Monty Spindler: Interview

Maryland Yankee in Europe

Monty Spindler is moving to France from Italy.
It has been a very difficult decision for the
American sail designer whose sails have broken
three world speed records in recent years. He
showed me drawings for each of his winning sails, and like Mozart’s magical compositions, they were direct notes from the maker’s soul. No drafts, no corrections, no second thoughts; a straight one–time execution. Original penciled drawings, simple to the core, proving not once but three times, the brilliance of a sail designer who mastered his art and has comfortably become a… Maryland Yankee in Europe.

Memories die hard, Spindler frequently visits his “best friend,” expatriate Cynthia Taylor as she and 13-year-old son Giuliano follow him into their Dro home. Each visit becomes more cherished as the move to France makes fond memories out of ordinary moments, such as a morning hike into cow pastures cresting above Lake Garda. Taylor’s Fiat 500 displays proud relics of the ART brand, in whose design loft she worked for 7 years.

ON TOP OF THE WORLD AT MALCHESINE: Spindler views the town he will soon leave. Beyond the lake, above the cliffs, he spots the land he owns and hopes to return to one day and live. Friends fill the sailmaker’s heart, but  more to the point, Spindler fills their many hearts. Like long-time friend Carla, the proprietor of the hotel and cafe` “Centrale,” who was nominated to be the mayor of Torbole. Below her, the owners of the Hotel Villabella, who have adopted Spindler as part of the family. (far right) Strumming a tune, Spindler practices his bass for the “Rockaholix,” his rock group that includes a Canadian guitarist and Italian drummer.

MONTY SPINDLER: …my house in Spain, it is so sad that I’m not sharing the building of this house with someone… I would love to…[sigh]…just seems that something is missing from it… not complete unless… Anyway…

AMERICAN WINDSURFER: Seems to me, your life is dictated by your love affairs.

MS: No, I would not say that! My life is dictated by my work, whether or not it is going well romantically.

AM: Tell me about your relationships.You’re a good looking guy, doing interesting things. People must think you’ve got a girl in every port.

MS: No, no, nowhere. And both places I’ve been living, Garda and Tarifa, they’re wonderful places, they’re resort places, there’s windsurfing, there’s wind, people are arriving in groups to windsurf, girlfriend and boyfriend, whatever, and they go. And in the winter, at least in Torbole, I’m not even here, but the place is empty, and Tarifa… I could be involved if I wished, but I’m old enough now not to get involved with things that aren’t going to go anywhere. Kind of like you, I’m waiting for it to happen. The one real interest I have isn’t available, unfortunately…

AW: Do you think our lifestyle hinders the possibilities?

MS: Work is top priority. If I am in a position to get to know someone, work is still my top priority, I explain that… I don’t compromise it… I’m willing to compromise for family, for a wife, I want to compromise, and… I want that to be a part of my life now, definitely; but I’m not in a position to change my schedule if I were to fall in love with someone in some city somewhere, I couldn’t move my life to that place… I just couldn’t do it. I have to be doing what I do where I do it. On the other hand, I say I’m willing to compromise and get involved… but I guess I’m not.

AW: Sounds like you’re stuck. I see a lot of women looking at you and trying to pick you up. How do you deal with all the attention you seem to get?

MS: Turn around and run…[laughs] I don’t deal with it. I just smile… And that’s it.

AW: Ah, such waste… all those propositions!

MS: Propositions? No! Because the windsurfing keeps me young, and all the people I work with are pretty young, I feel like an overgrown kid. I’ve never been serious about anything romantic, really, and that’s still a part of me. I’m not an adult really, when it comes to that. [laughs] So… I don’t know what to say about it.

AW: But you obviously have tremendous passion in your relationships…

MS: Yeah, I guess so. Laura [former girlfriend] told me I’m the most romantic man she’s ever met. [laughs] I was just telling her in the last weeks I had so much energy towards her that I was holding back; I wanted to let it go, let it envelop her… I don’t think Americans are romantic as a culture. It’s difficult for me to believe I’m so romantic because I’m American. I think Italians are quite romantic.

AW: But for an Italian woman to say something like that to you must mean something.

MS: Yeah, it must, I guess… anyway, should we make tracks?

AW: No let’s talk a little more, I’ve got the tape on, I want to get some spice outta’ you.

MS: Yeah, that kind of stuff you wouldn’t put in the magazine…[laughs] I’m looking forward to diving into my work and putting my energy into ART 95.

AW: You know, I can see parts of you in me, just like that… not having a woman, and wishing for that woman, craving for that relationship is a very powerful force that drives you into your work…

MS: Yeah, work, it’s like a sanctuary… I do look forward to the steady relationship. When I go back to my flat, the flat is filled with good Italian families, you walk past the doors and you hear them, smell the food cooking and stuff, and then I get up to my flat and it’s such a drag to just arrive to an empty flat. If I could go directly from the car to the flat, it would be okay, but I have to go through this wonderful, warm environment on the way to my empty wonderful flat. No, it’s okay, I don’t want to make it sound like it’s…[long pause] It all doesn’t really matter anyway, does it? [both laugh]

AW: Well, it will be very interesting to catch up to you five years from now.

MS: I’ll probably be in the same position.

AW: You think so?

MS: I don’t know, I mean the way things have gone… I just don’t know.

AW: You believe in soulmates and…

MS: Yes! Yes I do…

AW: Oh man! That boat just capsized.

MS: Really, a big one?

AW: Yeah! A gust just blew it down…, you see it, where all the little boats are? I’m sorry, you were saying…

MS: Yeah, I was going to say something about my position. I would find interesting a woman who has a career, that is independent, and able to make a life herself, kind of a complete person.

AW: I know what you mean…

MS: But, my work takes me to a place where young people are hanging out all the time, there isn’t a city here where people can develop themselves in their careers. That doesn’t happen here, or at Tarifa. If I’m interested in finding relationships with women who are eighteen to twenty-five, or twenty-two… those kind of girls are around, but they’re not women I’m seeking. The women that I find most compatible or interesting don’t really exist in the places where I’m living.

AW: You believe in fate, maybe…

MS: Yeah? I dunno. For things involving me romantically, I don’t know what I believe. I’m kind of holding out this romantic hope that all of a sudden she’ll just be in my life somehow. Everybody has that hope. [long pause] I’ve never had any grand plan. I wasn’t in the States thinking, when I was younger “wow, I’d like to be a windsurfing sail designer in Europe…” The only time I’ve really had to make a decision about my life plan was when, in the last months, the company [ART Sails] wanted me to move down to France. Do I want to sell my business here in Italy and begin a life between Spain and France, or stay independent here, on the lake?

I’m really bad at making those kinds of decisions. Everything has always just fallen into place. I guess there was a decision to go and take the job at Neil Pryde, in Hong Kong, but did I really have an alternative? No. Now I really have an alternative: to stay here is a completely plausible thing to do. It’s beautiful here: I’ve got my own sail loft and it finally may be profitable this year… I have my land over on the hill on the other side…

AW: So what made you decide to change?

MS: Um, a combination of a few things. I agreed to go, and then I decided maybe I shouldn’t. I’ve been on both sides of the fence a few times, which drove Bernie [Bernard Henett, president of Fanatic/ART] crazy. It’s not professional to do that. As soon as I said “Okay, I’ll go…” then “Ow, gosh… what am I doing!?” Anyway, the decision was made because there’s the sea down there, and I have this romantic vision of having a boat and commuting between Tarifa and Toulon on the boat, which sounds wonderful.

Moving near the sea is a great idea. The lake is beautiful, but it’s just not the sea. That’s part of it; the possibility of working with Marco Copello  [Copello Boards] closely, who knows what can come, from a collaboration between a board designer and a sail designer. We’re both specialists, maybe something arrives from it. The fascinating thing about the sport is the efficiency we’re getting. There isn’t anything more efficient than our craft on the water. That’s fascinating to me. It’s getting better and better, the efficiency, and something could really come from that collaboration, I think. I don’t know, we’ll have to see.

If it had worked out with Laura, I would have stayed, if she wanted to. I would’ve changed my decision. I know that her family would like her to stay. I like her family and I feel at home here… but it didn’t work out with her, so it seems like the right moment in the general scope of things. Also the company will buy the loft, so financially it’s a good thing to do as well.

AW: Will they still keep the loft there?

MS: No, they’re moving it to Toulon, to set it up in the place where Copello’s working.

AW: So how’d you get into windsurfing?

MS: I met Ken Winner in a University of Maryland sailing club meeting. That was in ’75. He was just breaking onto the scene as a major force in windsurfing, when there was strong wind, he was winning then… But at the sailing club meeting I was trying to get Ken involved with intercollegiate dinghy racing. I remember he kept the boat very flat, it seemed as a windsurfer coming into small boat racing, he had a wonderful way of keeping the boat absolutely vertical all the time; neutral helm, completely.

Anyway, he got me onto the board. I wanted to learn from him. I remember going to some places and he put me on his second or third quality stuff. He had lots of old boards and booms, broken masts, broken teak booms that he’s repaired, and he didn’t really teach me, because all we did was go on the water together, and he would be around me, and I was amazed how he could spin the thing around and do just anything; so much more maneuverable than any dinghy, which is already so much more maneuverable than any boat or yacht or whatever… but he never really taught me, I was floundering, and I ended up learning how to go in one direction, and ended up over there and would have to be rescued or something, just like everybody.

I ended up buying from him some old board… he had been sailing on a windy day in Annapolis harbor and had run right into the harbor marker with it. The nose of the board, an old windsurfer, had been taken away from this collision. He had repaired it with some plastic and staples and hot melt glue and the board was full of water. I had a daggerboard; one that he made out of a piece of pine and shaped it, it was raked back a bit, and I had a mast that he had put together from some broken  pieces, and both booms had been repaired;  so I bought for a hundred dollars this board from him. I had it for three days. The third day I was sailing with it on the creek, we lived right on the water in Annapolis, and an oyster boat goes by, which throws up a wake, which is relatively steep. I’m going over this wake and the board breaks into two separate pieces. From the front of the centerboard to one side, from the back of the centerboard to the other side. [laughs]

AW: So what’d you do [laughing]

MS: So I complained! [both laugh]

AW: What did Ken do?

MS: He laughed!

AW: [Both laughing] Did you get your money back?

MS: No! [laughing] But I did find another hull, a yellow one. An even earlier one, from someone who kept it under their boat at the sailing club. So I sailed one of the really old yellow boards for a while.

When I discovered windsurfing, it was kind of the demise of my dinghy sailing. I started windsurfing in ’77, I think, with Ken. My dinghy racing was still rolling at that time, it was in ’77 that I was sixth in the Laser Worlds down in Brazil. In ’80, I received an application to be sponsored by the Olympic committee. That was a very inconsequential year, because the Moscow games were boycotted in ’80. The Olympic Committee decided to get going with something directed towards Los Angeles in ’84, and they sent out applications to something like a hundred single-handed dinghy sailors. I was selected to be one of the four that was…

AW: So by that time you were already losing interest in dinghy racing?

MS: Yeah, and when Pat Healy, the Olympic single-handed coach, called me and said, “You’re in if you want to go…” It was a ticket to Europe, a tour, a boat, all travel expenses, a new Finn from Vanguard, and new mast and sail… and I said “Sure, I would love to go.” But I was already kind of on my way out of dinghy sailing.

AW: Is that when you fell in love with Europe?

MS: Yeah, well… I was much younger at that time, that was 1981, and I was touring with a group of Finn sailors… I was like twenty-three or something. When you’re touring Europe for the first time with a bunch of Finn sailors, Europe tends to be kind of a quaint place to party in… I didn’t really take in so much of the culture. I remember Russ Sylvestri, a real party animal, younger guy, in Germany, instead of saying “Danke scho¨n” he would say “Dog shit”, and they’d say “Bitte scho¨n”[laughs]. So we had an attitude, it was more like I was playing with Europe. The European experience began when I had to get out of Hong Kong.

AW: You were losing interest in dinghy racing. Was windsurfing that much more exciting?

MS: Well, the contrast couldn’t be greater between the Finn and the windsurfer. In a Finn, you’re trying to muscle around this 300 pound boat, and it’s painful and slow, and not efficient. That’s in comparison to a windsurfer. When you hook into the harness, you’re on top of the water, you’re f_ck_ng flying, you’re pain free, and you’re ten times faster… and it’s made the Finn seem really ridiculous. It made people who sailed the Finns seem kind of primal and archaic.

In windsurfing, you really are flying. You’re not in the water, you’re skimming along on top of the it. The first time you get that sensation of planing, I don’t know what you could compare it to. Maybe it’s sort of the feeling you’d get when you’re on a nice ski run, sort of, l’ glisse, the French call it… I think it’s translated literally as the sliding. But it’s low-level flight, and it doesn’t seem like it’s low speed either when you really get going. What fascinates me is really efficiency, and this feeling of flying. I’ll never get tired of it. I’m sure I’ll be windsurfing when I’m ninety years old. That’s how much I like it.

I’m not a very good R&D guy actually, because when I windsurf, I just like to go and enjoy myself, and I don’t like to be bothered by which sail is better. I’m pretty much out of the picture when it comes to testing. Ronnie Kiaulein and Klaus Baumann do that. I trust them, I don’t even trust myself, and yeah, sometimes I am involved and I like experiencing the differences in the quality of the design of the equipment, but I don’t like to be preoccupied with details when I’m sailing. I prefer just to hook in and fly around…

AW: How long have you lived in Europe?

MS: Nine years.

AW: Is this home to you, more than anywhere else? When you go back to the States, do you feel sort of out of it?

MS: Well, yes, in Hawaii, let’s say… maybe even in the States, a bit…

AW: I think, again, like Robby, you’re much more well-known in Europe than in the States.

MS: That’s probably true. It’s worked in my favor, being an American in Europe. The image windsurfing has in Europe is something California beach… there’s an American flavor to the European view of windsurfing, I think.

To be an American sail designer basing his work in Europe has made it very easy for me to develop associations with European companies. If I had gone to Maui, and done what many have done, set up a sail loft there and worked as a Maui sail designer, I might’ve been able to make it in the industry, but I don’t know, maybe not.

I think in some ways Europe… things like how we think of the environment… I get a lot of this out of the news magazines, I remember there was a Time magazine report about the world’s garbage—who puts out the most—and American consumers put out about two and a half pounds of garbage a day or something, which is more than double the average of Europe combined. In Europe, the least refuse-producing consumer is in Italy, I think.

I think that Europe has gone a step farther than the States. For example, in Germany, it’s normal to be worried about where your glass goes, and about where your paper goes, and where your plastic goes. It’s a normal household thing, especially in Germany, to separate your garbage and take it to the proper centers. And here we do it, maybe not as intensively, all of our glass is collected, also batteries… there are receptacles designed just to receive batteries. So I think we’ve gone one step farther than the States in our environmental consciousness here in Europe. Not that that makes us necessarily better.

AW: Tell me how you got to be here in Europe?

MS: Well it is a very long story…I think it was in the Spring of ’81 that I met Neil Pryde in Annapolis, he came with Ken Winner,  and we talked in the hotel there, and I was offered a job. It was with the premise that I would be eventually arriving in Hawaii that I took the job with Neil in Hong Kong.

A year later I was still working there. A year and a half later, I was the only designer in the company in Hong Kong. There was no way I was getting out of there. I was really disappointed that I couldn’t get into Hawaii. I was making visits, I was staying often at the home of Barry [Spanier], working on my own separate design projects at Maui Sails, but after about two years of staying in Hong Kong, it looked like there was no way I was getting out of there. My work at that time was primarily designing sails for HiFly, Tiga, Sailboard Alpha, all the windsurfing companies that Neil Pryde manufactured for. At that time, that part was like 80% of his production, a big part of it.

It was Geoff Bourne’s idea—“In order to get out of Hong Kong, move closer to those accounts by moving into Europe somewhere.” Something I had never considered, a great idea. We proposed it to Neil, he accepted it. So I arrived to Torbole in 1984.

AW: Why did you pick Torbole?

MS: I didn’t. It was picked for me because Lake Garda is the most central location in respect to the manufacturers and the businesses. They set me up with a sail loft behind Mario’s shop. If you go into the shop, where he’s selling boards now, there’s still a sewing machine in the back room, where I was doing my prototyping. My first season was there, and my second year, Neil set me up with a real nice loft, paid for the construction of a four-machine loft and a room plenty big enough: I could even do yacht sails.

Everything was rolling fine until Neil had trouble with his business in ’85. HiFly went bust, Windsurfer U.S.A. went out, Windsurfer Japan went down, the Irish loft in county Cork ended up going bankrupt because the market that the loft was servicing dropped out. Everything went wrong with Neil that year. His company went up for sale, they weren’t finding any buyers, and then in November, December, Inschape, his parent company, put somebody in his Hong Kong office. Neil didn’t have power enough to keep all the business that went through the company from going over this guy’s desk. This guy from Inschape was cancelling things, and production staff was being released, and design staff as well.

This comes to an interesting moment [for me]. The industry knew that Neil was having trouble, this also happened to be the year I was doing the World Cup with the Sailboard World Cup team In Holland, at Kikduin in the fall. I had a very good day of racing, one particular day, I was in the top ten in all three races, just off shore, with thousands watching. That evening I was staying in a camper in the parking area, and, “Oh hi, it’s somebody from Gaastra…” and they talked to me about working for them. A few minutes later, it was Eckart Wagner, asking me if I would be interested in working for North Sails. And then it was somebody from F2, wondering if I would be a designer for them.

In the space of an hour and a half or something, three industry people came asking if I would work for them. By the end of the evening, I was ready to get drunk. I couldn’t believe what was happening. And then I had to consider my options. I had been working for Neil, at that time for almost four years, I had a wonderful development loft in Italy, I was doing what I wanted to do, with a guy that I respected very much, Neil. I wanted to stay with the company.

So for each inquiry, I said “thank you for your interest, and I’d like to get back in touch with you…” I decided to fight for my position, so I prepared everything as best I could.

Peter Brockhouse had an interest in me as well. He was the founder of Mistral and F2, one of the industry’s strongest personalities in terms of marketing, early on. I met Brockhouse down at the race in Florida, and he said “Let’s do a new brand… I want you to be the designer of Xtra.” He wanted to do this new thing called Xtra, which briefly was something that F2 got into without him. He had the scenario, and I said “Okay, I’ll design it for you, if you take my salary and have Neil produce the product.” He said “Yeah, sure…”

So I went to Hong Kong in early January to discuss this with Neil, and Brockhouse was supposed to be arriving as well. When I got there, we heard that Brockhouse was having all these legal problems because of complications with F2: He ended up not arriving. By this time Neil had just managed to save his company… I remember I tried to argue that even without Brockhouse I would stay as a Neil Pryde designer and we could minimize costs by passing my income off onto the companies that I’d be servicing. This was just the first weeks of January. Neil had just managed to find Shriro to prop up his company, I mean he was that close to losing it all. He said “No, I can’t… I have to say that I can’t keep you on…” He decided to stay with Willem Blaauw and [Barry] Spanier, and he said “If you want, you can buy the sail loft you’ve been working in in Italy.” He named me a price I couldn’t refuse. I signed the contract to buy the loft, and I had three months to pay it off. I didn’t have enough money to pay it, because Neil paid me peanuts for so long: I liked the guy so much, I wanted to work with him. I kinda’ had what I was looking for.

AW: What happened with the sail loft?

MS: Eventually I ended up working it out, somehow. Anyway, Jeff Cornish and I made a proposal to Neil that we do a thing without Brockhouse; a second brand that would go directly to the big shops, around importers. The format for all of this was on paper. Neil literally had his pen in his hand, I had signed it, Cornish had signed it, the format for work collaboration… he was playing around with his pen, and they were talking about it, and he said “No, I can’t do it… I can’t alienate my distribution network, I just managed to keep my company together, and I don’t want to throw this left into the system right now…” With that the whole thing collapsed.

Then I started my series of negotiations with people who had interest in me previously. I went over to Kevin Wadham  [Gaastra], and made a proposal to him. My loft in Italy, a new brand, direct to the big shops with the pricing… economically it would work out well. They decided, “We already have a designer brand, so to speak…” They were making Simmer Sails at that time. “We’re not interested in your proposal, but we are interested in having you come to be our design manager,” he said to me. “Aaah, design manager…” I thought. “Well, here’s a step forward… Gaastra Sails design manager, that sounds good, managing the other designers somehow?” Kevin was making something like a carrot, I think, ’cause when I forced him to have a schedule of what they wanted me to do, all they wanted me to do was produce designs, and maybe, in a few years, I would eventually arrive to be some sort of manager. When I understood that initially I would just be doing design work again, I wasn’t all that interested.

So then I decided to go independent after pursuing a few other possibilities. I was really down, but I was in a fighting stance, and I was ready to go. That’s when Eckart Wagner introduced me to Udo Schütz in Hong Kong. Wagner was showing Schütz the factory in Taipo. North Sails Windsurfing was having financial trouble, and North Sails was the supplier to Fanatic at that time. Wagner wanted Schütz to invest in North Sails. I didn’t know Schütz, but I knew Wagner from his knocking on my door back in Kikduin.

To begin the conversation I said, “I have my sail loft and my new brand and some new designs that are going to make a big impact on the market and the industry:” After all the previous negotiations, I was in a position where it was easy to put it on the table: “This is my trip, this is what I’m into, and if you want to be a part of my music, then we can talk about it.” Here I am talking to the North Sails president and Schütz Werke Fanatic president, some lowly sail maker, right? But I’d had enough by that time.

When I said these things about the economics of going right to the shops and cutting out the importation so the price becomes attractive, these were all the things I had learned through all these negotiations, and they were all coming into this conversation. Schütz turned to me and said, “This is the kind of business we will kill. We will lock you out of the market…” It’s not me to be very strong and forward, but I was able to parry, and thrust. “There’s no way. You’re not in all the shops, how can you say you can lock me out of the market? You don’t have control of the market! I am going to be able to penetrate the market, and I have to say that you are both successful businessmen, you have arrived in your positions by taking advantage of situations where you could, and I’m doing the same thing you guys have done,” I said to them. A golden moment for me.

But that moment passed, Eckart was clever, and so was Schütz. By the end of the conversation, they had directed my energy under their wings. I arrived some weeks later to the home of Eckart Wagner in Germany, and I was going to be a North Sails designer. A contract was drawn up, and I showed him drawings of the “cutaway sails,” which at that point in time were just something of a weird fantasy, an alternative to consider. Eckart got turned on: “Yeah, oh, cool, look at this!” He was totally into it. He said “Go down to the lake, make some prototypes, in two weeks we have an importer’s meeting, an R&D meeting, there’ll be other North designers, people will be presenting their stuff, I’ll arrive with the contract we’ve outlined, we can sign it, and you can go…” He went off to Hawaii, and I came down to the lake, made six protos during that time, they were being tested by Cesare Cantagalli and others. It was very positive, the sails were working well compared to what was around at the time. Two weeks later, the importer meeting starts, I had my design concepts, booklets about the cutaway and the strip concept, a lot of detailing, presentation boards and prototypes. I had understood that other designers were doing the same kind of thing. I was the only one, and Eckart didn’t arrive.

It was a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday meeting. He still didn’t arrive. “What’s going on, how come he’s not here.” I went ahead and presented it anyway. He still didn’t arrive, and then we start hearing about money trouble, banks blocking financial things in the company… and he still didn’t arrive. I tried to call him, I mean here I am, freaking… I told him directly in the beginning, “Everyone says I shouldn’t work for you unless I have a contract, I need a contract, please…” I’d done all this prototype work without a contract, doing exactly what so many people told me not to do with Wagner. I’d like to get him on the phone, understand what’s happening, I can’t reach him. I remember Sunday, sitting there on the water, the cutaways are sailing around, and Udo Schütz arrives, walks down to the water, and sees these people sailing with these weird looking sails. Then, Sunday night we all have a dinner together, nobody really knew what was happening, it was a silent, uncomfortable dinner, wondering where Eckart Wagner was, who’s supposed to be the M.C. of the whole thing. At the end of the dinner, Schütz says, “I’d like to speak to you about a possible relationship under a new format, if you would come to my hotel tomorrow…”

So I arrived at his hotel, and he said in very few words, “I am purchasing an Asian sail loft, I’m going to introduce a new brand name to the market, and if you don’t have obligations otherwise, I’d like to meet with you in Germany to discuss things…” At that moment, I had another week to pay off my sail loft, I’m working on things without a contract… I was really at an end. Of course I was interested.

I got on the plane. I went up to Germany. Schütz picks me up at the airport himself, he used to be a race car driver for Porsche, we go 250 kph on the autobahn to his factory, he gives me a personal tour of his factories, a couple locations… BIG, and then we sit down to negotiate. By this time, I’m really fed up with negotiating, so it was really simple to me: “If you would like to have me do your design work, here’s a few simple requirements, and I’ll do it for you.” And he said, “okay, no problem…”

So the contract was prepared, and just before signing it, I went for a walk around the town. It was a five-year contract, a big thing, so I needed a moment to think about it, although I knew I was going to sign it. During my time away from his office, I wanted to clear the air with Eckart Wagner, all the stuff that we had arranged earlier was still floating.

So I got through to Wagner on the phone, and I said “I’m in the offices of Udo Schütz, I’m about to sign a contract to work for him, and I wanted to clear things with you before I sign it. I think it’s the correct thing to do.” He didn’t have a lot to say. I went in, and as I’m signing the contract, I mention to Udo that I had just called Eckart Wagner. Little did I know there was quite a drama going on between them and the sail loft he had just purchased. Earlier back in Hong Kong, Eckart was trying to get Udo to invest in the sail loft, in North Sails. That’s why they were there.

Eckart took Udo into the sail loft, where they were late on deliveries of Fanatic sails. They went in the loft, Udo went in believing they were producing Fanatic, and they were making some other brand. He lost his trust in Eckart at that moment, or that’s what he told me later. Instead of propping up North Sails, he decided to buy the loft, and I think he bought the loft in Hong Kong from the banks of North. I don’t think Eckart was interested in having the loft sold to Schütz, I don’t know…

AW: So you didn’t realize that all this was going on…

MS: I didn’t. When, I said that I just spoke to Wagner, he was very interested “You spoke to Eckart? What happened?” I told him all the agreements were verbal and they hadn’t been cleared, and I didn’t feel like I could sign this contract without clearing the air. I wasn’t calling Eckart to say “Hey, I’m getting paid this much by Udo, do you want to pay me more?” I just didn’t want to have any loose ends. So I signed the contract, and began with ART. I had left Pryde in December ’85, and signed the contract with Schütz in the end of April…’86.

AW: So when you went into ART, you went right in with the cutaway?

MS: There was a meeting up in Munich at the offices of Warner Richter who was doing all of the marketing. There was Udo Schütz, myself… we discussed what ART would be, what the product line would have. Schütz said at this meeting, “I’ve been on the lake, I’ve seen the cutaways on the water, and they are the future…” It was this motivation from him that carried that concept into each line we did for the first season.

The only sail in our first year’s line that had been well-developed was the Rad Wing, the one that had the radical cutaway in it. All the other ones, the wave sail, the race sail, they were all done pretty much without any prototyping. Something I’m able to do because of all the work I did with Pryde. In retrospect, if I had it all to do over again, I would’ve made the Rad Wing the only one that was radical. But with Schütz’s motivation toward that concept, and Warner Richter’s interest in launching the brand with something revolutionary, it was decided to put that element in all the lines.

AW: Now that whole thing caused quite a lot of controversy…

MS: Oh my god… That was an experience. For me it was a bit of a drama because the industry all credited me with the concept, when actually I was doing my version of something that was born in someone else’s mind. I never claimed to be the originator of that concept. I would’ve liked to be the inventor of it, because it is an interesting thing, it seems to have gone in a circle now.

It was very controversial then. It was very easy for the rest of the industry to kind of block us from entering the market. As a group, if the others say, “this cutaway isn’t really happening…,” it’s very difficult for us as a new company to say, “no, everyone else is wrong, and it is really happening.” So it was a difficult position for us to be in. It was a lot of stress for me. I can remember seeing a lot of stuff printed in magazines that was very anti… and complaining about it.

I remember telling Werner Richter  [designer for Schütz], “Look at what they’re saying, look at what’s happening here… this is horrible!” and he’d be very happy and very relaxed and say “No, this is wonderful…” I said, “What d’ya mean it’s wonderful?” He said, “They are talking about us. That’s what we want. If everyone is talking about us, what we’re doing is exactly correct.”

I couldn’t understand that logic. I wanted everything to be coming up roses, I wanted us to be the center of attention because it was all correct and happening, but… Now it’s okay, it seems to have really gone in a circle. When I’m discussing history with other people now, journalists and designers as well, they all seem to be saying “Yeah it was weird, but it was to be the first consciousness toward leech release and upper sensitivity, which is the way things are going right now…” So now its not so bad.

AW: Do you have any thoughts about the evolution of sails in the future?

MS: Well, I’m on a conservative track, especially after my experience with the cutaway.

AW: [laughs]Let’s go back to that a little bit. There was a lot of press in the U.S., and you said you regretted it, in a sense you felt like you were blamed… tell me more.

MS: Well… Barry Spanier was the one who really did the first cutaway. He presented a sail at a design meeting here on the lake, that was in ’84. And that opened a door for me, in the sense that it became possible to design sails that had something other than a “normal” leech. I was so bored having just this normal luff curve and normal leech outline, and then sewing it together in any number of ways to make it look different so manufacturers could have some sort of identifiable image from year to year. That was enough to give me work, but it just became a rut, so when I saw Barry’s cutaway, the first one I’ve ever known of in windsurfing… I mean, if you get right down to it, the Chinese junk rigs are kind of cutaways… you could probably find them existing even earlier on.

AW: Why did Barry drop the idea?

MS: Well… he’s picked it up again. He’s got negative leeches on his new race sails, but you’d have to ask him. It was printed in the magazines that “You embarrassingly die coming out of jibes if you have a cutaway…” or something like that…

AW: You embarrassingly what?

MS: Yeah, Barry Spanier was quoted in a magazine saying that it’s an interesting idea, but in practice it happens that you can’t accelerate out of jibes, you embarrassingly come off planing or something… complaining about the low end.

If you’ve tested, I’m sure even to this day, the 6.4(meter) Rad Wing which was our first, I’m sure it would test well in the lower end. It was one of the biggest assets of that particular sail. Anyway, the effect of all that cutaway madness was that I became very conservative in my approaches to my design. I completely became a grey man, very conservative.

AW: And the cause of that was not so much the positive attention that you got, it was just…

MS: No, it was the opposite… so many negative things from the press, feelings, personal feelings, sort of, that I didn’t think have any basis in…

AW: Like what do you mean, personal feelings, other sailmakers were looking at you like…

MS: …some radical element that was just flying around and had no real right to be on this Earth somehow. I don’t know, jeez…

AW: It’s probably not good to mention anything about how the press printed those things and it was actually…

MS: No, alot of it was propaganda; I remember North Sails making a newsletter: “What is in, what is out…” you know, and then interviews with their people, with Helgo Lass [Italian importer of North at the time], with Dave Ezzy [North sail designer at the time]… they went out of their way to throw as many knives into us as possible. I think we became enemy number one for North Sails because Schütz got the loft from their banks.

Ezzy would be interviewed, and the question from the interviewer would be about something quite general, and he would arrive to have that knife into the back… you know, about my work, mentioning my name, and the concept I was into.

AW: So you were caught in between the war of the companies…

MS: Yeah, a little bit. I am guilty of creating the Rad Wing, but it wasn’t me who designed the original cutaway. The Rad Wing, I think, was the most successful of the cutaways that existed.

AW: But the other sailmakers… did they see it as you taking something that they had decided didn’t work, and marketing it?

MS: I guess so, but the fact is that it did work: A little known fact; race sails from Rienhard Pacher (F2) were being used by Anick Graveline. She won the World Cup back in ’86 or 87 with Pacher-designed cutaway race sails. I won the Johnny Walker Speed Cup for sailing efficiency at the Waymouth Speed Event in 1987 with the Rad Wing beating Haywood, Lewis and DeRonay.

We were a new company, we couldn’t afford a Naish or a Dunkerbeck to ride our stuff, you don’t get results unless you have very talented people riding your stuff. For me, the credibility of a product is really demonstrated by having some sort of race results, so without having race results, we didn’t have any credibility; it’s a vicious circle.

I think the concept is sound though, the cutaway is simply an ugly tool you can use; and it’s coming back again, to free further, to make more sensitive, the upper leech. You can do that with luff curves, you can do that with mast bend, you can do that with seam shaping, and you can do that with outline…

AW: We know that now, but back then, that wasn’t known, and so the cutaway was sort of the precursor to this ugly leech…

MS: Free leech. Yeah, I tried to make it clear, I did my best to describe it in very simple terms: from the inboard edge of wherever the sail cloth is… you know if you put a corner in, from that corner to the top of the mast, any cloth that extends beyond that imaginary line, will become more sensitive compared to a sail that has a conventional leech.

That’s a simple concept. I don’t think it’s so difficult to understand that. The thing that made it so weird was that… imagine, you just take a little piece of sailcloth away, and all of a sudden there’s this industry-wide revolution, this is what blew me away.  It’s kind of an assault to the eyes because everybody imagines wings to look this way, but in nature, if you look at things that fly around, you’ll find them everywhere; some may be more functional than others, I admit, but birds and butterflies… Why all this madness about putting it into a windsurfing sail?

AW: And that’s what happened…

MS: Yeah. [long pause and then laughter] …they were making jokes about it, so I started making jokes about it too. Like they say “What is this Monty… what drugs have you been on?” And I would say, “No no no, you see, I just moved into a new sail loft and I have this goddamn pillar in the middle of my layout floor and I just can’t get the sail laid out because there’s this thing in the way… and so that’s why the sails look like that!” [laugh] The one I didn’t like was when I heard that the Maui guys were calling the sail “the dickhead”, ‘cause if you look at it a certain way, if you turn it so the mast is on top, the form of the leech of the Rad Wing kind of looks like …

AW: Oh oh,[laughs] yeah…

MS: But I didn’t like that, because, like Robby said, it means a lot to me to hear people speak favorably about me, and when I heard that–“Oh my god: Dickhead. Oh no…” that was the worst.

AW: You don’t have this lofty air about you, like what you do is the word of God…

MS: No! Look, I am a firm believer… there’s this author, Marchaj, he’s written this book called the Aero-hydrodynamics of Sailing, and it’s really the sail makers’ bible. There’s not very many texts on low-speed airfoils, flexible airfoils, which is kind of what we are into, and in the chapter on sail design, he starts not with some numbers or formulas, but with a few pages saying “There’s no way you can quantify things, there’s no way you can analyze what we do on the water with sails and masts and spars, what we’re doing is an art, and if some sail designer comes to you and says ‘In sixteen knots of wind you’re going to have an angle of attack of twelve degrees, and the chord–to–depth ratio should be fifteen–to–one and the draft is going to be located at thirty-four percent on this foil…’ if anybody ever sets up for you numbers like this, don’t trust them.” That’s what he says.

I agree, when we’re sailing on the water, whether it’s a windsurfer or a yacht or anything, it’s a dynamic living thing, everything is moving and working, so you’re not dealing with these absolute numbers. It’s an art form. That’s why I don’t have much faith in driving trucks for sail design development, or doing things in wind tunnels, or working exclusively with completely computer-generated designs. The only real truth is out on the water, and the only way to really get any data is to have… to minimize the variables with two guys comparing. That’s the only reliable feedback.

It’s not listening to the world champion who uses the sail one day and four days later, next weekend, he uses another sail, on his own, and says “I liked one better…” The conditions are different, he probably rigged the sail a little different… the only way to do it is to be careful, to the millimeter, almost, of downhaul tensions, make sure the battens are the same, measure the two masts that you think are the same, and if you get all those variables minimized, then you can start building a data base.

AW: Lemme’ ask you another question… A lot of the sail design has gone into the computers, have you tried that?

MS: Yeah, we invested in all the equipment. I’m sure that the table’s okay, that we have, that’s just following orders from the brain in the computer, but… We’ve invested in a program which is not compatible with the way I work, and I’m not willing to change the way I work to fit it into the machine we have.

We’re in the process of getting together a more simple software, I would call it a lofting program, which allows me to load everything manually, so the design, creative element stays outside the machine, and I can use the machine as my lofting service. That’s on its way for us, that’ll happen in the South of France.

AW: What do you think about computer-aided design?

MS: Oh I’m sure it’s the future. I’m sure I can’t stay on my knees with my design sheet and my steel ruler… I won’t remain competitive as a designer if I only use this. But I do believe that the creative element in design development, currently, and probably for the foreseeable future, remains outside the machine. The machine is necessary, especially for efficiency and time elements, to be competitive in the marketplace.   I can’t imagine that there would be ever a design program that would be able to understand all the variables that we have when we’re sailing. If it can’t understand all those variables, I don’t think the machine will arrive at the ideal design.

From what I understand, with most of the designers who are successful with the machines, they’re using the machines as a lofting extension of their work, but… when they’re varying something in the interests of improving it, they’re dictating to the machine that change, the machine is not suggesting it.

There’s one thing I want to say about sail design, though. Sail design is kind of an esoteric thing. I mean the relationship that the mast and the cloth has with the wind is something that we all can only imagine, but we never really experience it, because we don’t have nerves that go into the boom and into the mast. We get some sensations out of the aluminum boom that’s covered with Pro-Grip or whatever, but we don’t feel it, really, and air, you cannot see it, you can only imagine it, flowing over this wing. So there’s this certain mystical quality about what we do that I find fascinating, and fortunately a lot of other people do. It kind of makes what we do kind of creative, artistic, and interesting, and I thank God for that, because if it was quantifiable and definable, absolutely, it would lose all of its magic.

by John Chao