Assemble a group of top international sailors for their ideas. Add one of the most famous names in the development of technical clothing for his knowledge and experience – the result was always going to be special.
It’s difficult to pinpoint at what stage clothing started to become “technical”. Some say the advent of truly breathable fabrics presented designers with the opportunity to completely re-think the way that items were constructed as the materials were behaving in a new and sophisticated way that allowed wholesale changes in construction techniques.
Others say it was more complicated than that because new materials and methods complemented the breathable fabrics to drive a bigger revolution. But whenever and however the transition took place, the new Performance range of foul weather gear that has just been launched by North Sails isn’t just firmly placed in the technical category, but takes specialist sailing clothing on to a new level.
‘For decades the North Sails Team has sailed a lot of miles wearing all sorts of fair and foul weather gear,’ explains president of North Sails, Ken Read. ‘These new clothing lines incorporate our combined experience with that of one of the most successful technical sailing clothing designers in the world, Nigel Musto. Following extensive testing, our team is really looking forward to our customers wearing the range we have put together.’
Nigel Musto has been at the leading edge of technical clothing for many years and was one of the key players in the clothing revolution that took place almost 30 years ago.
As he knows better than most, when your products rely on modern materials, product evolution is fuelled in part by innovative thinking and new technology, but also by modern techniques.
Couple this with the hands-on knowledge that comes with a long career as a competitive racing sailor both inshore and offshore and the result is an appreciation of not only what is required, but what could change things for the better.
Yet sometimes the catalyst for change comes down to more basic issues. Having a damp backside is one very good example.
‘It’s an age-old problem,’ he explains. ‘Your gear might not be leaking but you’ve constantly got a damp backside. There are a number of reasons for this.
‘The Cordura patches that people have frequently used on foul weather gear hold a lot of water when they’re wet. They also create a pocket between the foul weather gear and the patch which can’t dry out once it’s got wet. So, we developed 4DL which is a four-layer durable laminate.’
This new laminate involves a non-absorbent and highly abrasion resistant patch material. Bonded to it is the Gore-Tex fabric, thus eliminating the troublesome pocket. In addition, there is no stitching into the side seams, removing another area where water could enter the material. As an indication as to just how big a step forward this is, when dry 4DL is 30 per cent lighter than traditional materials with even greater weight savings when wet, all of which improves comfort considerably. In addition, the laminate has proved excellent for knee areas too.
‘4DL has already been tested over 30-40,000 miles aboard some of the most extreme machines around in some harsh environments and the feedback has been superb,’ says Nigel. ‘The durability side has been outstanding and those testing the new items have described them as being absolute game changers when it comes to comfort.’
But the new range from North Sails Performance is about far more than the issue of damp backsides. When it came to specific design principles there are several details that stand out from the start and can easily be seen across the new range. External stitching has been kept to a minimum with modern bonding technology which means less clutter and less potential for failure and leakage. All of which leads to not only better performance, but far greater comfort.
So, the new Performance range is aimed directly at racing sailors with outer wear for both offshore and inshore racing alongside seriously insulating mid-layers and full men and women’s deck wear range. But what triggered the move to create this new range of specialist clothing and why now?
With such considerable and broad ranging experience in fabrics and laminates it is perhaps not surprising that the company should be so acutely aware of developments in fabric technology. ‘They could see the advances that were being made in other industries such as mountaineering where there had been huge leaps forward,’ continues Nigel. ‘They could also see how the development in marine clothing had slowed down and fallen behind the industry leaders.’ Consequently, their overall strategy for the new range started with some bold and straightforward goals.
‘Our overall mission was to make the best foul weather gear in the world,’ he says. ‘We were set on making no compromises. If there was a fabric, construction method or detail that we felt would improve the performance of the wearer then we wanted to ensure that we included it.
‘We also didn’t want to create any hero pieces. Every garment from Ocean Smock to Fast Dry Shorts have received the same intense scrutiny and design focus.’
For the foul weather gear, Gore-Tex is at the heart of these items. With over 25 years on the racecourse this product is the industry benchmark.
Another key advance in the new range is the development of TightWeave, a new fabric that uses thinner threads packed in a much tighter weave. This makes it more naturally water repellent and more durable than is achieved with traditional fabrics coated in Durable Water Repellent (DWR).
‘The trouble is that with DWR, the coating that is applied to stop water absorption doesn’t last for more than a couple of days offshore. The kit then starts wetting out which makes it heavier, less comfortable and reduces the fabric’s breathability.’ Furthermore, because it is the TightWeave fabric and not a coating that is providing the water repellent properties there is nothing to wash off and reduce its performance.
Neck and wrist seals also came in for a closer look by the design team who developed DuraSeal, a super thin, stretchy neoprene material that is easy to get into and out of and doesn’t split or need replacing every six months as experienced with traditional latex seals.
While performance sailing was the primary overall focus, when it came to breaking down the key areas and the requirements within them it became clear that there were advances to be made in the inshore racing scene where the weight of the kit, its flexibility and even its aerodynamic drag were all important factors. Here, a new fabric, Pertex Shield Air has been developed.
This extremely breathable material relies on moisture moving through the fibre filaments of the fabric via capillary action. The result is a light, supple material with impressive stretch properties. As an example of just how light and advanced the new material is, a GP Aero Waterproof jacket weighs in at just 300 grams.
The overall result of this extensive study and development programme is three core ranges of outerwear constructed in Gore-Tex- Pro and the innovative GP Aero range in Pertex.
For the outerwear the categories fall into four areas, each speaking largely for itself. Ocean is the most breathable, waterproof and durable kit in the range designed for the most extreme conditions.
Offshore has been designed for classic medium-distance offshore races such as the Fastnet, Sydney- Hobart, Newport-Bermuda and many others like them where the combination of durable waterproof, breathable gear coupled with comfort and lightness is key.
The third category is Inshore where weight and flexibility are important factors as is the ability to vary the combinations of items. Here, a choice of smock and jacket to pair with trousers provides the level of versatility required for events such as Cowes Week, round the cans in Chesapeake Bay or any of the wide range of inshore regattas and events.
And the fourth category is the innovative GP Aero range which is for those who view yacht racing as a truly athletic sport, with design inspiration from cycling jackets rather than traditional foulies. GP Aero’s home is on the high-performance race circuits of the Mediterranean, the Caribbean or sometimes even the Solent (in summer anyway).