Behind the Design: An Interview with Sandy Goodall
by Dan Dickison
Sandy Goodall is a name that most people behind the scenes in the sailmaking world know very well. A former partner in Elvstrom Sails, Goodall has been a sailmaker and sail designer since 1974, and an active sailor for even longer. He is originally from Toronto, Canada, where he apprenticed with champion sailboat racer and sailmaker Hans Fogh at the age of 22. Since that time, he’s built a reputation as a savvy and progressive designer. He now lives in Victoria on Vancouver Island where he splits his time between designing sails for FX Sails (and other select clients) and getting out on the water to see his products in action. I got in touch with Sandy to understand a little more about how he works and what he considers important in sail design.
Dan Dickison: Can you give us an idea of what led you to a career in sail design and sailmaking?
Sandy Goodall: Sailing has always been my passion, so as early as age 16, I knew I wanted a job that would involve sailboats. My father was an aeronautical engineer and a pilot, which gave me a built-in interest in aerodynamics. I realized that I couldn’t learn sailmaking at school, so I decided to find the best sailmaker-teacher I could. I did go to university first, but not for the purpose of getting a job. I actually studied philosophy— something that has been enormously useful in the sailmaking trade!
DD: How did you and Paul Elvstrom first become partners?
SG: When I finished my apprenticeship with Hans Fogh, he arranged that I could go to Denmark and work at the Elvstrom loft. I had intended to stay for just a year! But over the years (17), and through many people and many steps, ownership was gradually transferred to me and my former business partner, Claus Olsen.
DD: When you work, do you primarily use software that you’ve created or customized, or do you use off-the-shelf products?
SG: I mostly use programs that I have helped to develop. The ongoing development of sail design software is one of my main interests. I also enjoy teaching the use of these tools (for example: SmSw6, FiberPath, PatchTool. See (www.sandygoodall.com).
DD: How important is it for you as a sail designer to spend time on the water seeing and using the product of your designs?
SG: It is essential. I want to constantly refine my methods, based on looking at the results of my work.
DD: In your view, what are the most important considerations that sailboat owners need to be aware of when thinking about the purchase of a new sail?
SG: They should carefully consider their needs and expectations, and explain these to the potential sailmaker(s), and then choose the sailmaker and product that best corresponds to their criteria, and budget.
DD: What developments do you see in the sailmaking industry now that are important enough to potentially change the way the industry operates in the future?
SG: Materials and production methods are constantly evolving. There is a certain tendency in the industry to follow the latest trend (“string sails,” for example). Mainly, we are trying to create lighter, cheaper, less-elastic sails that increase performance. Sometimes a new product is an improvement, but not always. Sailmakers are constantly vying for their share of the “pie,” using more or less factual marketing. In my experience, it has always been this way.
In general, I think modern laminate sails are lighter, stronger, longer-lasting, better performing, and cheaper than similar products were in the past. This trend will certainly continue, although there will probably always be a market segment for dacron sails. For the near future, I sense a kind of convergence in laminate sails. It’s similar to the automotive industry where you hear the comment about ‘cars all starting to look the same.’
But eventually, what works for sailmakers comes down to issues of price point and service. If you have a good value product, and you provide good service, customers will support you.
DD: Is there any particular area of the sport that interests you most on a personal level? I mean, do you prefer cruising to racing, or iceboating to everything else, or are you a fan of the single-handed, long-distance arena, etc.?
SG: I really like all kinds of boats, and all kinds of sailing. I sail multihulls and gaff riggers with equal enthusiasm, and I love both racing and cruising. Each type of activity on the water seems to have its own magic, and I consider myself lucky to be able to sample so many different aspects of our sport, due to my work.
DD: Is there anyone in your line of work that you particularly admire? I don’t mean sailors really, but sail designers.
SG: I like the way Peter Heppel approaches sail design and construction. He’s an English sailor, mathematician, architect, sail designer and software developer who has written some of the most sophisticated sail design analysis software in use today. I like his vigorous pursuit of the “facts” in sailmaking. One product in particular, Relax II, is very useful. Peter describes it as “a completely interactive, fully non-linear, Finite Element code for analyzing fabric structures using a state-of-the-art relaxation method. Relax II's special sail analysis features make it extremely efficient for modeling the most innovative sail plans. Its unique flexibility enables it to predict the behavior of almost any large-displacement structure. Unlimited accuracy is attainable due to its sophisticated meshing controls and it's advanced elasticity models (including the critical anisotropic wrinkling capability). Relax II's parametric capability combined with its goal-seeking and optimization features make it a powerful tool for inverse design. And Relax II's comprehensive interfacing and flow control tools permit it to be integrated into a wider system for such tasks as aeroelastic analysis, yacht performance or a full multi-user yacht simulator."
DD: OK, that’s way over my head, but it does seem impressive. Do you utilize Relax II when you design sails for FX sails?
SG: Yes and no. I don’t use RelaxII on a daily basis for each and every sail design, but I use the concepts and conclusions that can be drawn from using that tool for special projects.
About the Author: Dan Dickison is known throughout the sailing community for his in-depth articles on a variety of sailing topics. His resume includes stints as a staff editor at Sailing World, Editorial Director of SailNet, and Editor of Practical Sailor. In those capacities he has written principally about racing, sail handling, and maintenance. He has also written over 50 freelance articles that have appeared in major sailing publications around the world.