When it comes to the Volvo Ocean Race (or any ocean race for that matter), Bruno Dubois is North Sails' point man. His thousands of ocean miles and 25 years of sailmaking have something to do with it.
A veteran of the Transat Jacques Vabre, Jules Verne and Whitbread Round the World Race, he is a Corel 45 world champion and Mini Transat winner. Dubois, who is now taking a sabbatical from North Sails, recently became general manager of Dongfeng Race Team for the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race.
North Sails’ Bruno Dubois - Meghan Sepe
Bruno has been with North Sails for 25 years; he started out selling sails in Toronto, moved to Denmark, and finally landed in France before becoming a vice president of North Sails in Europe. With the team at North Sails in France, Bruno managed sail projects for the MOD 70s and Extreme Sailing Series, as well as individual ocean racing campaigns for Groupama, MACIF, Banque Populaire (both the trimaran and IMOCA 60), Spindrift maxi trimaran and Virbac Paprec to name a few. 'When you stop and consider someone like Bruno, it becomes clear that North Sails is a company of sailors who remain at the forefront of our sport through pure experience,' said Ken Read, North Sails president and two-time Volvo Ocean Race skipper. It is true that whether skippering an Open 60 on the open ocean, working behind a sewing machine in a sail loft, or managing European operations for North Sails, Bruno is in his element. Here, he discusses how North Sails tackled making sails for the new VO65. Q: Bruno, we know the switch to One Design was a big deal for the Volvo Ocean Race, and there were many people involved. Can you tell us how the concept was created and decided upon?
The discussion began in Alicante, Spain just prior to the start of the 2011-2012 race. A consortium of builders, designers, and other contributors came up with a project concept and brought it to Knut Frostad, CEO of Volvo Ocean Race, and the plan evolved from there. North Sails was a part of these discussions as well as other sailmakers. It wasn’t until the Miami stopover that a clear plan was in place. We had a meeting with the race organizers and all of the project contributors, including many of the more experienced sailors that were currently sailing in the race. We had a big debrief regarding sail design and the North Sails designers shared ideas from working on current and previous VOR sail inventories. When it came time for North to design the new inventory of One Design sails, Gautier Sergent (VO65 designer of record) reached out to those same designers.
Q: In your opinion, what makes North Sails the right sailmaker for the VO65 project?
Making sails for a project of this scope involves more than just craftsmanship. It’s about designing sails and helping the rig manufacturer, yacht designer, and builder produce the proper CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) information, which is something North Sails can provide through our Design Services program. Pairing this with the product and the price, North Sails came up with a proposal for the VO65 sails. North 3Di sails put forth a spectacular testament to performance and durability during the 2011-2012 race. After the MOD 70 and Extreme Sailing Series projects, making one design sails was not a brand new process for us. We knew that we could accomplish much more by applying the same people and the same concept on a larger scale.
On top of this, the Volvo Ocean Race project would require a lot of sails to be made in a very short time. North Sails’ global structure and production teams have the capacity to accomplish this and we have the tools to maintain a repeated product, something our competitors cannot guarantee. The most valuable approach was staying positive and offering solutions when the ideas did not fit together. In the end our team and products’ experience spoke for themselves.
Among others, Dubois managed the Groupama VOR 2011-12 sail order with the help of his team at North Sails in France. Q: At North Sails, a project of this size has many contributors. Can you briefly describe the life of a VOR sail within the worldwide North Sails structure?
Using all of the information from the meeting in Miami, the designers sat down in Minden, NV (at North Sails’ manufacturing headquarters) and really put their heads together - Juan Messeguer, Steve Calder, JB Braun, Henrik Soderlund, Jeremy Elliott to name a few. They shared a lot of information and, with Gautier as the lead designer, came up with a cohesive result. It’s a nice story because the guys were great at rationalizing and working together with little ego or hiccups. Sail design is very big part of what we do at North Sails, so these guys have a long history of working together.
We knew all the sails would be produced in Minden at our 3D facility. All the sails came from the same designer using the same file processing system. We use the same production team in Minden to manufacture the sails and the same teams to finish the sails at various North Sails lofts around the world. The Fractional Code Zeros are finished in Minden. The team in France does the finishing for the mainsails, J1s, J2s, and J3s. The loft in Spain finishes the Cuben Fiber spinnakers and the storm jibs. The North Sails team in Sri Lanka produces all of the sail bags. So no matter what, we have the same people making the same products according to documented North Sails 'Blue Book' standards and procedures.
We also made sure we had capacity for alternative solutions. For example, if one of the lofts becomes overloaded with work, we have an option to move all J1 sail finishing from France to our lofts in the UK or Denmark. With our Blue Book procedures in place, the new finishing teams would be up and running in very little time. Q: You have plenty of ocean racing experience yourself. While managing the DongFeng Race Team, are you going to miss being onboard in this edition of the race?
Yes, for sure! The crew on Dongfeng Race Team recently went on a three week offshore trip. As I tossed them the lines it was a strange feeling for me because I am so used to being on the other side of the fence. Honestly, I’m learning quite a lot. There is the sailing aspect in which we are always learning. But then there is the management aspect which for me, has presented new discoveries around every corner. A new way of marketing, a new style of management, and so on.
I’ve been with North Sails for 25 years. I started as a salesman and eventually I managed a loft, then became sales manager in Europe, and finally vice president in Europe. At North Sails, I worked and collaborated with all kinds of people but it was often from the same vantage point. A VOR campaign is different and though I have plenty of experience to contribute to the team, we are learning things together every day. It’s a new adventure. Q: What are you most excited about within the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race?
Historically the Volvo Ocean Race is the pinnacle of competition on many levels. In this edition, I’m excited to see a race where every team starts on a level playing field. For example, in the 2011-2012 VOR, you might have said that Ken Read was the best sailor in the world, but I think Groupama was faster by design. In some conditions, there was nothing Kenny could do because Groupama won that part of the race in the design office, before either team left the dock.
This time, having a one design boat means more emphasis is placed on the sailors, and each team is very unique. Dongfeng Race Team’s crew is one-third Chinese and the rest are French and Swedish. We have a few new sailors onboard who are training, working very hard, but it’s a challenge. There is Team SCA with all girls. They will bring a completely new dynamic to the boat and the race itself. The young guys on Team Alvimedica are also fresh and will be learning. There will be a different set of challenges for every team. In this race I know the competition will be tight, and there is a great element of surprise.
For North Sails this will be a good test. It’s exciting that we have sails on all the boats, and I’m confident the product will live up to its expectations. If all goes to plan, the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 will be another testament to the power of North Sails.