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Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) – powered by Doyle to second place and two sailing records in the 2016 Vendée Globe © Cleo Barnham Hugo Boss
Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) – powered by Doyle to second place and two sailing records in the 2016 Vendée Globe © Cleo Barnham Hugo Boss

Volvo Ocean Race ~ Doyle Sails International

Mid way through the 35th Match for the America’s Cup, one chapter closed and a new one opened for one of the world’s most substantial sailmakers.

After joining Doyle Sails New Zealand in June 2011, Volvo Ocean Race winner, Mike Sanderson announced in Bermuda that a new leadership team, based in New Zealand, would be taking the helm at Doyle Sails International.

‘The timing of the announcement in the middle of the America’s Cup wasn’t ideal. It worked reasonably well for us on some fronts, but it was what it was. We also had to get on with it. And it was nice to do it in Bermuda with the America’s Cup and J Class racing.’

The announcement was made aboard the J Class yacht Shamrock V during the J Class regatta staged as part of the 2017 America’s Cup Regatta.

Shamrock V, the Challenger in the 1920 America’s Cup was the only one of the seven-strong fleet in Bermuda to have actually contested an America’s Cup. She is the only one of the classic J Class to carry a Doyle Sails inventory.

‘Last year we had a big shift in Doyle Sails New Zealand’s ownership when David Duff and Richard Bouzaid and I bought out Chris (McMaster)’, Sanderson explained in mid-October from the new headquarters of Doyle Sails International in West Auckland.

‘At that stage, I became the majority shareholder of Doyle New Zealand and soon after that Robbie and I started having discussions.

‘In New Zealand, we owned the Stratis brand but didn’t own the Doyle brand. We wanted more certainty of the future of the group. That lead to us talking about a good exit strategy for Robbie.’

‘I was very conscious that Robbie and Janet Doyle and the Doyle family had given a huge amount to the Doyle brand over the years, and to be fair hadn’t been rewarded for all the effort, time and commitment. We very much wanted to have a crack at Norths, who is bigger than all the other sailmakers in the world combined.

‘That level of domination is fantastic for us because it means there is a world of opportunity out there.

‘We know them well, as I was involved with Norths for a long time, as was Richard (Bouzaid) and Duffy. We have many good friends in there and enjoy the competition.

‘To be fair, we need them, and they need us. A monopoly is not good for anyone. We’re having a good time,’ he chuckled.

The New Zealand arm of the sailmaking business had its genesis in the old Auckland sailmaking firm of Boyd and McMaster – with Chris McMaster being a third generation sailmaker.

It was under Chris McMaster and Richard Bouzaid that Boyd and McMaster along with Bouzaid Sails merged into one entity and became a franchised loft of Doyle Sails (USA), one of about 60 or more around the world.

Volvo Ocean Race 2017/18 - Leg 01, Alicante to Lisbon. Stuart Bannatyne on the helm of Dongfeng enroute to the waypoint. 26 October, 2017 © Rich Edwards / Volvo Ocean Race

Volvo Ocean Race 2017/18 – Leg 01, Alicante to Lisbon. Stuart Bannatyne on the helm of Dongfeng enroute to the waypoint. 26 October, 2017 © Rich Edwards / Volvo Ocean Race

(Richard Bouzaid is also a third generation sailmaker who’d built the sails for Volvo Ocean Race winner, Yamaha, as an in-house project.)

Doyle Sails New Zealand had some varied relationships with Doyle USA, but it wasn’t until June 2017 that they finally acquired the rights to the Doyle brand.

The result of the acquisition is that the 60 loft network of Doyle Sails is now centred around a New Zealand hub, rather than Salem, on the east coast of USA.

‘We’re still missing a few key places, like France. But we have got good coverage around the world’, Sanderson continues. ‘Now we are asking ourselves – ‘where to from here?’

Doyle Sails New Zealand is still an operating company in New Zealand. There is a new company, registered and operating out of New Zealand which is Doyle Sails International, who own the brand, together with all rights internationally for the Doyle group.

‘It is an exciting thing for New Zealand. It means that the second largest sailmaking company in the world is now headquartered in New Zealand.

‘Previously the Doyle brand was run by Robbie as part of his own loft, but it needs far more attention than that. It needs to be its own entity, running and managing and looking after.’

Stratis is our membrane procedure and was started by Doyle New Zealand. It was a New Zealand product we sold to the other lofts to use. Now Stratis is a licenced product of Doyle. ‘

Targeting specific markets
Sanderson says Doyle will aim at the bespoke sail business, as opposed to investing heavily in stamping out one design production sails.

‘That is where we think our place is in the market. We are a bunch of sailors who are sailmakers, and we want to do the cool stuff.’

‘We don’t want to do mass production. We want to do the Maxi 72’s and the superyachts.

‘Doyle wants to have a solution for everyone. We have set up some offshore production ability so that we can keep building a high quality with value for weekend sailors. We need to keep the quality high’, he emphasises.

With Doyle, we now can look at markets and solutions for those markets and come up with a scenario that works for those markets.

‘Once a company starts supplying cheap sails for production boats, it is very hard for them to drag their brand back up out of that and into the Grand Prix Race and Superyacht market.

‘We’ve had imported boats turn up here with sails that the owners won’t even take out of the bag. We then fit a Leisurefurl boom and Stratis main and a roller furling jib, and they wind up with a very nice package.

America’s Cup?
A new headline act for Doyle Sails International is the announcement that America’s Cup sailors Max Sirena and Francesco Bruni have joined Doyle Sails Italy.

When asked if he expects to see Doyle Sails on board the Italian America’s Cup Challenger, Sanderson quips ‘I’m expecting to see Doyle Sails on everyone in the next America’s Cup!’

‘I’d be disappointed if they weren’t on Luna Rossa. But we aren’t taking anything for granted. I’m not sure if there has ever been Doyle Sails used in an America’s Cup.

‘Robbie was very involved in the Cup [in the 1977 US Defense aboard Courageous and two other Defence trial teams], but I think he was with Hoods at the time. He started the Doyle loft in 1982-83, so I’m not sure there has been a Doyle logo sailing in the America’s Cup.’

One of the features of the Doyle New Zealand loft is that it attracts top round the world sailors.

‘We’re just assembling good guys’, says Sanderson explaining away his team’s pedigree. ‘It’s not rocket science if you get good people, they come up with good ideas, and good ideas make good sails and make boats go fast.’

I guess we have wound up with a few more Round the World sailors because they are the people we know. But those guys have spent all their lives trying to make boats go faster. They are often technical people.’

‘Take Stu Bannatyne for example – he is always very technically involved in the campaigns. Max Sirena and Francesco Bruni are from the other side, and that’s exciting for the Doyle brand.’

‘We’re going to keep getting good people like them – that’s the fun time ahead for us.’

Sanderson claims he has never counted the numbers of Volvo sailors they have on the Doyle Sails team, but a quick tally a few months ago revealed they had enough to be able to field a full VOR race crew. ‘In this office, we have a fair few of us who have won the Race,’ is about as much as Sanderson will concede.

‘In the Volvo 60 and Volvo 70 days, that was what the Race was all about’, he adds. ‘If you asked the Brad Jacksons and Tony Mutters, Stu Bannatynes and myself, what we loved about the Volvo Ocean Race it was trying to come up with with a boat that was faster than the guy next door. That is what is in our blood as Kiwis. If you look at the Kiwi skippers that have won the Whitbread and Volvo, we’re much more in that camp than in a one design world.’

Early involvement
Sanderson points to a new approach of early involvement that is being taken by owners and project managers with the creation of new high-performance racers and superyachts.

‘One thing we can do, as a team, is to make a significant contribution to every aspect of a campaign’, he explains.

‘That is what we are doing more and more as an organisation. We are getting involved earlier in the campaign and are now making input into several projects even before the naval architect is chosen. That is because of the calibre of the people we can bring to the table.

‘We are even being invited into projects where the sailmaker hasn’t even been selected!’

While that might sound very cart before the horse, Sanderson says it shows the level of commitment that Doyle are prepared to make to a project.

‘If we are involved and are a part of a team making decisions we can prove that we are the right people for the project. Sure, it is a cost for Doyle – but it is a gamble worth taking. We obviously do it on substantial projects – so the reward is there.’

From Vendee Globe to Optis
‘At the end of the day that is why we are all doing this’, he adds. ‘We like projects, and we like boats. We get to mull over the problems with boats – from a 120-metre triple masted superyacht to an Optimist.

‘For example, we do the Optis because we think it is good for the brand and we think it is good for the kids – and it is good for New Zealand.’

‘We are never going to be able to buy lunch from what we make from Optimist sails – but we really believe in it.’

British round the world and trans-oceanic solo and two-handed sailor, Alex Thomson has been something of an enigma in the last two Vendee Globes.

He finished third in the 2012 solo non-stop race around the world, and then second in the 2016 edition. In both, he was reckoned to have a clear speed edge over his competitors but was unable to translate this into a race win in the endurance event – which has been won since its inception by French sailors.

Thomson was the only competitor in both races to compete with a Doyle Sails inventory. In the opening stanzas of the race, Thomson had a clear speed edge – setting two world solo records in the process.

‘I don’t think you’ll find anyone who says that he didn’t think he had a speed edge,’ says Sanderson. ‘The advantage he had was and would have been very significant – particularly if he’d had two working foils.

‘It was sad that he broke the starboard board going into the Southern Ocean. It was a massive setback.

[Thomson broke his starboard and most crucial foil, 13 days into the round the world solo race as he entered the Southern Ocean with an 85nm lead over the second placed competitor. He set two new singlehanded records – one for the solo 24hr distance record, and the other for fastest solo time to each the Equator over the Vendee Globe course.]

‘Hugo Boss [Alex Thomson] took a very serious setback when they rolled the boat in the Jacques Vabre [two-handed Transatlantic race]. If that hadn’t happened, we would have been a lot further down the road. People say ‘you must have got some advantage from being able to reconfigure’. But we didn’t. It was nothing more than a setback.

‘Alex had a good speed edge, but he also sailed a good race. He made some great decisions. And you make great decisions when you have a great team.

‘When I was fortunate enough to be involved in the ABN AMRO campaign, it was no different. We had the better team, and the better team created the better boat, and the fastest boat wins the race.

‘All the way through Alex’s team made good decisions – from the way the boat was set up – that came from his experience. Obviously, with a Guillaume Verdier design, he got a good boat based on the choices that Alex had made. Richard Bouzaid was up in Lake Garda (Italy) sailing DSS 20fters – even through the winter – and they did a lot of things that other people didn’t do.

It was a story similar in many aspects to the Team New Zealand story. He was also the Lone Wolf. They went for it and didn’t care what anyone else was doing- but they didn’t get quite the same result due to the breakage.

‘In my opinion, a big part of that breakage came from the initial setback [in the Jacques Vabre] as they lost so much testing time.

Maxi 72 success
Despite an excellent performance from Alex Thomson and the Hugo Boss placing third in the 2012 edition of the Vendee Globe, Doyle Sails did not get any new business – just a repeat order from Thomson.

‘At that stage, we needed to grow the network to be able to service these guys, ‘ Sanderson explains.

‘With Doyle’s success with Alex Thomson (IMOCA60), and Maxi 72’s Bella Mente and Momo (with the Maxi 72’s inventory being co-designed by Doyle’s Richard Bouzaid and Quantum’s Jordi Calafat), we’ve blown away the concept that a salesman from the big boys could just look an owner in the eye and say ‘ buy our sails because we’re faster’.

Now it is down to the support you can give the program, who you can give them, and how you can service it. What are the other inputs into the program that you can help with? What software can you contribute in the design phase? We have to make sure that with every opportunity we can do it properly.

‘As we enter new markets, we know that sailors and owners aren’t going to cut us the slack, which they will give to the established brand in the class.

So far Doyle Sails have not been involved in the 52 Super Series. But Sanderson says Doyle Sails are happy to be patient. ‘Until we can do it properly like we have done the 72’s, then we’ll do more harm than good. But we are now ready to do a Super Series program, and we will actively look to do that with a team that is willing to do it properly.

‘That is what Doyle did with Bella Mente in the 72’s and Proteus, and that is what got us Momo’, he adds.

Momo (GER) won the Rolex Maxi 72 Worlds held Porto Cervo in early September. Defending champion Bella Mente (USA) placed third.

Next – How Doyle Sails’ experience with campaigns like Alex Thomson and Hugo Boss relates to the needs of cruising and racing sailors/campaigns

by Richard Gladwell

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