The History of UK Sailmakers

Established in 1946 as Ulmer Sails., UK Sailmakers Sailmakers is one of the oldest groups of lofts in the world. Over 60 years later, the UK Sailmakers group has over 50 lofts and service centers around the world. UK Sailmakers has been on the leading edge of sail development ever since the late ’40s when Ulmer Sails dominated the Star, 5.5 Meter, Snipe, Lightning and Comet one-design classes.

In the spring of 2005, UK Sailmakers was joined by the Halsey-Lidgard group of sailmakers. The merger of the two brands formed one of the most comprehensive sailmaking organizations in the world. Although this ranks UK Sailmakers as one of the largest sailmaking operations in the world, the goal of the merger was to provide customers around the world with sails of the highest quality using the most advanced design technologies and materials. This requires excellent people with both expertise and a positive attitude toward serving customers.

UK Sailmakers united two very successful sailmakers, each known for quality and performance in different segments and territories within the sailing community. UK Sailmakers, based in City Island, New York, is known as a leader in load path laminate construction, having pioneered Tape-Drive sails. UK dominates PHRF and club racing among production and semi-custom racer-cruisers in North America and Europe.

Halsey-Lidgard brought to UK Sailmakers an engineering expertise which has produced sails for such yachts as the 125-foot catamaran PLAYSTATION (nee CHEYENNE), record-holder under Steve Fossett for sailing around the world, and REBECCA, one among dozens of vessels over 100 feet flying Halsey-Lidgard sails. 

In fact, immediately following the merger, the group came together to be the exclusive sailmaker to the China Team’s America’s Cup challenge in 2006-2007. Five-time French America’s Cup campaigner Sylvain Barrielle of UK Sailmakers San Francisco was the sail coordinator and the group’s lofts in Hong Kong and Mystic manufactured the sails. UK Sailmakers Spain helped out with service-work. The group’s many strengths came together quickly and well. In the 34th America's Cup competition, UK Sailmakers continued to be the sailmaker for the China Team's AC 45.

Ulmer Sails founder Charles “Buster” Ulmer started his sailmaking career in 1916 as an apprentice at the Ratsey & Lapthorn loft on City Island in New York. Since 1970, his son, Charles "Butch" Ulmer, has run the loft on City Island and the company has grown considerably. In the early '70s, UK became known as the only place to buy spinnakers, since UK was the first loft to perfect the radial-head construction technique. Not being able to produce spinnakers fast enough, UK branched out with independently owned franchises. The computer programs UK developed for sail design and construction ensured that sailors across the country could buy the same fast sails from any UK loft. UK Sailmakers still puts a premium on leading edge software. In fact we have a proprietary 3D CAD/CAM design program that we constantly update: it’s called AccuCut and it’s exclusively available to UK Sailmakers lofts.

In the '80s, UK saw the tremendous advantages offered by "load path" construction and became one of the very first to build "string" sails. These evolved into UK's Tape-Drive® sails, the continuous refinement of which over the last 25 years keeps them the "gold standard" for strength and efficiency in load path laminated construction. Club racers swear by the longevity of Tape-Drive, ocean racers love their durability; and many cruising customers have reported life spans of eight or more years with their UK Spectra Tape-Drive sails.

UK Sailmakers’s Titanium and Uni-Titanium and X-Drive sails are load path constructions that represent the next step in the evolution of the Tape-Drive concept. Instead of applying the load path structural members to a pre-made sail membrane, the Titanium construction system fabricate the sail skin and load path structure as one integral product. String sails started out as a grand-prix product because they are lighter and less elastic. Yet going forward, we expect string sails to be used in more and more applications – especially on super yachts where lighter sails are a necessity. 

Although the UK Sailmakers group continues to grow and expand, the company retains the personal touch that sailors expect. Butch Ulmer, son of the company’s founder and topnotch sailor, goes to the office in City Island, New York, every day to oversee corporate matters and details of the City Island loft.