Superior Sailmakers harness the wind

June 2021

Hull, masts, rigging, keel. The creak of the timbers, the smell of the sea. And the sails – those glorious sails – catching the wind and snapping in the breeze. That’s the stuff of myth and legend, of history and a time long, long ago. Or is it?

“I love to sail,” says Dave De Jong of Superior Sailmakers. “I had built a couple sails for my own use but soon, word got out and a few local sailors decided to stop by and see what was going on. Next thing I knew, I had several new orders in the books! It has been increasing steadily since then, and I still haven’t got around to making everything that I planned to do for myself.”

Superior Sailmakers officially opened in the Spring of 2017, and, with living on the world’s largest freshwater lake, it was a natural fit.

“The perfect sail begins with the right design,” says De Jong. “And our chief designer is from New Zealand, with over 30 years in the trade. We make sails for both Racing and Cruising boats and offer a full selection of woven and laminate fabrics. We are proud of every sail that leaves the Loft.”

The process starts with a call or an email from a perspective customer. Some know exactly what they want, while others are looking for options. After assessing the client’s needs, De Jong prepares a formal quotation for the specific sails and materials required. If they are local, he’ll meet at the vessel, take several required measurements and enter them into the design software that creates the final sail shape, developing it into panels based on cloth width and layout. The sail cloth is then rolled out onto the table and a CNC plotter then draws all the panel shapes and seam lines onto the cloth.

“The next step is to cut all the panels out and lay them in order to prepare for sewing,” says De Jong. “They’re taped together, and then the seams are sewn with 2 or 3 rows of 4 Point zig zag stitches. Once the main body of the sail is complete, the finishing work consists of adding the fittings and hardware to the edges and corners. Whenever possible, I’ll get out for a test sail with the customer. It is very satisfying to see the joy a sailor has using their new sails for the very first time.”

While some of De Jong’s work is sail repair, the bulk of it consists of creating custom canvas for commissioned projects. Even the term ‘canvas’ is a misnomer, for although great sea-faring galleons once crossed the seas on vast yards of flax or cotton canvas, modern sails are much lighter and stronger, like the modern ships they serve.

“We work with almost all fabrics,” says De Jong. “From the woven polyester (commonly called Dacron) and brightly coloured nylons for downwind sails, to the high-tech laminated aramids and carbons for the racing crowd.”

While Superior Sailmakers primarily serves local clients, their reputation is spreading, and now, their sails can be found on 4/5 Great Lakes. And that’s just fine by De Jong, as he shares the craft with his son and daughter as needed in a massive converted 4-car garage they call the ‘Loft.’ Growing a family business needs the right balance of time and energy, and, with this business, the love of sailing. I asked De Jong if he gets out on the water often.

“Not nearly as much as I’d like,” he laughs. “The sails keep me too busy.”

And for that, Thunder Bay sailors are grateful! For more information on Superior Sailmakers, check out their website at www.superiorsailmakers.com, or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/superiorsailmakers

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at www.hleightondickson.com

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