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Ullman Windsports

The Short History Of Master Crafted Sail Making

First of all, let’s not forget that sailmaking is one of the oldest trades in the world. The first evidence was found some 5000 years ago as images in Egypt show. The roman Emporer called on sailmakers to create “Shade Sails’ to provide shade for the Roman Citizens so that they could watch the gladiators in the cool of the Shade. Columbus, Diaz, and Vasco Da Gama all relied on their sailmakers to power their ships, for their trips into the undiscovered new world.


Shade Cloths in Roman Gladiator Arenas, 2022


The history of sailmaking is the history, of our main component that we rely on to build a sail, kite, wing, the sailcloth.  We call it building a sail, as it is an engineering process with an error margin of less than a millimeter in cutting, assembly and sewing.  Far removed from the sailmakers of old where wide panels of tightly woven Egyptian cotton, like your bedsheets, were sewn together. The Sailmaker cut some shape into the panel, but relied on the stretch of the cloth, the mast curve, and mainly on his artistic eye, to create the profile that would power the vessel.


So how is a wing built? The first thing of course is the design. When I started sailmaking, and please don’t forget that I am the “oldest” sailmaker in the world, we “lofted” the outline, panel layout, and profile curves onto the Loft floor. We are talking about a Sailloft not the home of a Yuppie over the roofs of Manhatten. From there we transferred the shape of the panels onto the sailcloth, outcomes the scissors to cut every panel by hand. Design changes were made by changing the hand-drawn lines on the template millimeter by millimeter, the result could only be checked on the final product. A very slow process.


Michi Dachsberger, In their Loft making Sails, 1988


In short with this technology it would be close to impossible to produce wings or kites. Nowadays the finished wing is constructed in the latest Ullman Software suite that lets Olaf our designer, determine everything from profile draft to cloth tension in the canopy. Then the prototype is tested in various flow prediction programs. If we are happy with the result of the panel shapes and outlines they are then transferred to the CAD cutter, where every part of the wing is produced to an accuracy of 0.01 of a millimeter.


Michi Dachsberger, Quality Control, and Quality Assurance, 2022


Now the fun begins. There are more the 400 parts in a Wing or kite. All these single components are glued together with double-sided tape to hold shape and position for sewing. This is done with a production tolerance of under 1 mm and requires a very high level of skill from our sailmakers. Parts of the assembled wing go now into the printing department to get their graphic design. Here our Masterprinters have developed the right mix of colors and printing methods that will last in the harsh marine environment of sun, sand, salt, and wind.


The sewing machine is the classic symbol of sailmaking we are using 17 machines with different specifications to arrive at the right result of precision, strength, flex, and durability during the sewing process. The hole that the needle makes in the cloth is called a “Bullet Hole”. One “Bullet Hole” out of place would mean the kite could fail on the water. Kites and Wings like this go straight into the pin. One Wing or kite has close to 1 km of the sewing included in the work process, this is a lot of skill and concentration required from the sailmaker as the 1 mm tolerance apply’s very strictly here.


Ullman Sowing Machine, 2022


You could say a wing is born after he is inflated for the first time to 8 Psi. He has to stand now for a minimum of 48 hours during which the wing runs through a strict Quality process because only perfect wings will leave the loft. Well, that’s a short inside what it takes to build a kite. For me and for so many fellow sailmakers at Ullman sails there is only one thing that is more exciting than building a wing and that is sharing the stoke of our passion with you on the water.




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