge number of them have many years of sailmaking experience behind them, and the result is a highly skilled and valuable workforce."

The Materials

It's impossible to produce good sails without the right materials. Materials Planning is a very difficult task, with so many different cloth types and weights, and fittings varying from boat to boat. This means that the loft does have to keep rather a large stock of similar types of makes and components to suit the needs of all Hyde's customers.

We stock supplies of almost the entire range of fabrics available from our suppliers, so we can respond to the customers' needs quickly," explains Loft Manager Ian Flanders. 'With 24 years of experience working at Hyde Sails I have learnt many things and one of those that makes it difficult for us to respond to the needs of the customers is that forecasting from OEM customers is not very reliable. By working closely with our suppliers we are able to ensure most materials are available. For the high volume materials, we have to keep quite high numbers of each fabric and colour in stock to respond quickly to orders. We set a minimum stock level based on our usages in the previous 12 months, that allows us an estimated two months in stock, to allow for sea freight replenishment."

All the standard materials needed for producing most sails are kept inside the loft's storeroom. Any material delivered to Cebu is tested to ensure that it meets the stretch quality standard agreed with the supplier. Hyde uses an Instron tester for this, Hyde is one of a handful of sailmakers in the world with this equipment. The symmetric Clipper spinnakers use a white fibermax cloth, which is selected and checked before being passed to the laser cutting section.

Cutting

The loft has three computer-controlled cutters; two laser cutters and one 'pizza wheel' cutter – as the name suggests the third uses a circular blade to cut the cloth and cuts Kevlar and Carbon better than a laser. The cutters work in conjunction with a vacuum bed, which holds the cloth firmly in place to enable it to be cut cleanly. The correct cloth is laid out in the laser cutting area, smoothed out and the vacuum is switched on. Then the sail design is selected on a computer screen – with the use of computer and panel maker software, the cutter can accurately produce the correctly-shaped panels which are needed to produce the sail. Seam allowances, numbers on panels and internal lines are all marked on the sail using a biro.

Not only is the body of the sail cut in this manner, but also the individual sundry items such as corner patches that are needed to finish the sail – these tend to be cut from different materials than the main sail. Each panel carries specific numbering to indicate which bit of the sail is which. In the Clipper spinnakers there are 184 panels which are cut for the main body of the sail alone – it's hardly surprising that it takes almost 16 hours to cut just one sail.

Run-Up

In this area, the cut panels are 'run up', or stitched together. For smaller sails, which would use a more standard 'flat seam', the seams would be stuck before sewing (as described in the 'seam sticking' section). However, as the Clipper spinnakers have 35,000 miles ahead of them, they need to be stronger. Therefore instead of the two pieces of cloth being simply laid on top of one another and stitched, they are put together with a 'French' or 'felled' seam construction, whereby both sides of the cloth are folded when sewing.

The sail is put together in two halves comprising 92 panels each. A spinnaker is put together in a certain order; the first section is the 'clew box' – for the Clipper spinnaker this is made up of panels 1-25. At the clew, the machinist starts sewing at number 1, the foot panel, running round to panel 25, the leech panel, with the pen line allowance (which was marked on by the laser cutter) on the inside. The same applies to the other clew panel… produces the two 'clew boxes'. All the seams for the Clipper sail are specified to be 75mm with five rows, using three-step stitching and V46 thread. Specifications for other sails vary, but three-step stitching is the usual stitch for the main body of a sail, as it is stronger and suffers less from snagging than a zigzag stitch, which is used to affix patches. A straight stitch is only rarely used – examples being to attach a boltrope.

Next it's the 'mid boxes', the Clipper sail has three of these, but smaller sails will have less. Each of the three mid boxes is stitched, and then the 'head box' is stitched together. The Clipper symmetric spinnaker comprises 92 panels, panels 1-25 are for the clew panels, 26-43 1st middle, 44-60 2nd middle, 61-76 3rd middle and 77-92 for head panels. Then the sail moves on to the next person to be put together.

Seam Sticking

The 'Seam sticker' is someone who will assemble all the panels to form a sail by using a special double-sided adhesive tape. Seam sticking will take place at various stages throughout the production of a sail, enabling patches or sections of the sail to be assembled before they are stitched. With large sails, which need extra strength and a special kind of seaming (like the Clipper spinnaker), they may go straight on to have the main panels run up first before any sticking. However, on smaller sails, like a Clipper Yankee, the panels are stuck together before being flat seamed.

The Clipper Yankee has 17 panels, and the seam sticker will assemble first the foot, panels 1 to 6 by using 15mm fixon (double sided adhesive tape) and put a spike on both ends to hold the panel. Then, he will roll the assembled foot separately and stick with sticky tape. Then he will repeat the process to assemble the body, panels 7 to 9, and then he assembles the head, panels, 10 to 17 – each is rolled up separately. The assembly of the head, tack and clew radials, and then the head follows this, tack and clew large block patches are also assembled.

Seam Sticking Panels

The next stage for a spinnaker involves a mix of seam sticking, trimming and and machining. The first job is to join the two clew boxes vertically. Before they are sewn the shape needs to be cut into the sail – this is marked by a plot line which was applied at the laser cutting stage – the curve is cut into each half of the clew box along the joining edge, and seamstick is applied to one side. In the case of the Clipper spinnaker some five rows of sticky, 75mm thick, are applied before the two edges are stuck and machined to complete the clew box. Finally the five panels (clew box, three mid boxes and head box) are similarly trimmed, stuck and sewn horizontally.

Marking Round

Now the main body of the sail is complete and its dimensions are checked and the outside edge of the sail trimmed to shape ready for machining. The leech, foot and spinnaker mid-width are measured and checked to ensure they measure.

The sail is folded in half and the two leeches placed on top of one another. It is then pinned out flat 2-3 panels in from the edge of the sail. A big bendy spline is used to match up the plot lines so the leeches can be trimmed to a fair, even cut line - the leeches are trimmed at the same time through both layers of the sail. The foot is similarly measured and trimmed.

Machining

The sail now goes to the machinist to have all patches and tapes applied. The patches on the Clipper spinnaker are assembled separately, and then sewn to the sail, additional stitchign is used to reinforce the corners - including a chess board pattern of boxes a the head and clew patches.

A spinnaker will have red and blue tapes applied to each leech/luff and a white tape to the foot.

With sails like the clipper yankee jib, a Velcro pocket system is attached at this stage as well.

Finishing

The sail is now basically complete and ready for 'finishing'. The finisher puts the final touches on to the sail – eyes, rings, hanks, leech lines, leathering etc.

The Clipper Spinnaker has leather reinforcing at each clew and the head, while stainless steel rings are attached to the head and clews using heavy webbing. The webbing is sewn with four rows of two-step and and three rows of straight stitch, while the leather is hand sewn. The Hyde logo is also applied at this stage – although for some sails this may be done at a later stage.

For a headsail like the Clipper Yankee, it is at this stage that the hanks get fitted to the sail, as well as leather reinforcing, patches and leech lines.

Printing

Many sails carry a logo, and Hyde has the facility to apply any logos in its factory. In the case of the Clipper sails, the Clipper logo is carried on all the spinnakers. Before any logs are printed, a marker and ruler are used to follow the layout supplied by the graphics section. Masking tape is used for each letter of the layout to prevent mess. After the design is outlined and masking tape applied, the design is ready to be painted. The Clipper symmetric spinnaker logo uses three colors: light blue, red and dark blue. The graphic are hand-painted with the use of sericol paint and paintbrush. This sail logo takes around 8.5 hours to apply, and is then laid out to dry.

Quality Control and Packing

Before the sail is sent it is subject to quality control. The whole sail is laid out for trimming off the excess threads and quality checking. There is a check sheet for each design of sail and the quality controller crawls over the whole sail, checking that there are no flaws or errors and the specifications have been adhered to. The quality checker is the one who will often attach any tell-tales and the Hyde brand label.

All approved sails then proceed to the packing department where the packer lays the whole sail on the packing table. At least three people are needed to pack a Clipper Spinnaker (smaller sails might be packed by one person), they start by holding both clews to transect the sail and then fold it to pallet size. The sail is packed using bubble wrap and supplied with a Hyde sail tie. Now the sail is ready to be shipped out and delivered to the customer.

Shipping

Sails mostly go out to the USA, UK and Europe via Hyde's weekly consolidated airfreight, or monthly sea container, with other deliveries going via UPS direct to customers around the world. The sails are addressed to the final customer before they leave the factory. When they arrive in the destination country, the containers go direct to Hyde's shipping partner where they are sent straight on to customers. In this way Hyde can deliver the sails as efficiently as possible to its customers.

A large, specific order, such as the Clipper order, might have its own container. With the Clipper sails, all the sails for the race were made and stored in a container until the whole order was complete, with the container being sent to the Clipper Race HQ in Gosport