About Farrar Sails - Loft History
Kevin Farrar - The Early Years
Kevin started sailing in the summer of 1955 with his parents Bud and Zallee on their 110 class boat. His first position was bailer which he accomplished with an orange juice concentrate can (remember this was before Elvstrom Bailers were invented). He then went on to sail as crew with Maureen Peterson in the Wee Nip class sailing hull #3. The Wee Nip was a 12 foot locally built boat in which several generations of New London area sailors learned their sailing skills. By 1964 Kevin's parents had purchase #3 and with Kevin at the helm it was unbeatable. It was at this time that Kevin got his first new sail which replaced the cotton one which he had used when he sailed with Maureen. With Kevin's crew Preston Amburn the team managed an impressive 96% win record for that season. Kevin went on to compete sailing Blue Jays and Penguins with somewhat less impressive results (it had to be the boat).
As Kevin grew older his parents brought a number of other boats - Quincy Adams 26, Sea Sprite 23, Pearson Ariel 26 and a Tripp Galaxy 32. He sailed with his family on all of these boats while still sailing the dinghies. It was around this time that he got into surfing. As with most things Kevin does, once he gets into something he gets into it in a big way. Kevin began surfing in 1964 by the end of the sixties he was managing a surf shop on the beach in Rhode Island. Although Kevin continues to surf, he finally comes back to real life and after a few years of working at a variety of jobs he goes to work for Sandy Van Zandt at Van Zandt Sails.
Kevin the Apprentice
Kevin started as the beginner sailmaker working on the floor on January 7th 1971. Sandy Van Zandt (referred to as the Maestro) was extremely well-known in one-design circles and designed and built many of the fastest dinghy sails of that era. Kevin developed as a sailmaker through the next six years at Van Zandt Sails becoming the lofts senor sailmaker. During his time as Van Zandt he sailed 505's, 470's, Fireball's and frostbite in Penguins and Blue Jays. Kevin also sailed on a number of off-shore boats as crew and helmsman. While there Kevin built 2 Fireball Dinghies which were to change the look of Fireball Class forever. Exploiting a little understood portion of the building rule Kevin maximize the deck area of the boat just aft of the forward bulkhead and in doing so was able to bring the jib leads well inboard and drastically increase the size and overlap of the jib. With the jib much larger the mast was then able to be moved further aft increasing the sail plans total projected area. Kevin was given the freedom to develop sails on a number of classes he worked with such as the Penguin, Blue Jay, Fireball, and 505.
Kevin the sailmaker
Sandy retired and the ownership of the loft changed and after a year or so Kevin moved across town and started International Speed Shapes Sailmakers. In the winter of 1977 this new loft was housed in a converted woodworkers shop built on pilings in Lamberts Cove. This was in Freddy's Boat Livery just north of train tracks at the end of Stonington Harbor. Cold and drafty Kevin suffered the rest of that winter and the next in this tiny loft. The business finally moved up the driveway and into the Old Stonington Foundry building. While in Stonington, John Lucey, started working with Kevin as an apprentice himself. Those days in Stonington were filled with creative developments in sailmaking and sail materials. Mylar as a sail material was invented and 2 ply construction was first used. Radial panel layouts for sails other than spinnakers were first tried. Computers for sailmaking were starting to become common place. Speed Shapes had a pretty high tech Hewlett Packard 9815A computer. With today's standards this computer was not much more than a programmable calculator which took up most of the desk but it was recool back then.
While still in Stonington and wanting to expand into the regions offshore racing market Kevin commissioned Peter Canning to design a MORC racer. Gnat, a 23'10" dagger board boat, was launched in the spring of 1980 just in time for Block Island Race Week. With epoxy curing and the skipper and crew mostly asleep from several days of all-nighters completing the boat they sailed to Block Island. Gnat placed very well in her maiden appearance. Gnat went on to win most of the regions major races including a number of Off Sounding Series, Ram and Fishers Island races.
The loft moved to Noank and occupied the second floor of a new Butler style building in 1983. This was a great facility but as it turn out it was a bad move for the business. The pressure of the yard wanting its customers always first had a negative effect on Speed Shapes customer base. The result was that even with the increase in work that the larger yard provided the fixed costs of this new loft space was too much to bare. The yard became financially involved with the loft and not long afterwards there was the inevitable parting of the ways.
Farrar Sails, Inc. was started in April of 1987 with the intent of staying in Noank but this wasn't to be. After a nearly a months work on preparing a spot for the new loft on Pearl Street in Noank the zoning commission shot down the move. Kevin and now with John Lucey as partner leased the top floor of a large factory building on Pequot Avenue in New London. This space had close to 6000 feet of floor space and was well lit with natural light from the large factory windows. Kevin and John where producing dozens upon dozens of International 420 and Blue Jay sails as well as cruising and offshore racing sails. The loft stayed in this location for the next 12 years.
Block Island Race Week in the spring of 1991 was Kevin's and the loft's first major win. Kevin helming and sailing with co-entrant and boat designer Ron Noe sailed En Charette a Noe27 to a first place finish in class and fleet with a 4.25 point final score. The loft had a reputation as a one-design loft up to this point but with this win the areas offshore racers began to take notice of the sails that Kevin and John were producing. Aboard "Wildthing" an Evelyn 32, Kevin with co-owner Bill Reed won the Eastern Connecticut Sailing Associations offshore overall season championship in 1993 . In 1995 Kevin and Bill were invited to sail in an IOD class match racing event at Fishers Island. They sailed against some of the areas top sailors including the current IOD World Champion John Burnham and match racing ace Peter Homberg. The Wildthing team did well actually beating Homberg in one of the races and nailing him at the start of another. This match racing was fun and began Kevin's association with the IOD Class. Kevin and Bill bought an IOD and after a year and a half refit qualified after their first month sailing to attend the 1997 IOD Worlds. That worlds was an eye opener for the team as it was soon discovered that the top competitors really had these boats dialed in. It was amazing to compete with these boats in heavy air and big seas over a 12 mile course and have the entire fleet finish with a minute of each other and the top four boats overlapped at the finish. At the end of the 1998 season Kevin joins the Kahoutec IOD syndicate and begins to dial it in himself.
The old mill across the street from the loft was torn down in the mid 1990's and a long environmental clean up started. Between the city and the state several projects were planed and aborted for this property. Finally Pfizer Pharmaceutical bought the 23 acre plot but they need more than this fairly large chunk of New London's waterfront. Pfizer ended up purchasing 80 plus surrounding properties including the building the loft was in. The loft was to move again.
Farrar Sails bought the building at 6 Union Street in New London in the summer of 1999. That fall Kevin and John undertook a major rebuilding project transforming the building into a proper loft. The building has a steel truss roof structure that had large rod hangers that supported the second floor of the building. Massive steel I beams were placed in the ceiling of the first floor which allowed the hangers to be removed. The second story floor was then leveled and a perfectly flat clear span was the result. A set of Star sails were the first new sails to be built in the loft space. With excellent lighting and a great infrared heating system Farrar Sails finally has a permanent home. Kevin has been designing sails with the use of the computer for over 22 years with the sails then being lofted full size on the floor. This technique changes with the investment in a Gerber Technologies sail cutting machine. This machine vacuums the sail material to the table surface then draws and cuts the sail. The sails are first designed in AutoCAD then the sail files loaded into the cutters computer where the panels are nested and finally cut.
Kevin gets his first world level win in the IOD class at Bermuda International Race Week in the spring of 2000. He follows this win up with a disappointing fifth place finish at the IOD World Championship in Sweden a month and a half later.
AutoCAD, AutoCAD Inventor and Rhino training changes the way sails are designed at the loft. Kevin finds that designing sails in CAD actually takes more time than the more tradition method. The time saved in the lofting and cutting of the sails is dramatically reduced and more than offsets the extra design time. Before moving to CAD design Kevin and John spent a long time investigating the "canned" sailmaker software programs that are commercially available. They found that none of these programs allowed them to create a sail on the computer that they already could design with traditional methods and loft on the floor. This was especially evident with tri-radial genoas and mainsails. Kevin and John had discovered years earlier that joining sail panels together using catenary curves greatly improved the aging and as a result improved the shape of their sails. The other flaw with these "canned" programs is that a sail designer cannot specify the actually curve that is used to shape the sail. Using the canned programs a designer has only limited control over the sail shape and while in many cases these sails may be "good enough" they never will design great sails. Using AutoCAD Farrar Sails is able to design sails without any software limitation. This freedom of design enables the design to fully utilize the sail material performance characteristics. Modest cloth waste reductions have been made by the ability to nest the sail panels on the cutting machine which is helping to hold down sail costs.
The spring of 2004 brings the Kahoutec team back again to Bermuda. After a really dumb mistake Kevin and crew tie for first and lose to Bill Widnall ( nine time world champion) on the tie breaker. The fall of 2004 brings great breezes and finally the big win, The Kahoutec team of Kevin, Thad Cook, Jonathan Farrar, Jennifer Mancusi-Ungaro and Tim Hotchkiss win the IOD World Championship. The 2004 worlds win was especially exciting as the entire fleet was using Farrar Sails. This win is followed in July of 2005 with a second place position at the Worlds in Norway.
Kevin and John continue to develop new and better techniques as sail materials evolve. The partnership is finding new ways to use CAD to improve construction and build faster longer lasting sails.