Science and the Art of Sailing

Garth Reynolds of North Sails describing how sails are sewn together.

We dove deep into the science of sails when North Sails designer Garth Reynolds rolled out a presentation filled with charts, graphs, and colored aerodynamic displays at the AYC July membership meeting, Tuesday evening, July 12.

Garth ticked off a list of software approaches he uses to fashion sails for a host of serious and semi-serious competitors: Olympic sailors, Opti sailors, or weekend one-design racers. And maybe most interesting, he described how he works to correlate computer number flow with performance on the water. Using a following boat with cameras and data-gathering gear and integrating pictures from a masthead camera, he can massage sails to match the conditions and the competitor.

Garth described how he adjusted the sails for two young Opti sailors, twins with startlingly different sailing styles. They may have shared DNA, he said, but they used very different techniques to reach success. Result: different sails to suit each technique that brought them both to the head of the pack in a 200-boat competition.

Garth’s enthusiasm for sailing is infectious. He admits his father doesn’t quite believe his son’s good luck. “He always told me, don’t expect work to be fun. That’s why they call it work!” Yet, here’s Garth Reynolds, bubbling with the joy of discovering tiny tweaks to make a Finn sail better over tall waves so Olympian Zach Railey can take a gold medal next year.

“What were your takeaways?” I asked a few AYC people.

“Wrinkles aren’t bad,” said one. Garth had made it clear that getting the right shape may mean wrinkles, dragging reluctant fabric into rounded shapes.

“Pointing means constant fiddling,” said another. Garth had described how to push the boat higher and how a single knot of wind velocity can change the whole picture.

Lots of people reached for one of Garth’s business cards, intent on taking him up on his offer to review photos to coach them on sail shape. If you’d like to do that, his e-mail address is garth@design.northsails.com. If you send a picture, be sure to include as much information as possible about conditions at the time, including wind speed, helm, trim, heel and so forth.

With the usual AYC monthly meeting place suddenly unavailable just days before the July meeting, Maryellen scrambled to find a replacement and landed a great one, the Fiesta Inn, just four miles from our usual 19th Tee meeting spot. The Fiesta Inn provided an excellent facility and good food at a great rate and nearly 70 people turned out for the meeting.

Next month: back at 19th Tee (probably under a new name) with the postponed ice cream social.

—Mike Ferring

Some of the audience for Garth Reynolds' session