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Etchells Winter Championship - Michael Coxon talks new sail technology

by Tracey Johnstone on 28 Mar 2014
Despite advances in sail technology, the basic sailmaking skills are still required on the loft floor North Sails
North Sails Australia’s Michael Coxon was the first skipper to enter the Mooloolaba’s 18th Etchells Australasian Winter Championship to be held from 5th to 8th June 2014.

His team will be an all-North Sails team with Coxon’s business partner Richie Allanson and their production manager Andrew Gavenlock hoping on board for the regatta.

Coxon’s name at the top of list is not surprising for those in the know in the Etchells class. Coxon and his North Sails co-workers are avid Etchells class supporters both as competitors and industry suppliers to the class.

While the North Sails team members are often on the podium at the top Etchells events, in the background they continue to push the boundaries on materials and sail shape to achieve better Etchells class sails.

Coxon took time out this week to discuss North Sails latest sail development work which will be on display at the 18th Etchells Australasian Winter Championship.

The principle focus of the North Sails program at the moment is the Newport World Championship. This program is being led by Vince Brun in the USA.

'We are very pleased with the class results leading up to the Newport worlds with North Sails recently winning the Jaguar Regatta, taking seven of top 10 places and just last weekend won the North Americans. In fact, we took the first five places and had eight teams in the top 10.

'The number one goal is positioning our clients so that hopefully they can take out the next worlds which our clients have achieved in the previous seven worlds. The last world’s Norths didn’t win was in 2006 when Judd (Smith) won in Perth,' Coxon said.

On a longer time frame development process North Sails are working on full radial upwind sails which are radially constructed right through. They have been working on that process for over a year and with 2012 Etchells World Champion skipper Tom King and his crew on the project.


'We have been developing these in conjunction with Tom and now Vince is also testing these designs. We have developed the mainsail mould and are working on light and medium heavy jib moulds. Once we have the consensus mould for each design, we can very accurately refine design concepts, reproduce and test. At a recent on-water testing session we photographed seven different designs, then we used the North Advanced Sail Analysis (ANA) software to record the flying shapes which allows accurate design comparisons. Those are analysed in our Skype debriefs which we also use to gain input from our team in various locations around the country and globe.'

Coxon has been using the test sails for about year including when he won the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron Milson Silver Goblet earlier this year. He then lent his development main to fellow Sydney Fleet member Matt Whitnall, who promptly won the next race, ordered the radial main for the NSW Championships held the next weekend where he finished an impressive third with other North Sails clients taking first and second.

'The radial construction is where we see the future of the sails going, for two reasons. One, there is now available in the marketplace a suitable warped orientated Dacron. What that means is the strength of the cloth goes along the roll rather than across it. That means we can utilise the radial construction to better align with the sailing loads to make sails that will hold their shape better and last longer. Both important factors when working within the class sail limitations and budgets.

'In the past some people have dabbled with radial construction, including ourselves, but to be honest, it was more fashion than function because what we were using wasn’t warped orientated cloths. They looked nice, but they didn’t necessarily meet all the performance requirements.

'In layman’s terms, with sail cloth you have either the strength focused across the roll, called the fill of the cloth, or along the roll called the warp of the cloth. So you have stronger fill threads or warp threads. The stronger yarn in the weave will run the direction of the load. So if you make a cross-cut sail, which is traditionally what Etchells and one-design Dacron sails are made of, you have in the past used fill orientated cloth with the strong weave running across the roll.

'Due to North Cloth Department investment in specialised warp weaving equipment we are now developing One Design quality warp Dacrons to meet the Etchells class rule. Warp is more difficult to weave because you are controlling the continued length of the fabric where with fill you are only controlling for a metre across the fabric,' he said.

The new moulds for the mainsails and jibs have been developed and are already available to clients alongside the existing proven World Championship winning cross-cut sails.

North Sails will have the warp orientated, stronger, more durable sails, out on the water at the Mooloolaba Winters in June, carried by Tom King, Matt Whitnall and on Coxon’s boat, No Star.

For all event information including the Notice of Race and online entry, click here or here.

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