South Australian shipwright Tom Crabb had always dreamed of entering the Melbourne Osaka yacht race, but life kept getting in the way. The 5,500 nautical mile race is considered to be one of the toughest short handed races in the world. It requires a significant commitment in terms of time, boat preparation and funding. In March of this year he finally lined his Adams 11.9 ‘Southern Light’ up at the Melbourne start. Observers may have noticed that Southern Light was sporting an expensive looking set of brand new headsails, and the story of how they got on his boat is worth relating.
Southern Light during the Melbourne Osaka Race
Like many sailors, Crabb needed to prepare his boat on a limited budget. As a shipwright he had a thorough understanding of what equipment he needed on board and how to best prepare his boat and himself for the demanding race. He knew that he needed a decent set of reaching headsails, but didn’t think he could afford to replace his existing set. He was lucky enough to find assistance from the team at Doyle Sails.
‘We went through the whole wardrobe with Doyle’s South Australian representative. We sat down and worked out which sails were required the most, and then everything went down on a list of priorities’ explained Crabb.
‘When you’re in a situation where you’re restricted by costs you basically take the options that make the most difference.’
Doyle Sails Qingdao
Doyle Sails had only recently opened up a sail loft in China and they were keen to prove to their customers that the Chinese loft would produce sails every bit as good as their existing Australian lofts. The new loft is situated in the city of Qingdao, site of the 2008 Olympic sailing and also a pit stop for next year’s Volvo Ocean Race and the Round the World Clipper Race.
Doyle’s Mark Fullerton was given the task of getting the Chinese loft up and running. He needed to hire and train staff, organise suppliers and translators, put production systems in place and manage a thousand pieces of Chinese and Australian paperwork.
He was surprised to find that some of the things that he thought would be difficult, like finding skilled staff and managing the language barrier, were relatively easy whereas things that he had assumed would be straightforward were extremely time consuming.
Like many people establishing a business in China, he found the outcome of ordinary transactions were often unpredictable.
‘There’s no black and white, just plenty of grey!’ he said with a laugh.
‘Just generally running the company and basic transactions which are very simple in the Western world can be very difficult and time consuming here. You certainly need very good people working on the problems to get them sorted out.’
Fullerton considered his most important job to be ensuring that the new loft had strict quality control so it could maintain Doyle’s reputation for quality production. He recognised that there is often a knee-jerk, negative response to the phrase ‘made in China’ and he wanted to counter this.
When he heard about Crabb’s need for sails for the Osaka race, he recognised an opportunity to help the sailor get to the start line and also publicly advertise the quality of his loft’s work.
‘Tom came to us and he was obviously on a very tight budget. He said ‘what can you do for us?’ And we said ‘well we can do you a good deal, but they’re going to be the first sails made out of China’. And he was happy to take that on…’
‘They were the first sails we made that went onto a boat. Before that we had made half a dozen little practice sails just to show the new staff what it was all about. And they picked it up, that was all going really well, so the first sails we made went onto his boat and straight into the Melbourne Osaka race.’
‘We figured it was a perfect way to prove it to other people that the first sails out of China can do a five and half thousand mile two handed race without any problems.’
So Crabb got his new sails and the team at Doyle Sails waited patiently for him to get to Osaka so they could hear his feedback.
Southern Light just after the start
It turned out that Southern Light had a few problems with the balance of her rudder early in the race and Crabb and his co-skipper decided to stop for repairs. By the time they started racing again, the rest of the fleet had a following southerly and Southern Light was beating straight into a northerly.
‘When the breeze finally filled in for us we had quite a bit of work to do to catch up.’
Southern Light was eventually the seventh boat to cross the finish line in Japan, and Crabb is now back in South Australia working hard to catch up on the three months spent at sea and away from his own business. He plans to offer Southern Light for charter in the upcoming Melbourne/Vanuatu race or to sell the boat as an ocean capable short handed racer.
He said that he was extremely pleased with the quality of Doyle’s sails.
‘There were no issues with them whatsoever’ he said. ‘It was all fine. They were all really, really good. They were furling sails as well so they had a bit of design work to do there.’
Southern Light's Trent Justice, Liz & husband Tom Crabb
John Hearne, who runs Doyle’s Sydney loft, noted that ‘that just proves the quality that we’re turning out from up there.’
‘Having productions facility in Sydney and China means we can now shift our work load as necessary to insure the best sails are made at the right facility giving us more flexibility in servicing our customers.’
‘Things like super yachts and really big boats, it would be much easier to do those here. They’re jobs where we need to be a little bit more hands on with it and want to work in closely with the boats.’
He said that a large part of Doyle’s local customer service was about sailing with owners on their boats and helping identify problems with trim, making suggestions on how to get the boat to go better and generally improving the sail plan.
‘With some of the production now in China we’ll have more time here to service our customers and spend time sailing with customers, developing sails and R&D. But basically servicing our customers will be where we’ll have more time to spend.’
The Sydney loft is already experiencing a small but significant increase in the amount of time they have to spend on non production projects. John Hearne recently held a free evening talk for sailors in the Sydney loft which was billed as ‘Sail makers’ secrets.’ He described it simply as being about ‘how sails work’ and plans future monthly talks on topics such as race trim and maximising a boat’s racing performance.
He regards sharing this knowledge as a natural extension of his work as a sail maker.
‘Quite often we get onto a boat and we can actually make it go a bit better than the average person can. It’s only because we sail all the time and make the product: we know what to do.’
‘All the tips that we put into practice when we go on someone’s boat, we try and impart them on these nights.’
If you would like more information on Doyle’s evening talks contact the Sydney loft on (02) 93614836.
Address : 30 Pile Street
City : Somersby
State : NSW
Postcode : 2250
Country : Australia
Phone : +612 4340 4766
Fax : +612 4340 5499