Please select your home edition
Edition
Barz Optics - Melanin Lenses

UK Sails Titanium - 'little black number'

by Guy Nowell on 8 May 2014
Selma Star and Elekta at the Commodore’s Cup 2014, Subic Bay, Philippines Bary Hayes
The dictionary defines 'Titanium' as a hard silver-grey metal used in strong, light, corrosion-resistant alloys. No wonder that UK Sailmakers' hottest item on the market bears the same name.

Say hello to UK's TITANIUM, a sail construction process that makes strong, light, hard-wearing sails that hold their shape through a wide range of wind strengths. This combination has long been every sailmaker's Holy Grail, and here is a winning construction that is already proving itself out on the racetrack.


UK’s Hong Kong production loft is tucked away in the north end of the territory, conveniently far away from any over-curious eyes. And now this phenomenally successful company that boasts almost 50 lofts and service centres around the world is rolling out a new generation of sails that encompass absolutely the most advanced design technologies and materials. They are very proud of what they do, but there are still places in the factory that are off-limits to visitors.

'It’s a lot of science, a good helping of art, and a pinch of black magic,' says UK Sailmakers’ Barry Hayes. 'As well as the input from the enormous UK team all around the world. Titanium sails are true one-piece sails that have continuous yarns running between the corners of the sail. They are the latest chapter in a story that began back in the 1980s with UK Tape Drive.' We all remember those, right? When, for the first time, someone thought of separating the load bearing and the air-impermeability functions of a sail, and came up with a unit that was strong in the right directions and right places only.


UK Titanium sails are composed of four layers: two PET films that are the outside faces of the construction, with the familiar pattern of load bearing carbon tapes and then panels of unidirectional carbon fibre cloth in the middle of the sandwich.

The exterior films are simultaneously the both the ‘finish’ and the glue that holds everything together. Shiny and weatherproof on the outside, the black PET copolymer skins are tacky on the inside, holding the whole layer cake together as it is constructed and also providing the resin that is going to melt down and through the interior elements, just like the cheese in a Reuben sandwich.

The carbon is extruded as a continuous fibre for added strength, measuring in at 2m wide and half of nothing in thickness. There’s not much introduction needed here - sailors all know about carbon fibre. This stuff looks like it came out of one of your old Barry Manilow cassettes, but is a lot stronger and less likely to be used as emergency tell tales. UK have been calculating load paths for long enough to know exactly what they are doing, so take it as read that all the angular sheet loads in this sail are now taken care of. Furthermore, the tapes are not coated in adhesive because there’s no need, and that makes for less weight aloft and less grunt required from the mast man.

The unidirectional carbon cloth is also massively strong and gossamer light, and its job is to provide rigidity to resist the twisting forces inherent in a sail that is being pulled three ways – from the head, the tack and the clew. Look at a Titanium sail and you may think that it is a panel construction because you can see the parallel panels of cloth. In fact, the seams are only in the film to shape the membrane, nothing more.


Hayes recalls that 'When we made our very first Titanium sail there was inevitably a certain amount of suck-it-and-see where the materials were concerned. We sandwiched three layers of unidirectional cloth into a No 3 jib built for Frank Pong’s RP76 Jelik. We knew the stuff was strong, but we didn’t expect the jib lead car to get ripped straight out of the deck. It’s strong – stronger than we realised. Jelik’s present No 3 only has one layer of unidirectional in the sandwich, and it’s just fine.'

The four layers are dropped into a custom-formed variable geometry form in which the sail is heat and UV-bonded into one piece. This is a concave form, and the ‘variable geometry’ part is very Secret Squirrel. (‘Don’t ask’ is safest, but we do know that it doesn’t involve trapeze artists and hovercraft). The PET copolymer resin melts and seeps around the carbon fibres and then down through the unidirectional weave cloth, and then all of a sudden the whole becomes substantially greater than the sum of its parts.


What’s happened here is that instead of applying the load path structural members to a pre-made sail membrane, the sail skin and load path structures have been fabricated as one integral product. Now you have a sail that is formed to exactly the right shape, as stiff as cross-grain plywood thanks to the unidirectional panels, as strong as the carbon load-bearing fibres can make it, and – here’s the bonus – not subject to UV degradation. Quite the opposite, in fact. Along with heat, ultraviolet light is part of the process that bonds everything together. Outdoors, UV merely serves to bond the sandwich together even more strongly.

UK maintain that their Titanium sails are their 'lightest, strongest and most high performance product ever'. They should know, after all, they have been building sails since 1946. The group has grown enormously since then, but UK are proud that the individual lofts that make up the group still retain the personal touch that sailors expect - all UK lofts are owned by local sailors who know the needs of their sailing communities. That's why each loft prides itself in providing quick, high-quality service along with well-designed, long lasting new sails.




































Out on the race track, the most easily-spotted version of UK Titanium is probably the black-skinned sails on board Marcel Leidts’ GTS43, Electra. At the China Coast Regatta 2013, Electra rounded off the six-race series with three consecutive first places to take top honours in IRC 1. Leidts said afterwards, 'the sails took a little getting used to as they really are very, very stiff. But that didn’t take long, and the results speak for themselves.'


Frank Pong’s Reichel Pugh 76, Jelik, is also using UK Titanium sails, and made quite an impression at the Royal Langkawi International Regatta in January 2014. After a rocky start to the regatta – tactics, not equipment – Jelik chased hard, taking six first places in ten races, and finishing just two points off the trophy.




If you talk to the UK people for more than five minutes you quickly realise that the company celebrates ‘unity in diversity’. It’s been described 'a group of strong-minded independent operators with an enormous depth of specific talent spread through the whole group that any member of the group can call upon'. It’s that strength in depth that has come together to produce some of the finest racing sails in the world: UK Titanium – strong, light, stiff, practically bulletproof, and beautifully engineered.

Bakewell-White Yacht DesignPredictWind.comNaiad/Oracle Supplier

Related Articles

Le Cléac'h and Thomson revel in the Vendée Globe glory
Armel Le Cléac'h and Alex Thomson were basking in the glory of becoming the solo round the world race's fastest sailors. Armel Le Cléac'h and second-placed Alex Thomson were today basking in the glory of becoming the solo round the world race's fastest ever sailors. Le Cléac'h and Thomson arrived in the race's home port of Les Sables d'Olonne in France just 16 hours apart after more than 27,000 nautical miles of racing over 74 days to claim the top two podium places.
Posted today at 5:07 pm
Quantum Key West Race Week – Day 4 images and videos by Nic Douglass
Nic Douglass has provided these images and videos from day four Nic Douglass has provided these images and videos from day four
Posted today at 4:30 pm
Jules Verne Trophy – New equator record for IDEC Sport
Francis Joyon, Sébastien Audigane, Clément Surtel, Gwénolé Gahinet, Alex and Bernard achieved the best performance ever Francis Joyon, Sébastien Audigane, Clément Surtel, Gwénolé Gahinet, Alex Pella and Bernard Stamm achieved the best performance ever for the stretch betweenUshant and the Equator after rounding the three capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin and the Horn) with a time of 35 days, four hours and 45 minutes.
Posted today at 3:59 pm
Alex Thomson takes the runner-up spot in the Vendée Globe
Thomson set out to become the first Brit ever to win the Vendée Globe but following an epic battle with French skipper. Thomson, 42, set out to become the first Brit ever to win the Vendée Globe but following an epic battle with French skipper Armel Le Cléac'h missed out on the top spot by just shy of 16 hours. The skipper of Hugo Boss crossed the finish line at 0737 UTC in a time of 74 days, 19 hours, 35 minutes and 15 seconds in one of the closest finishes ever in the race's 27-year history.
Posted today at 3:47 pm
St. Maarten Heineken Regatta – Tweaks and changes
Paul Miller, Racing Director for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta spoke about the tweaks and changes to the 37th edition Paul Miller, Racing Director for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, spoke about the tweaks and changes to the 37th edition of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, including free entry for the Gill Commodore's Cup, sensational Beach Cat packages including very attractive shipping costs from Europe and a novel finale to the Caribbean's most popular regatta.
Posted today at 3:21 pm
Alex Thomson finishes second in the Vendée Globe
Thomson, 42, crossed the finish line of the race in Les Sables d'Olonne, today on his 60ft racing yacht Hugo Boss. Thomson, 42, crossed the finish line of the race in Les Sables d'Olonne, France, at 0737hrs UTC today on his 60ft racing yacht Hugo Boss.
Posted today at 12:41 pm
Alex Thomson defies the odds to finish second in the Vendée Globe
After 74 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes at sea, British sailor Alex Thomson reached the finish line on his boat Hugo Boss After 74 days, 19 hours and 35 minutes at sea, British sailor Alex Thomson reached the finish line on his boat Hugo Boss at 7:37 UTC Friday 20th January 2017, and in doing so broke his own British record of 80 days for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in a monohull.
Posted today at 12:31 pm
Quantum Key West Race Week heads down to the wire in four classes
Four classes are up for grabs with one race remaining. Tomorrow's lone race for all classes will decide the winner Four classes are up for grabs with one race remaining at the 30th anniversary Quantum Key West Race Week. Tomorrow's lone race for all classes will decide the winner in the 52 Super Series, J/111 Class, J/70 Class and the ORC Class.
Posted today at 12:09 pm
Mount Gay Round Barbados Series - Another glorious day on racecourse
The final day of the Coastal Series at the 81st Mount Gay Round Barbados Regatta concluded in spectacular style today The final day of the Coastal Series at the 81st Mount Gay Round Barbados Regatta, organised by Barbados Cruising Club in association with Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc, and Mount Gay, concluded in spectacular style today with sunshine, a good working breeze up to 17-18kts, and a relatively flat sea.
Posted today at 6:46 am
Quantum Key West Race Week - Day 4 action-shots by Nico Martinez
Nico Martinez was on water at 2017 Quantum Key West Race Week, 52 Super Series and provided this gallery of images Photographer Nico Martinez was on water at 2017 Quantum Key West Race Week, 52 Super Series and provided this gallery of images from Day 3 action.
Posted today at 4:42 am