Q&A With Sail Designer Jeff Frank
Are you thinking about sewing your own sails but aren’t sure what the process involves? Have you ever wondered what work goes into designing and plotting custom sails? Are you just curious about sail kits and sail design in general? You’re in luck! We sat down with resident sail expert and Sailrite® Sail Designer Jeff Frank to talk sails. Read our interview for an in-depth look at what goes into designing a custom sail kit, our state-of-the-art computer design program for plotting and cutting the sails, and more. Plus, we get to know the man behind the sails a little better and learn about Jeff’s sailing background and design experience.
Our sail kits are designed to be easy to assemble. Each kit includes all the materials you need to sew your sail. You just have to provide sewing basics like a sewing machine, scissors, pliers, etc. Sail kits come with the sail design data and a set of assembly instructions. These instructions have been improved and perfected from over 50 years of experience and feedback from our customers. The sail panels are precut for you, labeled and numbered for easy assembly. The panels even have the hem lines and overlap lines plotted on them so you know exactly how to overlap and align the panels for easy sewing.
Read our interview with Jeff Frank to learn more about the sail design process and how he works one-on-one with customers to design them the perfect sail for their boat.
Q. How long have you been designing sails for Sailrite?
A. A long time! I started at Sailrite in November 1991.
Q. What's your sailing background?
A. I grew up in Alpena, Michigan, on Lake Huron. I raced with my dad on an Ecume De Mer 26-foot sailboat. I also grew up windsurfing and sailing on a one-design Force 5 sailboat. I raced on any boat I could get on the weekend, and I windsurfed all other days that I wasn’t working through high school. From ages 6-14, I worked with my dad in a sail loft during the summers. He taught for living, but he made sails to keep me busy and support his sailing hobby.
Q. Do you own a sailboat?
A. Yes, have a C-scow. It came with three sails that are still in decent shape so they don’t need replaced yet, but I will be sewing a boat cover soon.
Q. Why should someone sew their own sails rather than pay a sail loft to make them?
A. I think they learn more about how sails are designed and how they go together when they sew their own sails. This takes out the mystery of sailing and sail construction. They find out that they can make their own sails, which means they can repair them in the future should the need arise. Plus, there’s nothing like winning a race or just cruising on the water powered by the sails you made!
Q. What advice would you give to someone who has never sewn their own sails and wants to tackle this DIY?
A. Try it! If you need a full set of sails, generally the easiest sails start in the front and get more complicated as you go aft. So, usually spinnakers are the easiest to sew, followed by headsails and then mainsails are the most complicated.
Q. What makes our sail kits so great? What are you proud of about them?
A. Our process is completely unique, and I am there for our customers every step of the way. I talk to our customers about what they want out of their sails and how they intend to use their sails. I don’t push them into something that I want to sell or the latest trend or type of sailcloth that just came out. I work one-on-one with customers to design a custom sail to their exact specifications. It’s a very collaborative process.
What am I proud of? Nothing beats going through a project with a customer, changing and modifying the design to get exactly what they want, and then receiving photos of them out sailing with the sails they built.
Q. When a customer calls or emails you requesting a custom sail, what’s that process like? What are the steps involved from start to finish and how closely do you work with customers?
A. The first step is the customer sending me a quote request via email. I will quote the sails per the customer request with relatively specific information. They can respond via email or by calling in and we can cover all the possibilities and materials options. We determine the best options and cloth type to fit the customer’s needs. We determine the sail’s two-dimensional shape and whether they need the sail for racing or cruising, light or heavy winds, etc. Then the quote is refined to meet specific requests per our conversation and sent to the customer.
Once the quote is accepted, I plot the design using our sail design software. I nest the sail panels and create a complete parts list for the sail kit. I write up the plotting and cutting instructions, and then the kit is created and ready to be sent to our shipping department and sent to the customer.
Q. About how long does it take once you speak with them to when their sail is designed?
A. It is a collaborative effort and may go on several times with minor tweaks and changes until the customer is satisfied with their sail kit. This process can take anywhere from one day to years — it just depends on where they are in the process, whether they’re just pricing sail kits or if they need their sail right away.
Q. Can you talk about our sail plotting computer program? How does it work and what are its features?
A. Our sail software and plotter cutter system allows for shaping a mold, draft and placement, entry, exit angles, rounds and hollows. It’s basically a sliding scale so you can create just about any shape needed for each sail project. Then, once I have the mold shaped properly for the sail, I have a variety of panels from crosscut to radial and many variations of radial designs. I have used two design software packages at Sailrite and Prosail is the best to work with. It allows for easy sail design and it’s easy to make changes when designing. It shows the shape change in the sail and the broadseam numbers without having to start from scratch.
Q. What’s your favorite part of the job?
A. Talking to customers and designing their sails. Over the last 25+ years I’ve designed well over 6,500 sails. I get to do what I enjoy every day.
We hope you've learned a bit more about our Sail Kits and all the hard work, technology and customization that goes into creating them. If you are interested in our Sail Kits, click here.