Feb 21, 2010

Alex Udin: The man behind 'Sail Innovation'

Sail Innovation is making some noice in the F18, aiming high with a World Title in mind. I didn´t knew about Sail Innovation until some fast Capricorn performance in NL some months ago.

In recent weeks I´ve been posting several pics from them and also having some feedback from Alex about his sails, so I decided to go for a full interview

CSN: When did you start the Loft and why?
Alex Udin: My background is pretty un common. I am 28, half French half Swiss, I have been drawing some sails on all my school books since my early age, after my 16th anniversary I decided to leave the school in order to start working for a local sail maker in Brittany (France), 

I attended the only sail making school in France and started in parallel to work for small sail maker which was a Hobie dealer. It was a really small loft I was running the sail loft part and I made my first F18 sails designed on the floor with a basic design method I learned at school. These sails end 2nd on a Hobie Tiger at the Eurocat long distance race in 1999, Peter Vink came to congratulate me on the parking...

Then I went to Voiles Gautier in Switzerland to learn more about larger Multi Hulls sails , it gave me the opportunity to get a lot of know how from Gérard Gautier (the founder). Gérard is one of the smartest guy I have ever met in the sail making world (he recently invented the 3di, black sails used on Alinghi finally sold to North) , JP Baudet and Luc Dubois the Inventor of 3DL started their project also in his loft...

In 2000 I went to Hawaii to learn more about Windsurfing sails, working for a short period in the Gaastra R&D loft with Barry Spanier (Ex Neil Pryde guru). It was really interesting to see how creative was the windsurf industry. They are making up to 200 prototypes per year, and since there is no regulatory rules at all, the sails are pretty cheap there is an incredible development and the guys are lot more open minded than the more traditional yacht sail designers. I learned a lot about the relation between the twist and the mast bend.

When I came back to France end of 2001 and after after having shared a lot ideas with Gérard Gautier, I decided to develop a new molding technology based on flexible mold and thermoforming system that I have patented.

I started my own company SAIL INNOVATION with Stevan’ Urien a fluid dynamic engineer as a partner in order to develop this technology. We have worked during 3 years on this molding device which was really different from 3DL. The North sails process is really slow due to the fact that they are laying yarns and laminating the fabric on the mold. 3DL is adapted to large sails (more than 30 feet boats). Our system meant to be a lot more industrialized, we are using any kind of flat fabric we hold it in a frame around a computerized flexible mold and we heat it and vacuum form it like a yogurt pot... It takes approximatively 2 minutes to mold one sail.

We have built a prototype mold of 6x2m and we made Tornado and F18 jib molded in one piece .

Some important funds were required to make it industrial, financial partners wre asking for more than 50% of the shares so we took the decision to put the project on hold.

I decided to continue SAIL INNOVATION alone investing in the development of sawn sails. I have always kept getting involved in the F18 sails making few prototype by hand in a small loft. After winning the 2005 F18 French national with JC Mourniac and Franck Citeau from the Nissan Pro team using my cross cut sails (Pic right) , Jean Francois Collet (Owner of Hobie Cat and Phileas) which was one of our partners, gave me the opportunity to design and produce the new Phileas Open 570 sails (picture 4538).

It really launched my business, that’s how I started making more and more sails for boat builders, local sail makers and commercial advisors.

CSN: You are innovating with some special cuts and panels, benefits?
AU: I really enjoy making cat and windsurfing sails because one may be much more creative than in the fields of yacht sails with all their restrictions.... Although We have many things to learn from each worlds, both are really different but there have very interesting similarities.

I have worked a lot on the cross cut with a one piece curved mast panel like windsurf sails because I thing it is a great way to get a really smooth and accurate shape that you can easy trim with the Cunningham and the main sheet. According to the team , the sails are a lot easier to use than a standard Radial sails. On top of this they seem to be overall faster because the speed is more constant, the crew can concentrate on the race course which is really important in a regatta. We are actually working on an evolution of this cut with a flat radial cut with curved panel with the shape on the cross cut seam and the mast panel.

CSN: Tell us more about your Windsurf sail range
AU: Windsurfing has always been my passion, I (used) to sail a lot in Wave and Slalom. I am making Freeride sails for some customers like ORANGE and in a more confidential way some wave sails and Racing sails with large sleeves. These Race sails are really tricky to get them right with a good camber rotation, the sleeve wrinkle free and the right twist. It is a really good exercise for me knowing I am actually the only one to design windsurfing sails (sleeve included) on a 3D software when all are using 2D software like Autocad, Mac sails... I have done something like 20 samples of 6.0 before getting something right.

CSN:Which markets/countries do you have presence? expansion plans?
AU: Actually SAIL INNOVATION is a “one man show” company, I am working since one year with some specialist on the first online sail design software, that will give the opportunity to the small local sail makers all around the world to design and customize their own sails. We will have also a store on a web site with all the “One design” production sails like F18, Windsurfing... One will be able to see all the lines in 3D with a special viewer and customize his sail to make it unique. That might be the future of sail making...

CSN:Design and build tech your a using?
AU: I am designing all the sails with SAILPACK which is the most advanced and the most powerful sail design software. It allows to make some aero dynamics analyzes in order to compare the drag, the lift, driving force between several sails. This incredible software has been developed by BSG which is also providing the SAILVISION solution. The Sailvision is used by most of the AC teams to check the real flying shape of the sails with camera and analyze the performance of the boat according to the sail shape.

Aiming for a F18 World title being a Loft is quite a challenge, although sails are arguably the most important aspect of an F18 and cats in gral (AC 33 was the best example) , I mean you must compete with Nacra and Hobie Pro teams for instance...
AU: Being fully independent from the big boat builders is for us our main strength. We are a lot more free than the pro team especially concerning all the gear developments. The actual policy of most of these teams is to use all the standard gears in order to promote a standard boat for the final customer, they can’t use other sails, mast, appendices... We often compare our sails with the other brands (Ullman, Performance, North) to make sure we are competitive.

CSN: Which sailors are part of the SI Sailing team?
AU: All the Team is really focused on F18, Olivier Backes and Arnaud Jarlegan have done both several Olympics campaigns in Tornado, they know really well how to prepare and drive such a challenging project.

Gurvan Bomptemps has a great reflexion and feed back on the gear, he did a fantastic job on the sails development during the last 3 years.

Ben Lamotte and Ben Amiot have had great results on long distance races, they are sailing nearly every week end...

Members of the teams complement each other very well , everyone has his own expertise. They are not competing against each other but together, helping each other to progress pushing the team forward.

We already achieved a lot of work together, we have been testing and training during all the winter.

I must say I am very proud of the team, they are really involved. I am very happy and confident about the potential and the ability of everyone.

CSN: You had a selective boat test, why you didn't sail the Infusion also?
AU: Arnaud used to sail on the Nacra for several years with Billy Besson, we have studied all the different options. I think the Infusion is a really good boat, all round fast and easy to use. The Wild Cat is probably more technical and exigent, we decided to go for this one for several reasons.

CSN: Are you receiving help from Hobie with the Wildcat, or Martin is on the project on a personal basis?
AU: As I said, we wanted to be fully independent from any boat builder so we bought the boat. We had a fair deal with Hobie, I personally have very good relationship with JF Collet (Hobie CEO) and and with Michel Corigliano.

Martin Fischer is helping us sharing his knowledge with all team, that really push forward our development program.

CSN: Which modifications, if any, are on the table for the Wildcat?
AU: We are doing a lot of testing with sails to make to the boat faster and all round.

CSN: Which time frame are you projecting to win a F18 title? 2010? or its also a long term project?
AU: Who knows, there is still a long way to go before Erquy, we are working hard to reach it soon...

CSN:AC 33: Did you enjoy the cup? Wings are the future in small cats too?
AU: That was awesome, especially the second Race it was really close upwind...

I think that was a lot more attractive for the spectators to see the fastest boats on the planet competing against each others.

90% of the spectators don’t know anything about all the match racing rules, they just want close races on fast boat. Simple !!

The old keelboat are old fashioned for most of the people. If we want to make sailing more attractive for the media and the public we must change.

I think it would be great to get a box rule like F18, for 60 or 70 foot multi hulls.

CSN: Wings are the future in small cats too?
AU: Wings are existing since ages on C Class, Denis Conner won the cup in 1988 with a wing...

Oracle did an incredible job to make it that big but It takes 4 hours to put the wing up. I think we won’t see any wing on beach cat in that configuration, that would be useless for the sailors.

Maybe some one will create new configuration easier to use.

CSN: There is any way to adapt some wing tech or features to soft catamaran sails? For instance Formula Windsurfing sails are using a huge luff 'sleeve', that creates a firm front section/camber, this concept has proven to be faster.
AU: That might be interesting, the Moth are using this type of wide sleeve. The issue are the wires and spreaders during rigging and derigging, you can easily put the mast down on a Moth but on a cat it is another story.

The wing have 2 main assets:
it reduces the drag (very important at high speed like these huge multihull going 3 times the wind speed), It allows to increase and adjust the lift by trimming the curvature of the wing.

With a wide sleeve you would only reduce the drag generated by the mast on the intrados which is minimal on a beach cat knowing that the boat speed is around 10 to 12 knots up wind

CSN:Additional personal and Loft plans or any other info you want to share.
AU: Finally I would like to congratulate you for the job you are doing on your Blog, it is great to see the quality of all the posts and how quickly it is updated.

Always good to see people trying to push our sport forward sharing more and more ideas.
Sail Innovation Pic Gallery on previous SI posts

Thanks Alex for an interesting insight on his project.
Good luck to the Sail Innovation Team for 2010 F18 Worlds at Erquy.

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