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The Evolution of a Sail


Wikipedia would state that a sail is means for redirecting the power of the wind to propel a craft on the water, ice or land.

As the wind passes along the fabric of a sail, it creates both drag and lift to move the craft. On a sailing vessel, what appears to be a flat piece of cloth comes alive into a beautiful three-dimensional curved surface.

The British Virgin Islands is known as the sailing capital of the world. With literally dozens of charter companies and thousands of bare boats, crewed and private yachts, miles, and miles of sails are flying across the waters of the Sir Francis Drake Channel each year in all shapes, colours and sizes. And with that, the sails, which are an integral part of each yacht, have come from Europe, the UK, America and further afield.

Sail making is an age old art and sail cloth that was once made of woven linen and natural cotton is now made from a list of proprietary man-made fabrics with dazzling names that almost sound like they belong in the periodic table of elements:  Dacron, Kevlar, Mylar, Spectra, Vectran and Carbon Fiber.

But what happens to that cloth when it becomes used, abused, tired and torn? When those sails find their final fate in the B.V.I.? There is only so much repair work that can be done until the sails must be replaced.

And that is where the Annie MacPhail story starts.

By collecting, processing and preserving the cloth that might otherwise become a tarp or a heap in the landfill, Annie uses the varied fabrics to create bags, home accessories, lighting, sculptures and functional art. It starts with collecting, knowing the sail makers, staying in touch with the racers, and trading old sails for a new product with charters companies and individuals. The sails then have to be cleaned and processed, cut, rolled and separated by weave, weight, colour and application. From there, she designs by drawing and her chief bag maker Jeffery, develops prototypes to be tested. Once a bag is out on the street, and the prototype refined, the production begins. Each bag is carefully cut, stitched, labeled and tagged.

“The possibilities are endless in design,” states Annie, “and we strive to go where no designs have gone in the market of recycled sail cloth items.” For Annie, the beauty is in the evolution. She thinks of the medium of sail cloth as a flat form that morphs for a limited time into a three-dimensional functioning engine and then back to a flat form only to be rediscovered as a second form with functionality and a new life: a Dacron lamp with shadows and light beams, an oversized laminate shopping or travel bag with Carbon thread patterns, a dog lead from strips of painted sail, each one a unique work of art.

“In 2017, my goal is to create even more dimension and texture with the materials I have on hand. I don’t want to give too much away so you’ll have to come into Nutmeg to see the creations we’re working on for next spring”, says Annie.

Annie owns and operates Nutmeg Designs on Waterfront Drive across from the main ferry terminal parking. Nutmeg is a retail furnishings and gift shop, and studio where she and her staff focus on the sustainable. Many of the items are made from sail and other recycled and reclaimed materials, much of it designed and created in the B.V.I.