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The 52 Super Series keeps North Sails in constant development

by North Sails 28 Aug 2021 05:00 BST
Puerto Portals 52 Super Series Sailing Week © Nico Martinez / 52 Super Series

The 52 Super Series is known as one of the most competitive circuits in the sport and for North Sails, it keeps us on top of our game.

This week, 16 TP52s are in Puerto Portals, Mallorca, re-igniting the circuit's fierce competitive spirit after an 18-month Covid hiatus. The special showcase event brings together 9 Super Series circuit regulars, plus seven guest teams for the 20th Anniversary Invitational. The entry list is a quick lesson in over two decades of class history.

It's well documented that events like the America's Cup and Ocean Races are multi-year intensive development cycles that return an influx of technology back into North Sails. What's less obvious is the constant evolution and refinement of the North Design Suite and development of our top-tier products that results from the 52 Super Series.

North Sails Grand Prix leader and Bronenosec mainsail trimmer Paul Westlake comments: "North Sails' success in the class boils down to two elements; our people and our product. Similar to the America's Cup, each of our 52 teams has a North Sails designer dedicated to their program. At the end of each season, we collect feedback from the teams, learn from their experiences, review our baseline designs and structures, and ultimately, incorporate that into our seasonal development cycle."

Many of the latest advancements for North 3Di were first tested on the TP52s, and 3Di RAW is a direct result of development within the Super Series. This minimum weight, maximum performance sail material has seen a lighting-speed engineering evolution over the last three seasons.

"The 3Di RAW structure has taken major steps through the evolution of RAW 870 to RAW 880 in 2018-19, and now the latest: RAW 890, which debuted in Cape Town last season," Westlake explains. "Our focus is on increasing modulus (resistance to stretch), reducing weight, and at the same time extending the racing range and lifespan of each sail. Sail buttons are like gold in this class!"

The Super Series boats are built within strict tolerances, so winning programs demand sails capable of the smallest gains in boat speed. Mickey Ickert is North's lead sail designer for the 52s, and with decades of experience, he is no stranger to continually advancing the performance of the sails supplied by North.

Ickert explains his thought process: "Would the boat be going faster if the jib was flatter or fuller? How might we expand the range of the sail? Our design tools can help in making these decisions. The higher end flow predictions give an idea of what direction the combined system of the boat, the hydro, the aero, and the sailing team want to go."

Luckily for Ickert and his design group colleagues, they are able to combine the world's highest performance sail material with modeling powered by the North Design Suite. This custom-built software makes it possible to create shapes that will exactly match the finished sail. "Our tools are very, very accurate in terms of predicting the loads and resulting flying shapes we'll have on the water," Ickert says. That gives designers the confidence to create a sail with a wider range of application. "One jib and one mainsail that deform themselves into the optimum as you go through the wind range. That's the holy grail, not the reality, but you can push the envelope to it."

Of the nine boats competing in the 2021 season, seven have chosen North as their sailmaker. This is a testament to industry- leading technology and tools, and also to the North Sails team. In total, six sail designers support the Super Series program year round. With Ickert as the lead, the design group has made a concerted effort to work as a team, because that will raise the game of all North-supported teams.

"It's a privilege to work with these owners and their teams," explains Westlake. " We know they have a choice of sailmaker, and that motivates us to improve our tools and product and lean into the expertise of sail designers like Mickey. We have a lot of trust built up with these teams, and while we always strive to advance and improve their results, their feedback pushes us to be more aggressive with development. In the end, everyone wins."

Learn more about the 52 Super Series and follow along with the 2021 season on

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