Sails: Minden made
April 8, 2004
A world-class sail production plant in Minden uses patented technology to do $55 million in sales annually.
North Sails 3DL (three-dimensional) has been in business 45 years, nine of those in Carson Valley.
Initially, John Welch, vice president of manufacturing, said the company moved to the region from San Diego to be next door to a mast or spars production plant.
That business went bankrupt in 1990 and North Sails acquired it.
The Minden plant is the starting point for national and international sailors to buy a custom-made sail for their vessel for pleasure or competition.
“We dominate the race market,” Welch said.
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The three-dimensional sails range from $2,000 to $250,000 and make waves at the America’s Cup and Volvo Around first-class races.
Hiring now, North Sails employs more than 160 from unskilled laborers to engineers and accountants.
The process to make a sail takes five to 48 hours, starting from a custom order to designing a yarn file layout on a patented hydraulic machine. Once completed, the sail is finished at one of the company’s five manufacturing sites in Toronto, Connecticut, Long Island, Annapolis and San Diego.
The yarn file is the type of material used to reinforce the sail. The most popular yarn, Welch said, is the aramid, the same material used for bullet-proof vests.
In an innocuous building near the Minden-Tahoe Airport is poetry in motion as employees cut the mylar sail base, and suspended from the ceiling, map the yarn across sails that could be a large as 150 feet X 60 feet, and weighing from 10 to 200 pounds.
Once the yarn is placed on the base adhesive film on the sail to form the mold, the other side, or mid-film is placed. A vacuum bag heats the glue between the film to set the glue and is lifted off to produce the finished sail. A five-day curing period follows to separate the glue.
According to Bill Taylor, purchasing manager, the Minden plant, goes through a couple thousand pounds of yarn and 80,000 pounds of glue annually. On average, the yarn costs between $15 and $40 per pound.
At the finishing plants, employees tape around the ends, put on cringles (or grommets) that hold the sails down, and letter or number the sail to identify the ownership.
Welch said the company is committed to being in Carson Valley and keeping its company at No. 1. The plant runs 24/7, with most of its business being international.
“These are the best sails you can get,” he said. “There is nothing else that comes close.”
Regina Purcell can be reached at email@example.com or (775) 782-5121, ext. 211.