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Tall ship’s sails built in Deltaville

Jake Pender (left) and Justin Ailsworth of Ullman Sails in Deltaville worked five months making 11,000 square feet of sails for the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter “Eagle.” Ailsworth will take a four-day trip up the East Coast aboard the 296-foot-long ship. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

Made in America

by Tom Chillemi

When Jerry Latell of Ullman Sails in Deltaville got the contract to make 11,000 square feet of sails (12 sails) for the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter “Eagle,” he was a little apprehensive. “We felt a little like the dog who catches a car that he’s been chasing,” joked Latell.

Latell and his crew had built six sails for the Eagle in the winter of 2015-16. And they have made single new sails for this iconic ship as well as repaired its sails. “We knew what this involved and we were technically capable, but 12 sails is a huge, multi-month project,” said Latell.

Latell had positioned his business to accept the challenge. In December 2016, he purchased and then invested nearly $40,000 in upgrading the former firehouse that’s next door to his current location, in an old bowling alley on General Puller Highway. In August 2016 he purchased a new $18,000 sewing machine, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Middlesex Economic Development Authority (EDA).

“The EDA grant helped us get set up in the new building so we now have a building dedicated to repair work and one dedicated to new sail production,” he said.

The extra space gave Latell room and boosted his confidence. “I don’t know if we could have done this Eagle job without the new building,” he said. “We built six (Eagle) sails last winter without the new space but 12 sails certainly would have been a lot for the old bowling alley to handle.” 

Latell got the Eagle job due to his expertise and reputation as a premier sailmaker. “We are one of the few, if not the only, sail loft in the United States that can take on a traditional project of this size.”

Big picture
Like any good business person, Latell had to look at the big picture and more than just building sails, which he’s been doing full time since 2001. “We know how to build them but I was apprehensive about cash flow and the flow of our other new sail production,” he explained. “Such a big project could have been a major disruption to our systems. 

“We hope to do more sails for the Eagle and have urged the Coast Guard to spread the orders out a bit so they can be more easily worked into our regular work.” 

Spread out
Building 11,000 square feet of sails took some unusual turns. Two people worked on the project full time for the full five months, and others jumped in to help at different times.

The Coast Guard has criteria and plan drawings for each sail. These sails were laid out in the traditional manner, which means Latell could do most of the layout at his business but about half of the sails had to be done in gyms at Middlesex Elementary School and Chesapeake Academy. 

“Most of the sails we build are designed with a computer, and cut on our automated cutting table,” said Latell. “This process eliminates the first layout, speeds up the process, and makes it much more accurate and repeatable.” The Eagle sails are all handcrafted from start to finish.

Latell learned the sail making business from hands-on experience. From 1998 to 2000 he worked as an employee at the same loft that he now owns. He left for three years to work as a guidance counselor for Lancaster Public Schools. In 2001 he started a sail business as a part-time job and in 2005 bought out his former employer to take over this loft.

posted 04.19.2017

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