North Sails: a regatta between passion and technology
The amazing factory located in Carasco where sails become excellence, where history becomes the future.
“We all stem from a passion, the passion for sailing. We started out as competitive sailors, then evolved into professionals. Our story follows that of the company we’re linked to: a passion that becomes a job, that becomes an industry, that becomes a world benchmark”
Welcoming us with these inspired words is Daniele Cassinari, CEO of North Sails Italy. We are in Carasco (province of Genova). The Gulf of Tigullio peers at us from a distant window, shy and fascinating, like the lands it is surrounded by.
The Italian headquarters of the world’s most famous sailing company could only be located here, as a tricolour fiefdom of maritime history and innovation.
Daniele Cassinari, CEO of North Sails Italy
Our first glances cross the skilled and hard-working hands of expert sailmakers. Their confident gestures are cloaked in magic and secrecy. They look like artists intent on working on their own works, ‘craftsmen frozen’ in time, in a time that withstands by consciously relying on contemporaneity.
The future in the past, the past in the future. From these large halls come out the hyper-technological black sails in which Luna Rossa welcomes the New Zealand winds. Within these walls, those triangles of silk able to colour the great European lakes and seas, are skilfully produced and repaired.
“We are the only sailmaker’s able to cover the needs of the various sailing categories. Other companies are more sectoral, but our strength is that we can concentrate on everything, relying on a deep and direct knowledge of each boat: from the simple world of Optimist, to the glittering world of the America’s Cup”
Giulio Desiderato, One Design Manager of the Italian branch of North Sails, has gained his knowledge at the helm, making hulls his second home. He makes this clear with anecdotes and technicalities first, and then with a shy list of his personal palmarès.
The National, Continental and World titles in the J/70, Melges, 20, 24, 32 and 40 circuits, and the three Olympic campaigns under his belt change completely the perception of someone who was supposed to be a “simple” business manager. They make us understand the true cornerstone of this atypical working environment.
Giulio Desiderato, One Design Manager of North Sails Italy
Giulio Desiderato, One Design Manager of North Sails, during a regatta
There is not a single important figure in the Carasco production centre who does not boast a past and present in top-level regattas. Daniele Cassinari, multiple world champion and continental gold medallist in the 470 class, his brother Giovanni, also a multiple medallist, the aforementioned Giulio Desiderato, and the general manager Alessio Razeto, an expert offshore sailor: all sailors of international stature, all enthusiastic about associating their ‘desks’ with sailing.
Passion becomes work, the sailor becomes a sailmaker, knowledge becomes improvement: precious concepts that perfectly reflect the founding myth of the US company itself, a myth that originated back in 1957 with Lowell North.
“North is a legendary American sailor who started making sails for his boats in the 1950s – tells us Desiderato. – He had an amazing career, achieving an Olympic bronze and gold medal (in Tokyo ’64 and Mexico City ’68) and five world titles. He was called ‘Pope’ – I think that’s enough to give you an idea of the impact he had on our sporting world. He began by concentrating on performance and competition sails, then broadened his focus by leveraging his scientific knowledge”
Alessio Razeto, General Manager of North Sails Italia
An old photo of the Cassinari brothers during a regatta
An aerospace engineer at the service of sailing. Lowell North’s revolutionary story is a constant interweaving of journeys into the unknown and brilliant insights, of love for sailing and the need to progress and explore.
Inventions, patents, ante litteram computers used to design sails. The small company founded in San Diego in 1957 exponentially increases its brand awareness from year to year, from regatta to regatta, driven by the throbbing minds of the ‘Tigers’ that Lowell North surrounds himself with.
‘Tigers’ is the name given to the talented sailors who are part of the North Sails team by the visionary American sportsman-entrepreneur.
Lowell North, founder of North Sails
Lowell North, founder of North Sails
They are great champions and model students, like Peter Barrett, an Olympic silver medallist with a degree in Law, Mathematics and Economics, like John Marshall, also an Olympic sailor and chemist who graduated from Harvard. Tom Blackaller, the ‘Rockstar of the America’s Cup’ specialising in engineering, like Tom Whidden, the acclaimed three-time America’s Cup winner, now CEO of North Technology Group, and like nuclear physicist Tom Schnackenberg, designer of New Zealand’s first ‘Black Magic’ capable of winning and lifting the Auld Mug in 1995.
A pool of scientists, a salon of creative people applied to sailing. From their symbiotic connection, an evocative climb towards unexplored, populated by futuristic software and wind tunnels takes off.
The Californian company’s imposition on the market is an imposition justified by the goals it has achieved, an imposition certified by its monopoly on the America’s Cup: the golden paradise of regattas where North Sails becomes synonymous with victory.
“Since the 1980s, the America’s Cup has always been won by North Sails. This relationship with the various consortiums has established a sort of mutual aid, working for the Cup allows us to progress, to be at the forefront, as in the case of the ‘3D’: a three-dimensional mould generated with Alinghi. The ‘3D’ technology creates a composite membrane, a sort of unique piece modelled in shape and materials according to the precise indications of designers and structural engineers. With this tool, used by both Luna Rossa and New Zealand, we are setting the bar for the future of sailing. It is a future that our designers and structural engineers experience first-hand, being put under contract by the consortia themselves: as happened to Juan Enrique Garay and Marco Capitani with Luna Rossa”
Science and precision, human relations and sharing for the same passion. Along this journey through time, the Carasco sailmaker’s gives us evocative snapshots, such as the blow-ups of some managers during a regatta, leaning towards the waves, like a quick exchange of views with an elderly sailmaker.
In addition to ‘3D’, in addition to the wind of the future, here on the Ligurian Sea an ancient current has never stopped blowing, the flow of manual skills, of the eternal bond between man and sea, between man and wind.
“It’s true, there is the so-called Blue Book, our book that contains all the details to standardise the production process. Finishes and individual steps have to be harmonised, and that’s how it should be for a sector like sailing, where precision is essential, especially for a company that has factories all over the world. However, the human component is essential to complete every sail. The sailmakers are the romantic part of North Sails: all the challenges of the America’s Cup have passed through these walls, there is so much experience. There are old and young sailmakers, specialists who pass on anecdotes, knowledge and secrets”
Secrets that cannot be kept by the company’s top management, who are on the docks all over Europe every week. For them, taking part to international competitions also means carrying the North Sails brand on their hulls, it means communicating with customers ready to challenge them in regattas.
“There has to be a balance – Desiderato says – when you are on the battle you know that you are representing your company and you have to settle accordingly. We talk to customers who are either mates or opponents, we create a strong relationship with them. On the dock and on the boat, we always wear the brand, we maintain proper behaviour: we know we are more than athletes”
Representing the brand is more a lifestyle than a job for Daniele Cassinari and his colleagues. A lifestyle highlighted by visual details, such as their outfits entirely branded North Sails.
The huge leap into the world of clothing in recent years has not changed the soul of the American company. North Sails lines use sustainable materials, such as recycled plastic, and are supported by various environmental associations. A part of the turnover goes to the Ocean Family Foundation, which is committed to the preservation of the oceans.
We leave the Carasco factory with the feeling of having seen with our own eyes a form of Italian excellence. An excellence that, to be such, simply needs to rely on the passion of individuals: the same passion lived and theorised by Lowell North.
A healthy form of fanaticism, fuelled by the intense sound of the wind in contact with the sail, driven by the mantra of the legendary American sailor: “You make history by looking ahead”.
Looking ahead to the aquatic horizon, looking ahead to the technological one.
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