The Holy Grail

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Dry and light! In two short years North Sails Performance clothing has firmly established itself among the most elite technical clothing suppliers... with the benefit of some pretty high quality assistance!

A dry bum is one thing that’s very pleasant about wearing North Sails Performance foul weather gear. The other is just how light it is.

When North Sails Performance director, Nigel Musto, set out to create the best sailing gear ever seen, or worn, his primary objective was for the wearer to be comfortable and dry. Truly, properly, dry even after hours on deck in heinous conditions. However, one nice sidebenefit - the light weight of the North Sails Performance range - has ended up becoming one of the biggest draws for customers. More of that in a moment.

It has been a whirlwind entry to the market for the new range of highperformance offshore clothing. ‘Our two years have been outstanding for us,’ says Nigel Musto. ‘We’ve been delighted that several of the world’s top sailors, on board some of the most exciting boats – like the Gitana Team – have chosen to wear our kit. In particular the performance of 4DL, our “4-layer durable laminate” reinforcement, was way beyond even our own expectations and the feedback has been superb.’

Main picture: onboard the Imoca 60 Holcim-PRB, which won the first two legs of The Ocean Race. Skipper Kevin Escoffier has sailed tens of thousands of miles in North Sails Performance gear

Nigel Musto wanted to see if he could achieve the Holy Grail of offshore clothing. Was it really possible to create products that would keep you properly dry, as opposed to faintly damp? ‘When we started the North Sails Performance project in 2018 we set out to solve several issues that the marine clothing industry has never been able to resolve. One was the problem of leaking knees and seats. Historically, when creating a robust garment that’s resistant to being torn or damaged by the anti-slip surface on decks, and other snagging points around the boat, it’s been common to put a Cordura patch over the top of the Gore-Tex fabric and then sew that patch into the side seams, but there are several problems with that.

‘The logical route was to laminate something to the outside because with a laminated patch, you don’t need to go to the side seams and you don’t create a wet, damp pocket between the Cordura and the Gore- Tex. The patch material we’ve used doesn’t absorb any water at all, meaning no weight gain in this area no matter how long you’re offshore’.

The biggest challenge was creating a material that would fulfil such a demanding brief, and Nigel Musto says they have achieved it thanks to those clever boffins at the North Technology Group. ‘They had already done great pioneering work in sail design with 3DL and laminated sails, and we were able to draw on that expertise to create the perfect laminate for waterproof clothing.’

Two years of rigorous testing followed, which resulted in some impressive feedback including a ringing endorsement from professional offshore sailor Kévin Escoffier. The Vendée veteran became the early leader of The Ocean Race after skippering Team Holcim-PRB to victory on Leg 1 from Alicante to Cabo Verde. His recent experience cements his already firm belief that North Sails Performance clothing is the best he has worn in his illustrious and adventure-filled career. ‘I tested the same North Sails smock and trousers over 40,000 miles of hard sailing including the Transat Jacque Vabre, Le Defi Azimut, Vendée Atlantique – and the kit is absolutely reliable,’ says the Frenchman. ‘What is just amazing about the North Sails Performance kit is how light it stays even in very wet conditions. The 4DL patches just don’t take in any water at all. It’s great and so comfortable.’

One of Escoffier’s crew for The Ocean Race is British sailor Abby Ehler who spoke to Seahorse soon after the team’s successful Leg 1 victory. Stories abound about the discomfort of sailing on board a latest-generation foiling Imoca. The unpredictability of the bucking bronco ride – as the boats leap from wave to wave only to crash down into a trough without warning – no one is describing Imoca sailing as a pleasant experience. In foiling conditions, wearing body armour, even helmets and mouthguards, has become necessary protection from the random and violent motion of the modern Imoca.

This constant state of readiness takes its mental and physical toll. Offshore gear tends to be bulky and over time, just wearing it can sap a sailor’s energy. Ehler, a veteran of four editions of the Volvo Ocean Race, was pleasantly surprised just how much lighter North Sails Performance feels when you put it on. The difference feels even more pronounced after a few days at sea. ‘What’s an absolute godsend is that it just doesn't feel like you're wearing the kind of heavy offshore gear that we have traditionally worn in the past. Generally what happens is, as you go further and further into a leg, the gear is just getting more and more saturated and therefore it gets heavier and heavier and heavier. This gear is so light at the outset and the 4DL reinforcement doesn’t absorb any water, like the traditional Cordura material, so it stays light – it’s nowhere near as heavy as the gear we’ve worn in the past.’

Other top racing teams who have switched to North Sails Performance gear include the RORC Transatlantic winner I Love Poland (above) and the super maxi Wild Oats XI (below)

With Team Holcim-PRB running a rotation system with the crew, Ehler had yet to find out if she’d be on for the daunting Leg 3. This is a whopping 12,750 nautical miles from Cape Town, non-stop through the Southern Ocean, around Cape Horn and finishing in Itajaí, Brazil. It’s the longest leg in the 50-year history of the round-the-world race, and it’s going to be more than a month at sea aboard some of the most uncomfortable sailing boats ever conceived.

Ehler is steeling herself for the big leg, should she be called upon to join Escoffier’s crew. ‘It’s obviously going to be a cold leg and a long leg. So being able to stay warm, but also to stay dry, is going to be imperative. Whenever you're going on deck to do a sail change it’s going to be wet and cold. You're going to need the thermal layers and the waterproof gear on to protect you. Down below it’s a bit of an unknown how warm it's going to be, but you’re going to need to have a multiple layering system to be able to sleep well. Finding that balance of layering and changes of clothing if you do get wet, those choices are going to be critical.’

Again, the lighter weight and the confidence in the waterproofness of North Sails Performance clothing makes these choices easier. ‘Because you’ve got the lighter material doing the job that much heavier offshore gear would normally do, you’re not feeling like the Michelin Man. There are some really good products in the North range that are not heavy, yet they provide plenty of warmth, and that will really come into its own on Leg 3.’

North Sails Performance Clothing Victory List

2023 RORC Transatlantic
Monohull Line Honours – I Love Poland
1st IRC Super Zero – I love Poland
2023 The Ocean Race
1st Leg 1 + 2 – Holcim-PRB
2022 Finistère Atlantique – Action Enfance
1st Gitana Team / Maxi Edmond du Rothschild
2022 24H Ultim
1st Gitana Team / Maxi Edmond du Rothschild
2022 Route du Rhum – Destination Guadeloupe
1st Ultim 32/23, Charles Caudrelier – Gitana Team / Maxi Edmond de Rothschild
1st Imoca, Thomas Ruyant – LinkedOut
4th Imoca, Kévin Escoffer – Holcim-PRB
1st Rhum Multi, Loïc Escoffier - Lodigroup
2021 Rolex Fastnet Race
Line Honours: Gitana Team / Maxi Edmond du Rothschild

Nigel Musto says big teams are seeing the benefit of lighter gear when it’s calculated across a crew of 10,15,20 sailors or more. ‘It’s one of the reasons why the Wild Oats XI team has bought a wardrobe from us for this year’s Australian offshore season, including the Rolex Sydney- Hobart of course. North Sails Performance foul weather gear is 30 per cent lighter than traditional offshore kit. Our Offshore Jacket and Trouser combined weigh 1.7kg, which is an average saving of 600g per set. Across a crew of 24 that's an unrated weight saving of close to 15 kilograms - a considerable advantage.’

Konrad Lipski, recent winner of the RORC Transatlantic Race aboard the VO70, I Love Poland, makes this exact point. ‘North Sails Performance foul weather gear is the lightest and most durable kit we have ever sailed in,’ says the 27-year-old navigator. ‘After more than 20,000 nautical miles and three Atlantic crossings, the whole set works perfectly. Thanks to that, we could limit the amount of gear for all crew members on offshore races like RORC Transatlantic Race 2023; every gram less gave a tiny fraction of a knot for over 3,000 nautical miles –all those details matter.’

As Nigel Musto points out: ‘Top teams are ordering North Sails Performance from us and they’re buying it, we’re not just giving it to them. We’re not having to sponsor anyone to convince people to wear it. That’s because it’s not just another variation on the same old offshore kit. What we’ve developed really is a step change in comfort and efficiency on board. Sailors who want to win will always choose the best technology to help them achieve their goals.’

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