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Hyde Sails 2017 Dinghy Show

From Theory to Practice - The Hard Route to Ultimate Boatspeed

by Mark Jardine 14 Dec 2018 04:00 PST
Richard Lovering and Matt Alverado during the 2016 505 Worlds in Weymouth © Mark Jardine

We speak to Hyde Sails Managing Director Nigel Grogan and son Jack Grogan, One Design Sales & Accessory Manager. It has been noticeable that their strategy for the last four years has been to concentrate on specific dinghy and small keelboat classes, making sure they are getting it right.

Mark Jardine: Hyde Sails have a tradition in the dinghy and small keelboat classes, but for a while may have been concentrating on too many aspects. At what point did you decide to focus just on key classes?

Nigel Grogan: Three or four years ago we started re-appraising our approach to racing classes, and the reason is that, historically, Hyde has DNA in many National classes such as the Enterprise, Mirror and several others that were household names in the 1960s and 70s; we made loads of sails for those classes, but when the manufacturer one-designs came in the older classes were replaced to a large extent. Everybody started racing the Laser and the RS classes instead. We made thousands of sails for those SMOD manufacturers, but we let go of the traditional dinghy roots; it was too difficult and we were distracted by the volume of sails we had to make elsewhere.

But we've come to recognise that the 'halo' effect of success in racing classes trickles down to the rest of your brand - cruising sails for example - and the interest, in some respects, lies in racing performance. Therefore, as a large sailmaker, you have to be "in it". So, picking a few classes, and concentrating on getting results we can point at, we hope will influence sailor's perception of the whole Hyde brand. It is a step-by-step approach to boosting the brand profile in a way that would resonate with good dinghy and keelboat sailors. Ultimately we want to move up the size range, more into the larger yacht racing sphere as well.

Mark: Jack, was it easy to agree with this new direction, or was it tempting to stick with the SMOD market success only? Was it something the whole company - your whole family - could get behind?

Jack Grogan: I think we all agreed with it on the basis that we all like sailing different boats. There's no doubt that Lasers, RS classes and Hartley classes are fantastic, but there is no large OEM keelboat manufacturer for us to work with. Plus Dad just loves sailing his Squib! When it comes to sail design, a computer will throw out a very good design, it won't have the minute differences that make it the fastest sail across the wind range. One of the things we focus on is making sails that are easy to use. If you're manufacturing for a one-design class, that is not going to change for a while: it's the same for everybody and that is fine. So the challenge is to set the standard high and keep the company moving forward. I think it shows we are doing the right thing, and everyone was in total agreement.

Mark: 2018 has really been the year where this hard work - testing on the water every weekend - has come to fruition. How has it felt to get the kind of results that you now have had in classes such as Flying Fifteen, Fireball, Merlin Rocket and Solo?

Jack: It's enormously gratifying when somebody goes and wins a championship after participating in a development programme to make slightly faster sails. You know then that you've achieved the goal! It can also be enormously frustrating: Ritchie Lovering [Hyde's sail designer] was doing really well at the Solo Nationals - he'd modified the design so many times - and was ballistically quick when it was breezy. Then later in the week it was not going so well, but I think that he has demonstrated that our sails are very fast. I know he was immediately thinking about how to make the sail competitive across a broader wind range. This will result in a whole load more minute adjustments, both on the computer, and on the water. I am 100% sure Ritchie will win the Solo Nationals within the next couple of years.

Mark: I know you're an avid reader of the yachting press. How do you feel when you wake up in the morning, check the latest news, and see the winning Fireball with the Hyde Sails logo emblazoned across the headline photo?

Jack: Every Monday morning starts with a look at the yachting news, like many sailors I am sure. Recently we did have a moment exactly as you describe: I logged on, up pops the Merlin Rocket event results, where Hyde Sails have won, then next a Hyde victory at a Fireball event, and thirdly, Ritchie winning the Solo open at Weymouth! It is like the stars have aligned! Then the phones go off for the rest of the week. Though it doesn't mean you can go to sleep on it; you've got the next round of events and results coming up too. The classes don't only need our sails being at the top, they need our support with other matters, such as sponsorship, too.

Mark: Nigel, as we have previously talked about you seem to live/eat/breathe sailing. This constant refinement you talk about is something that, from the very top of the company, is constantly going on and being thought about. Sail development is an ever-changing art, constantly evolving. Do you think it absolutely vital that you, as the owner of the company, are an active sailor?

Nigel: I really do. When I took over the company, I was concerned about the number of people who did not do any serious sailing. If you run a sailmaking company I think you have got to be out there on the water; if you don't enjoy it... you're in the wrong business! If you enjoy it... then a regatta is work and a holiday at the same time. I think it would be odd if you couldn't keep the enthusiasm for the sailing side.

Plus, I think it is motivational for all the staff involved. Half of our Hamble office team have been on a Quarter Tonner this past week. This class represents our first step back into serious yacht racing, and we're learning fast with it. We haven't embarked on a big campaign yet, but the guys are really enjoying it. It is a different team every day and gives them a lot to talk about on Monday morning. It gives a lot of extra impetus to their efforts. As well as professionally: making sure everyone in the company knows what they are talking about.

It is the same in our factory. We have supported a local sailing club - and there are not many in the Philippines - where our staff have been racing in a local boat that is just like a little wooden box. We've bought a few. It is so weird to see these craft racing along a lake, all with Hyde sails on them! It is helping the staff there understand what they are making. So I think participation is absolutely vital.

Mark: Jack, you work with your dad, you sail with your dad. Clearly you couldn't do this unless you enjoyed it!

Jack: Ha! Obviously. One of the highlights for me was winning the Weymouth Nationals in the Squib with Dad. It must have been on his bucket list for years. It was a long time coming and a lot of hard work, and it's very important that we managed to do that. With Hyde Sails, it is growing every single day, and that's important in other aspects of life, not just the sailing world. So yes, it is great to do it, it is hard work and can be one hell of a challenge. I just wish we could play golf a little more often...

Mark: Well it's quite clear with this ethos in the company, and this strategy, that the results will keep on coming. So thank you for your time.

Find out more at www.hydesails.co.uk

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