Adding Durability

Just as film-on-film fabrics were first used exclusively by cutting-edge racing sailors, early 3DL sails were once the purview of grand prix racers alone. Over time, however, North Sails has looked to expand its market to include cruising sailors by adding durability to its molded sails. The company now adds light taffetas to the outsides of molded sails, which do the same thing as they do on regular sailcloth: protect the fragile load-bearing yarns from chafe and UV, and thus add overall life to the sail. Of course, they also add weight so it's again a matter of trade-offs. North Sails calls this product line with taffetas its Marathon Series, and the sails have been used successfully in rugged offshore ocean races like the Volvo Ocean Race, the Around Alone, and the Vendée Globe.

As these advances in 3DL technology aimed specifically at the cruising sailor take hold, the broad acceptance of high-tech molded sails among this heretofore reasonably low-tech marketplace will be inevitable. How much of an inroad they will make, only time will tell. But judging by the marketing dollars being spent to introduce this technology to cruisers it's clear North Sails believes it has a perfect match. The same can be said for small boat sails. Until now it was not cost effective to tie up the mold making a small sail; bigger sails bring bigger profits. But

North's rotary mold is used for making 3DL sails for boats up to 30 feet. This is a cost-effective way of making hightech sails for smaller boats.

Tape Drive sails are still a dominant force on the racecourse and some of the latest designs display cutting-edge technology.

North's Rotary Mold technology, basically a revolving drum with a surface that can be adjusted by approximately 1,000 computer-controlled pistons, is changing this as well. In this technique, the pistons radiate out from the axis of the drum to manipulate the shape while computer-controlled yarn heads lay a precise matrix of structural yarn onto a Mylar film with a coating of adhesive on the drum's surface. A second layer of Mylar is then added and the laminate is cured with forced hot air. This relatively simple method of making sails for boats up to 30 feet is a cost-effective way of introducing a high-end technology to a traditionally less technically advanced market.

3DL and indeed all forms of molded sails will doubtless continue to evolve and improve. North has the resources and clout on the racecourse to push this technology as far as it's likely to go. Still, while it has both created new markets and refined old ones, other sailmakers are still plugging along with their own proven technologies.

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