After earning his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in applied physics, with a focus on fluid flow, Robbie Doyle joined Ted Hood’s renowned sail-making operation. Doyle, who had been making sails since he was 15, thrived under the master sail-maker for a decade. When Hood sold the company in 1982, Doyle started Doyle Sailmakers in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
“Our original slogan, ‘Better Engineered Sails,’ is the same as it is today,” he says. “We took a more engineering-focused, high-tech approach to sail-making. In the early days, nobody seemed to know the exact loads on sails. We wrote some programs to predict and analyze sail loadings, while taking the time to measure loads to verify our programs.” Doyle Sailmakers was the first to apply the principle of Elliptical Aerodynamic Loading to sail shapes, leading to fast and efficient sails for racing customers. Technical breakthroughs include Code Zero asymmetric spinnakers, the Doyle D4 fiber-membrane manufacturing process, and Stratis, which pioneered load-path, laid-fiber sails. It has also introduced many innovations to cruising sails.
In this Megayacht News Leadership Series, Robbie Doyle explains how Doyle Sailmakers became a powerhouse on the marine stage. It has 80 lofts in 30 countries, with the leading-edge technology coming from its flagship facility in Salem, Massachusetts, and Stratis facility in New Zealand. Its latest project, Perini Navi’s Perseus³, has the world’s largest sail. Her A2 spinnaker measures 28,010 square feet (2,602 square meters), another milestone for a global sail-maker that promises to keep pushing the boundaries of technology and sailing.
Megayacht News: How did you get into the megayacht market?
Robbie Doyle: A “mega-boat,” as we called them in the 1980s, used to be 30 meters and above. We got our first order for the 125 Freedom in 1985. It was built by S&S for William Simon. A few years later, Tom Perkins came to us to build some sails for his 45-meter Andromeda. Perkins was a performance sailor and wanted light, strong sails that had good shape to them. After analyzing the loads, we designed an Aramid composite fabric that we had made especially for that project. Those sails turned out to be successful, lasting close to 100,000 sailing miles.
Megayacht News: How much has the technology changed since you started?
Robbie Doyle: It has changed continually. With the latest computation fluid dynamics and finite element analysis (CFD/FEA), we can fine-tune the technology. We’ve always updated our equipment to be able to harness that new technology. The really large projects like the Maltese Falcon, Athos, and even some larger boats we are currently working with, are handled mostly through our offices in Salem or alternatively New Zealand.
We’re also now running full hydro analysis of the yachts to help us identify the most appropriate sails to meet the owner’s goals. We’re currently in the process of running “full volume of fluid” analyses on some very large boats to help make decisions to improve performance. In some cases, this has led to new keel forms such as on Shockwave or Axia. In others, it has helped us divide the sail plan for better balance.
Megayacht News: Are most innovations client- or company-driven these days?
Robbie Doyle: It’s a combination. Clients in this range always want the impossible, or at the very least, what has never been done before. It’s our job to let them realize their dreams and make sure they don’t end up as nightmares. We always do the proper up-front analysis to ensure we can deliver what they are envisioning.
Megayacht News: Has the rise in superyacht regattas influenced the cruising side of the business?
Robbie Doyle: The superyachts that are driven hard in Bucket racing have definitely found the weak spots in these boats. It has led not only to more appropriate deck gear, but to a much better understanding of sails, sail materials, and sail-handling systems that are of greater benefit to cruising sailors.
Megayacht News: Do you think the high-speed sail-handling systems created for sailing superyachts pushing things too far and too fast?
Robbie Doyle: Speed in sail-handling systems is usually an advantage, since it minimizes the time things are truly out of control—flogging or whatever. However, it is critical that there be safeguards in any system. Many of these systems will be moving line at a meter/second. When Perseus³ jibes with a spinnaker, for instance, there is about 100 meters of sheet that need to be trimmed.
Megayacht News: How involved is the process of fitting a sail for a superyacht?
Robbie Doyle: The process of designing sails for a yacht that large is very involved. The sails for Perseus³ took 32 months from design through actual sailing. It requires starting with an accurate 3D model that includes all aspects of the rig, including all hardware and the deck layout. Then sailing performance needs to be modeled, so one can build the most appropriate sails for all points of sailing. CFD needs to be run to define corner loading and to measure the stresses within the sails so we use the most appropriate materials. In many cases, there are no appropriate materials on the market, so we need to work with fabric suppliers so the materials can handle the loads. For Perseus³’s spinnaker, we had to find a special blend of polyester and Dyneema to provide the needed strength, but also to make sure it was light enough to be handled by the crew. Of course, we have to share the information with builders and gear suppliers along the way to make sure everyone is on the same page. Then we have to build the sail one piece at a time. The assembly needs to be carefully choreographed.
Megayacht News: Any favorites?
Robbie Doyle: For me, the greatest challenge in sailing and, therefore the most fun, is the Shockwave program. This is a Maxi 72 competing with the best professional teams in the world in boats with similar speeds. At almost six years old, Shockwave is the oldest of the competitive boats. But by continued development, we have been able to win some of the biggest races of the year, including the Caribbean 600, Bermuda Race, and recently the Copa Del Rey in Palma de Mallorca. Our CFD team has worked with designers Reichel-Pugh, and mast-makers Future Fibers, to continually refine the small details. It’s always fun to be trying theoretical improvements and then testing them in real time.
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