Between the conceptual model of a new sail design and its real-life performance is a no-man’s land occupied by what Jordi Calafat refers to as noise. Sometimes this separation is wide; other times it is happily much narrower. Either way, it is in negotiating this zone of noise that Calafat finds his greatest satisfaction as a designer.
Based in Palma, Majorca, Calafat is the latest addition to Doyle Sails’ line up of top-ranked international sailors who bring a wealth of experience and expertise to what the brand offers its growing list of customers across the grand prix spectrum of sailing. With first-hand experience in the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race, Maxi 72 class, 52 Super Series, ClubSwan 50 and 36 one designs and other grand prix events, Calafat epitomises the Doyle promise that its products are “by sailors, for sailors”.
In similar vein, the Doyle loft in Palma has also welcomed French sailor and sailmaker Antoine Thullier into its service team. Thullier has extensive experience on large offshore multihulls, maxi yachts, TP52s and superyachts. He says joining ‘the world class team at Doyle Sails’ is a career highlight. ‘They are the leaders in sailmaking and have built an extremely talented team. It is a great opportunity to grow, sharing everybody’s experience, knowledge and skills.’
Calafat’s approach to any new design challenge is process-driven. Step one begins with a modelling exercise which examines a broad range of characteristics: the mast and how it is likely to behave, hull shape, appendages, whether the boat is likely to be tender or stiff, the type of racing and conditions envisaged.
Taking all these factors into account, a theoretical sail plan is generated. ‘Then we go sailing,’ he says. ‘Now we are in real life and interacting with the trimmers. Sometimes the real world is very similar to the modelling, other times the gulf is quite wide, but there is always noise between the two worlds.
‘You might find that the mast does not behave exactly as expected, or that we can be a bit more aggressive in a particular area. That is the second stage towards understanding the noise and reducing it.
‘Now we go racing. This is the moment of truth,’ he laughs. Ten boats charging off the startline separated by a couple of boatlengths very quickly reward success, or expose weakness. ‘We see how everything works, whether we need more power, or we need to load the rudder more, if the boat can move into high mode, does it suit the style of the trimmers?
This is the process, dealing with the noise. It is the part I that enjoy the most.’
It is something that began at a very young age. ‘I grew up in Palma,’ Calafat says. ‘My family had boats and I was the youngest of three boys. As a kid, I started sailing Optimists and progressed into Spanish national championships and then international championships. I won the Opti worlds in 1983 and then moved on to 420s and so on.
‘I was always very curious about the sails and their shapes and how they work. One day, when I was still an Opti kid, I was at the sail loft and all the maxis and 80-footers were in Palma for a regatta. I saw these guys come into the loft, carrying these huge bags. They laid out these massive sails on the floor and took out their scissors and started recutting. I thought, ‘This is very cool. I would like to do that.’
‘From that day, I decided I wanted to be part of this world. Not just the sailing, but how it works. How you put shape in a sail. How you can manipulate the sail and design the sail and recut the sail and finally see what you want to see.
‘As a sailor, you know what you want to see. But how to get there … that was my curiosity.’
Then, with the 1992 Olympics in Spain approaching, Calafat moved to Barcelona and joined a loft working on Olympic sails. ‘I had to decide if I wanted to go on with my studies, or really become part of the sailing world. We didn’t have any design software back then. It was just cutting tables and doing everything by hand.’
At the same time, his own sailing took a major leap when he won gold with Kiko Sánchez in the 470 class at the Barcelona Olympics. Combining his two passions, his career was launched and ultimately took him to the pinnacles of the sport, including two Volvo Ocean Race campaigns, two America’s Cup campaigns, six world championship titles in Maxi 72s, two in TP52s, and success across a range of one design classes.
It was in the Maxi 72 scene that Calafat caught the eye of Doyle Sails International CEO Mike Sanderson, as they have sailed together for the past five years on Bella Mente. The relationship was further strengthened working with Doyle design director Richard Bouzaid on the American Magic campaign for the 2021 America’s Cup series in Auckland.
‘We have always been about building the strongest group of people at Doyle Sails and it is a pleasure to welcome Jordi to our team as both a high profile sailor and one of the world’s best sail designers,’ Sanderson says.
For Calafat, part of the attraction was Doyle Sails’ success with advanced Stratis membranes and world-leading Structured Luff technology. ‘They started this evolution and are still the leaders,’ he says. ‘There are endless development opportunities and so many other positive changes can be made to yachts because of it, rig structure and boat structure included.’
With a career that has tracked from analogue processes on the cutting floor to a digital world of complex computer modelling and from dinghy classes to alpha events of international sailing, Calafat has witnessed and been part of a massive leap in technology.
‘The background to what we learned back in the day with paper drawings and floor cutting was a very valuable experience. Also, we did not have the materials then that we have today. For sure, it has all come a long way.’
Calafat’s close involvement and winning record in the hotly contested TP52 Super Series will be a key focus of his work with Doyle Sails. Two yachts have already committed to the brand, with more team also showing interest particularly in the Structured Luff technology.
‘The class is now quite mature and the designs are very refined so it is harder to find gains,’ he says. ‘When we start each new season, we have to ask what we are going to change. Sometimes we don’t change anything, unless there is some new material, or something very obvious, like a new boat, or new appendages, or a different trimmer has come on board. Then you need to work out how to accommodate those changes in the sail design.’
Calafat, who sails as a strategist, says the dialogue with trimmers is crucial. ‘Every trimmer has his own style and the key thing is to work out what he wants to see and what we can do to provide that.’ Similarly, within the constraints of the rule, every boat has its strengths and weaknesses. Series raced in Atlantic conditions, for example, are generally more breezy than Mediterranean regattas and suit different boats accordingly. ‘That often depends more on hull shapes than sails,’ Calafat notes.
‘Very often we look at the sails, but we always need to remember there are many other elements at work – hull shapes, keels, rudders, fins. Sometimes we look around the fleet and say that guy is more twisted, this one is sheeted much harder and so on, but maybe this is to accommodate the peculiarities of that particular boat.
‘The sails definitely play a big role and make a huge contribution, but it is not just aero. It is also hydro and what is happening underneath the boat. Everything needs to work together and we need to understand all those relationships. Sometimes there is noise and we need to work it out. If you do make changes, you need to be very certain you are going in the right direction.’ This is where an open and honest dialogue loop is essential. ‘At this level, there are good people around you with good insights and good ideas. That is what makes the difference in the end.’
Asked which part of the sail inventory – jibs, mainsails, gennakers – offers the greatest opportunity for gains, Calafat replies that good starts and picking the windshifts are more important than a few millimetres of luff curve. ‘There is always a danger that we make things too complicated and forget the basics. Good starts, good tactics and picking windshifts are still the most important elements of success.’
The rise of foiling classes has taken the sailing world by storm and poses new opportunities and challenges for designers. Did Calafat’s recent involvement with the America’s Cup provide any insights that can be applied to displacement classes?
‘I remember coming back from New Zealand and jumping on a TP52. I looked at the sails and thought, “Wow! These are like balloons.” For a while, everything I designed was way too flat,’ he laughs. ‘You have to familiarise yourself again and recalibrate your thinking.
‘Obviously the concepts are totally different, but in the America’s Cup, you are surrounded by very smart guys. You learn new tools, or you learn how to use the tools better. Or you learn about structures, how to make sails lighter, or stronger, or there are developments in battens and fittings that you can apply – things like that. There is always something to learn. It is a non-stop process. There is always something new around the corner.’
In technology, nothing ever stands still. Constant innovation and development drive progress – and it all generates noise, the kind that is music to Calafat’s ears.