We, at Catboat Charters, are very excited about our 2019 season. We have been very lucky so far. Every season has been better than those that preceded it. As each season came to a close, we thought, “Well, there’s no way that next year will be better than that!” and yet, every year, we find ourselves overwhelmed and grateful for circumstances and experiences that befell us.
We have no idea what 2019 has in store for us, but one thing we do know is what we have in store for 2019! Tigress has a new sail! All of our sails thus far have been blank canvases hand-painted by our very own Captain Kurt. This year will be the first time that we have a proper sail stitched together by the professionals at Squeteague Sailmakers in Cataumet, Massachusetts. Always up for new experiences and opportunities to learn—especially when it relates to sailing—Captain Kurt joined the team to be a part of creating Tigress’s new masterpiece. We sat down with our Captain to ask him a few questions…
Catboat Charters: You’ve taken the off-season to learn the craft of sailmaking at Squeteague Sailmakers. There must be several sailmakers to choose from on the Cape and Islands. Why did you choose them?
Captain Kurt Peterson: I chose Squeteague Sailmakers because of their vast experience and knowledge in the industry. They have been making sails for over forty years. In the beginning, 1976, they manually measured and plotted each sail panel on a plotting table with great precision. In 1989, they started using computer software to design and plot their sails. I think their background, and experience in the traditional methods, gives them a better understanding, and appreciation, of their craft, and an edge on their competitors.
CC: How much did you know about this process before you started?
CKP: When I started working at Squeteague Sailmakers, I knew very little about the sailmaking process, but I think that my experience sailing both traditional and modern boats has helped me learn the craft at a faster pace than someone without that background.
CC: Can you walk us through the basic steps of sailmaking?
CKP: Of course. The first and most important step is designing the sail. Once the sail is designed, a plotting table cutting machine run by the computer design software cuts out the panels. Then to prevent fraying, the Dacron panel edges are heat-sealed with an electric “hot knife”. One by one, the panels are stitched together. In sailmaking, a zigzag stitch is always used—not a straight stitch—because it disperses the tension across two lines of pinholes rather than a single line.
Once the panels are together, it is time to finish the edges with an overlapping “envelope” folded an inch or two over each edge and stitched down along the entire edge of the sail. The final step is to install any hardware that is needed such as grommets, reefing lines, etc…
CC: You must be almost finished now. You’ve been there since the beginning. What would you say is the most challenging, or most important part, of making a sail?
CKP: I would say that the most important part of making a sail is the design process. With other crafts such as woodworking or metalworking, perfection is not necessarily sought after on the first cut. There is plenty of time later, during the fabrication process, to sand or file to its final dimensions. In sailmaking, everything has to be perfect (or very close to it) from the beginning. Each panel is precisely cut and carefully sewn together. We only get one chance to stitch a perfect line. If stitches need to be ripped out and redone, this will show in the final product. Sailmaking is a process where the skill of the sailmaker is so incredibly transparent in the final product. The sailmaker is challenged to get everything perfect on the first try, and at Squeteague Sailmakers, they usually do! It’s very impressive!
CC: Because this sail is made of many pieces, is tension from piece to piece, a consideration as opposed to a sail made of one piece?
CKP: Nearly all sails are made from multiple panels stitched together. This is not a concern in regard to overall strength of the sail, because the seams, the stitching, on the sail is often stronger than the Dacron sailcloth itself. Tigress’s sail will have two or three times as much stitching as a standard sail of the same size. The result will be a strong sail that will last for many years.
CC: Since you brought it up, Tigress’s sail has a very distinct pattern. Do you know if this is the most elaborate sail that they’ve made at Squeteague?
CKP: The short answer is, ‘Yes’. I asked Julia this question and she said that Tigress’s sail is certainly the ‘most involved’ of any sail that she has made and also the most time consuming. She also added, ‘but it’s not boring—it’s fun!’
CC: In what other ways will this sail be different from those that have preceded it?
CKP: To coincide with the white stripes, we decided to use vertical panels rather than horizontal. This is the way that sails were made for hundreds of years before horizontal panels became the norm. Personally, I prefer the classic look of the vertical panels.
CC: Will anything about this sail affect the actual function of sailing, the feel of Tigress for you, The Captain?
CKP: Absolutely. Tigress will undoubtedly be faster with this new sail. A sail is not a flat, two-dimensional, piece of cloth, but rather a foil shaped, three dimensional, structure. I truly believe that Tigress will be sailing better than she has in decades—maybe better than ever.
CC: When Edgartown sees Tigress for the first time on Memorial Day Weekend, what do you think the reaction will be?
CKP: I think the reaction will be very positive. If people liked our painted, horizontal-panelled, sail, they will LOVE this one! The biggest visual difference will be when the sun shines through the sail. The colored Dacron that we’re using tends to ‘glow’ when the light shines through it, as opposed to the painted sail, which was more likely to cast a shadow.
CC: Is there anything else that you would like to say about this experience?
CKP: I would like to thank Marc and Julia at Squeteague Sailmakers for taking me onboard and being great mentors! Their vast knowledge of sailmaking makes them true masters of their craft.
Thank you for this terrific interview Captain Kurt!! Everyone at Catboat Charters would like to thank Squeteague Sailmakers for their knowledge and professionalism. We are so grateful to all of the people out there who work hard to ensure that we, Catboat Charters, are able to give the best possible Martha’s Vineyard experience to our guests. We are thrilled to add Squeteague Sailmakers to the Catboat Charters family.