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How to Become a Sailmaker

We can marvel at the skills and tools ancient Mesopotamians put to use when they built the first sailing boats some 5,000 years ago, but have you ever wondered what it takes to become a 21st-century sailmaker?  

We sat down with Charles Saville, Quantum’s Global Director of Customer Care and a third-generation sailmaker, to learn about this exciting and ever-evolving occupation.

GETTING STARTED

Charles Saville explains that no matter the sailmaking position you aspire to, it is helpful to begin by gaining experience in sail repair and service, as it will give you a solid foundation to build on. Look for a position as a service technician or apprentice at a loft to get a sense for the lay of the land in a sailmaking facility. While it could take up to a year for this initial training, traditional sailmaking continues to evolve with service technicians rapidly expanding their skillset to include outdoor, client facing engagement and selling. From traditional sails to cruising, racing, and mega-yacht sails, sails are vast and varied, and it takes time and dedication for an aspiring sailmaker to learn all the intricacies and skills required. Anyone new to the profession should be prepared to spend time familiarizing themselves with the products both on and off the water. 

If this sounds like a large investment of time and energy, that’s because it is. “Be aware that you’re not going to walk into a loft and become a sailmaker right out of the gate,” says Saville. “While you can pick up the basic concepts and skills within a few months, it takes years to master the profession, but if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with a fulfilling lifelong career.” 

Apprentices and service technicians will be exposed to many facets of sailmaking, from repairing existing sails to building new sails. As opposed to working in sail production facilities, service facilities offer the best opportunity for beginning sailmakers to work on the greatest variety of sails and build their foundational understanding of sailmaking more quickly. Following this experience, service technicians and apprentices are well-equipped to select their area of interest and pursue training in specialized areas.

Sailmaking encompasses far more than crawling around on your hands and knees with scissors, cutting and sewing sails together. There are a variety of career paths within sailmaking that build off the skills learned during apprenticeship. Here are a few examples.

SAIL DESIGNERS

While sail designers often have a background in computer-aided design (CAD) and are highly educated in fluid/aero dynamics, it’s not essential for a sail designer to have a technical background. Many successful designers learn the craft through their personal experience with sails and a love of sailing.  These individuals have a drive to sail faster and are generally technically minded. How they use the sails and think of ways to improve their performance, and then go back to the loft for recuts and tweaks demonstrates an understanding of what makes a great sail. Over time, they develop the skills necessary to use more powerful tools like CAD and Quantum’s sail design software suite to design sails.

CUSTOMER CARE REPRESENTATIVES

Another pathway within the sailmaking industry is to work closely with customers to advise and support their sailing experiences. Saville uses the example of Quantum to show how customer service leads to more knowledgeable sailmaking. “At Quantum, we do more than just sell sails. We strive to be the go-to source for our customers’ questions and concerns about their on-the-water experiences. It’s the little things we do, like providing tips on the best anchorages for lunch on a windy day or spending a day on the water teaching clients how to get the best performance from their yacht. These interactions build relationships and help our customers get the most enjoyment from their sailing.” 

SALES

Professional, knowledgeable salespeople are equally critical to the success of Quantum Sails and any sailmaker. Not surprisingly, says Saville, many individuals on Quantum’s sales team learned the ropes of sailmaking through working on the loft floor as a service technician at some point in their career. If this is a route you’re interested in, Saville recommends that you learn to service and repair sails and become technically proficient in the art of sailmaking while getting to know the wider sailing community. “This ‘ground up’ training as a sailmaker has made our sales staff one of the most technically knowledgeable in the industry, and it will benefit your career as well,” adds Saville. Salespeople in the sailing world pay careful attention to detail, prioritize relationships with clients, and have a passion for sailing. “Because they know the product inside and out, they can provide a truly consultative experience to customers.”

The sailmaking industry continues to change. Where there used to be specific pathways to certain careers, there are now many opportunities that build upon a foundation in service that can take you as far as you’re willing to work. Quantum Sails looks for candidates who are involved in their local sailing community and passionate about the sport. “Community involvement is not to be underrated or undervalued,” says Saville. “The people who want to be at the yacht club interacting with friends and potential clients and who might go cruising or racing on the weekend, these are the people who will go far in this industry, and the people who make up our team at Quantum Sails.”

Another opportunity to learn more about a career in sailmaking is to take a loft tour. We love to expose the next generation to the ins and outs of loft life. A tour can be a fun and educational activity for youth sailing teams or college teams, especially when it’s cold outside. To schedule a loft tour, please call the loft you would like to visit, and we’ll set something up with you.

As a growing company, Quantum is always looking for great talent. Whether you’re ready for a career change or fresh out of school, give us a call. We’d be happy to talk with you about the options for a career in sailmaking. Click here to browse current job openings and get some ideas on how you might apply your interests and talents. Not finding what you’re looking for? You can always call your local loft to inquire about potential job openings.

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The Discussion

Scott Hines

Scott Hines

I would be interested in a follow up conversation on being an apprentice - how would you suggest I proceed? Thank you, Scott

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