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Sails – Single Source vs Open

Sails – Single Source vs Open

By Julian Bethwaite
Porto17 2015

Favourite topic of the month is sailmaker selection.

For as long as I can remember I have been pursued re open sail making versus single source sail making.

I have been wined and dined, but also accused, slandered and occasionally vilified.

As a result, I have developed a system that allows me to accurately judge the benefit of being a single source sailmaker class as opposed to sail supply governed by rules, and then a system that simply identifies who is the best sailmaker to award a contract to if we choose a single source supply.

The first thing we do is ask the sailors.

In the 49er class this is pretty easy as it’s a Fb driven association.

We tend to do this every 8 years seriously because the sailors like stability and it is approximately a 3 year turn around, not just for the builders but also for the sailors.

So what I am saying is that to switch from one sailmaker to another in the 49er, it can only happen in

a) an Olympic year, (and even that needs some pretty careful planning) and

b) the builders need to know about 3 years out, builders in this case don’t only mean the boatbuilders but it also requires the old sailmaker to retire workers and stock and the new sailmaker to build up stock and capacity, and it requires the boatbuilders to forecast far enough ahead to have adequate stock to satisfy the Olympic sailors till the end of the Olympics where the change is to take place.      Nb1

An unforeseen cost is that it is near impossible to get an existing hi-end sailor to test the new sails, so inevitably it becomes a live test.

I will give you an example!   We are just about to introduce sails into the 49er class that will better handle the increased downhaul loads that the 49er sailors are now subjecting the mainsails to.    We produced 10 suits of trial sails so that they could be tested.    These sails are off the same patterns, same size, on the same masts but have altered panels in the luff to better distribute the loads.    Everyone knows they are coming but no one wanted to use them because they were different.

So once again, we have a live test, and that’s expensive on the sailors!

So first thing we do is ask the sailors.

The next bit, there has never been a push towards open sailmaking in the 49er or 29er class and the attached excel spreadsheet probably explains why.


Oct-16 Source Currency if not $USD $USD Nb1 NB2 Nb3
Sail Type Web Cost Battens etc Assc costs Sail Cost Area Cost/sq m
49er Mainsail £1470 $1,475 $163 $100 $1,212 16.2 $74.81 Nb4
49er Jib £710 $713 $80 $100 $533 5.7 $93.43 Nb4
49er Spin £1,580 $1,586 $100 $1,486 31 $47.93 Nb4
FX Mainsail £995 $999 $100 $100 $799 13.8 $57.87 Nb4
FX Jib £575 $577 $60 $100 $417 5.4 $77.24 Nb4
FX Spin £1,095 $1,099 $100 $999 25.1 $39.80 Nb4
29er Mainsail £706 $708 $75 $60 $573 8.64 $66.38 Nb4
29er Jib £380 $381 $40 $60 $281 3.76 $74.83 Nb4
29er Spin £730 $733 $60 $673 16 $42.04 Nb4
470 Mainsail $1,162 $1,162 9.45 $122.96 Nb5
470 Jib $598 $598 3.59 $166.57 Nb5
470 Spin $805 $805 12.16 $66.20 Nb5
420 Mainsail $797 $797 7.4 $107.65 Nb5
420 Jib $469 $469 2.8 $167.41 Nb5
420 Spin $601 $601 9 $66.74 Nb5
Nacra Mainsail $1,907 $1,907 15 $127.14 No info, 2014 Pr
Nacra Jib $701 $701 5 $140.19 No info, 2014 Pr
Nacra Spin $1,115 $1,115 19 $58.70 No info, 2014 Pr
Laser Mainsail $604 $15 $589 7.1 $82.96 LP Web Price
Laser Radial Mainsail $604 Does not make sense $15 $589 5.76 $102.26 LP Web Price
Finn Mainsail $1,610 $70 $1,540 10.2 $150.98 Nb5
Optimist Mainsail $540 $15 $15 $510 3.3 $154.55 Nb5
RSX Mainsail € 996 $888 $888 9.6 $92.50 Pryde Web price
Nb1 = 9er sails are sold complete (see Nb4) in a bag, with full set of batten & a repair kits.  Their cost is as per Ovington web page
By way of example of the above, a set of 49er battens = £175.95 + Sail Bag £15 + Reapir Kit £25.    Total =  £215.95
£ 215.95 = $USD 287.11  Less 18% Vat Less 2,5% duty less 5% Logistic  = $USD 163.02
Nb2, Where a Class association fee is included in the price of the sail and not added afterwards
Nb3 = Sail Area as per ISAF page unless obviously wrong, in which case via the class rules, see
Nb4 = Ovington web page, less VAT (18.5%) less 2.5% Duty & less 5% Logistics
Nb5 = North Sail, North America site, see

I can’t claim credit for this format, it was started in 2000 by Tim Coventry of Laser fame, but I update it every 2 years. The rationale is if I go to any of the big sailmakers and ask for a price of a mass produced suit of sails, first question is what’s the area, and second question is how many battens does it have, third question is what’s it made from. They then give you a rough price! If you get past that point, who is doing the digitisation (as in whose design) and who is managing distribution comes into play.

In the attached spreadsheet we actually go to quite extraordinary lengths to get the numbers right. It’s important. We go to the Ovington page, as they have fully priced 9ers sails and we know the cost of importation, freight (often sea), duty and VAT.

We also can go into exactly the same page and find out the price of battens and sail bags and the repair kit. We also know how much the class association button costs and we can end up with a highly reliable cost figure.

Just so this is clear, a 29er mainsail on the Ovington site is £ 706. In that price is VAT, duty and logistics (freight and handling). If you remove all of those and convert it to $USD you end up at $USD 708 for a 29er mainsail in a bag, with battens and a repair kit with the class fee paid. If you now remove the cost of all those items, you end up with a cost of $USD 573 for a 29er main.

And then we go to say the LP Laser site and get the price of a Laser sail.

We specifically pick the North site for the cost of the other “notable classes” because those sails are made in the same facility as the FX sails are made, namely Sri Lanka.

Compare a 470 mainsail and a 29er mainsail because they are the closest in area, and these prices are as of September 2016.     But the empirical evidence is plain, and probably the reason no 49er or 29er sailors want to go to open sail making.

Just about every open class sail making is +$100/m²

Just about every single source class sail is sub-$100/m²

In the defence of the open sailmakers there are reasons why they are more expensive, and they include different designs for different masts, different demands from crews, who want different style sails (because they can) and the demand by those crews to use materials that are often expensive (again because the crews demand it) whereas with single source you simply don’t have those options.

While still on this spreadsheet there are other factors that have not been taken into account.

For instance, the number of sails, often there are 3 types of Finn mains, because you can.

When it comes to longevity of the sails, we demand that a sail be good for racing for at least 3 events in a worst case scenario, so for instance a 29er spinnaker is made from top end DP SCN 300 cloth silicon impregnated and we are just about to up-grade (over the next 2 years) to an even higher grade cloth (that will be introduced into the 49er this year.)    Its nominally 3/4oz and by definition will last significantly longer than ½ oz polyester used in other classes.   Again, if you are sailing say a 470 and can use ½ oz, why wouldn’t you!

49er sails are under higher load than the FX, bigger boys, pretty simple so the corner patches/piping are bigger and made of “sticky back”.    It’s expensive hence the increase in cost per m² over say an FX.

We could quite possibly cut back the size of the reinforcing in the 29er main and jib, but I think that is a false economy.

So if the decision is made to stay with single source sail making, we start to look at different sailmakers, and I personally run a test every 2 years.

That test comes in many different forms.

Presently I am in the process of developing some new products so I had need to seek some pricing and one of the sails I was seeking was near identical in size to a 29er mainsail.  So I spec-ed a sail near identical in size to the 29er, to 2 of the big sail making companies in the world.    Same number of battens, similar material, same potential numbers to be produced, as far as possible the same product.     They came in very similar price to Pryde (the current 49er and 29er sailmaker) but without battens, bags or sail kit!

29er 2013 Worlds11

More often, I get approached with a request to consider a new sailmaker to produce for one of the classes.   Presently exactly this is happening with 29er sails!  So in this instance we simply allow that process to run through to completion, that is yet to happen, and it will be interesting to get the results.

If the numbers are “interesting” we get into the ability to supply, distribution, warranty, stocking, materials and then the ubiquitous testing process.

Above I have highlighted Nb1 as the unforeseen costs of making a change in sail making.   The late Ian Bruce used to tell me that it cost about 7% to switch suppliers.

It’s probably true, but if we took that line then we would never switch, and if someone does come up with a new and better idea, and it’s impressive, then we will look at it.

Bottom line, I’m always looking!   Nothing remains the same, and I do miss the excitement of unbridled sail and mast development.

But until the sailors tell me that they are happy to pay open source sail making prices, I can’t justify the additional cost, particularly as the rules and complexity of the class would increase dramatically for little or no benefit.

But Norths are regularly approaching me, and they used to produce for us, Quantum have also made some overtures and if it ever did happen, we have got extremely good at developing a system whereby the sailors make the decisions and I just get to rubber stamp a change.

Julian Bethwaite
4 September 2016

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