The Ullman magic

Tom Linskey looks back at his former skipper Dave Ullman’s journey into bigger boats, commerce and coaching…

In the 1980s Dave Ullman continued to campaign the 470 at the highest international level but now he was also moving into his first offshore endeavours – including the Transpac and the Admiral’s Cup. During the same period of transition, computer- aided design was also coming into sailmaking for the first time. Dave had long relied upon his sailmaker’s eye and his feel for boatspeed, along with two-boat testing, to develop fast one-design sails. But the real proof of a fast sail came not from sail testing but from racing.

‘There are limits to two-boat, straightline testing,’ notes Dave. ‘Sail testing is not like sailing in a big fleet, where the water is nearly always quite choppy. And in twoboat testing you can stop and retune when conditions change, but in a race you can’t do that. In a regatta you need sails that go through a big range and are easy to trim, easy to use and that work at, say, 95 per cent efficiency all the time. It doesn’t have to be 100 per cent; you need sails that work when you need to pinch, when you need to go fast-forward, all those things you need to do in a race.

‘Once we’ve done our two-boat sail testing and are pretty happy with a sail, we then race with it to confirm that it is right. Even with computer-aided design, sail designers still need a good eye and knowledge of what makes a boat go to know why something is good and how they can make it better. It isn’t all scientific. There’s still a fair amount of art involved.’

By now Dave’s business was expanding quickly. A widening circle of national and international friends and competitors from a swathe of one-design and offshore pursuits wanted to start Ullman Sails lofts. They’d fly in, stay at Dave’s house for weeks and months, sail-testing during the day, tweaking test sails and cutting new ones at night, endlessly talking sails, rigs, tuning and sailing. What had started as a kind of countercultural band of sailmakers evolved into a nationwide and then global network – today there are 80 Ullman Sails locations, including 31 lofts, covering Europe, Australia, Asia, and the Americas, from Sydney to St Petersburg, Cape Town and Trieste.

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