News Sailmaking apprenticeship a key route to sailing career

18 Nov 2015

For those who aspire to be a professional sailor an apprenticeship in sailmaking is one of the best points of entry to consider. Many of New Zealand sailing’s biggest names, including Mike Sanderson, Kevin Shoebridge, Richard Bouzaid, Simon Daubney, Don Cowie, Rob Salthouse, Tony Rae, Ross Halcrow and Grant Loretz to name just a few, all began their sailing careers on the sail loft floor.

For Sanderson, a sailmaking apprenticeship was an obvious route towards reaching his end career goals. “My aim in life was to be a professional sailor and I left King’s College early at sixth form, having been on shortlist for Head Boy, to start a sailmaking apprenticeship,” he says. “At the time it was quite a drastic move with my peers finishing seventh form and going on to university. But I strongly believed that being 100 per cent entrenched in sailing and sailmaking was the secret to success in the sailing world.”


Moose Morgan Trubovich and James Baxter 1991 Elliott 5

Morgan Trubovich, James Baxter (also former sailmaking apprentice) and Mike Sanderson after winning the 1991 Elliott 5.9 nationals on Lambada. 24 years later the trio now sail together on Bella Mente, winning the Maxi 72 World’s

It was a move that more than paid off. Sanderson worked as an apprentice until he landed his first pro sailing gig on board NZ Endeavour in 1993. “That kick-started everything,” he remembers. The rest, as they say, is history with Sanderson forging a stellar career in sailing, going on to be named the youngest ever skipper to win the Volvo Ocean Race and winner of ISAF World Sailor the Year Award.


Having begun as a sailmaking apprentice Sanderson has forged an award-winning sailing career

Unsurprisingly Sanderson is passionate about the value of sailing apprenticeships. “An apprenticeship sees you immerse yourself in the sailing world and gives you many opportunities to get on boats,” he explains. “Thinking about boats and the speed and handling of sails – which are the biggest singular component of what makes a boat go fast – is key, and sailmaking also gives you deeper insight into the boats, masts and rigging as well.”

Doyle Sails New Zealand, where Sanderson is a director and head of sales, operates a dedicated apprenticeship programme, with training including bookwork and rotation around the different departments within the loft to ensure a good grounding in all sailmaking disciplines. All apprentices are encouraged to take all opportunities to get out on the water (as indeed are all of the Doyle staff.)

One apprentice looking to follow in the footsteps of Sanderson and his peers is 21-year old Cory McLennan, now in his third year of a four-year apprenticeship at Doyle. Just like Sanderson he entered the apprenticeship with the end goal of being a professional sailor.

Cory loft floor

Cory at work on the Doyle loft floor

Having finished school and unable to find marine industry work in his hometown of Greymouth, McLennan was advised by John Leydon of Doyle Nelson to apply for one of the apprenticeships at the Doyle Auckland loft. After being offered a place, he didn’t regret the decision to relocate to Auckland to take up his place on the programme at Doyle. “There aren’t many places you can work where Mike Sanderson is your boss,” he laughs.

McLennan credits his apprenticeship for many of the sailing opportunities that have come his way. “Relationships are a key part of the sailing industry and working at Doyle has introduced me to so many new contacts,” he explains. “If it wasn’t for my job here there’s no way I’d be sailing on yachts like Wired. The people I am sailing with are so knowledgeable and incredible sailors and their influence really rubs off.”

As well as the contacts he has made McLennan credits sailmaking for improving his skills as a sailor. “Building sails really helps you to understand how to use them,” he says. “From how and why the shape is put into the sail, to why the sail is strengthened in areas, to how best to trim them, being a sailmaker gives invaluable insight into sails and their workings.”

McLennan has already been pushing himself hard as a sailor and in 2014 became the youngest person to ever sail solo across the Tasman, sailing on his boat Atom Ant in the ITL Solo Tasman Challenge. This achievement was all the more remarkable due to the fact his auto-pilot failed mere days into the attempt. Having sold Atom Ant he is now the owner of a mini 6.50, B&G Racing, which he took for her first outing in October 2015 in the Solo IQ series. “The yacht is a big step up so that first race was a real learning curve,” he says. The next big goal is to take part in the 2019 Mini Transat.

BG Racing LSD 9045

Cory on board his new mini 6.50 B&G Racing

“An apprenticeship is a good way to make it easier to get into sailing,” he concludes. “Be prepared to work hard, but the work pays off.”

For those interested in sailmaking apprenticeships, there are opportunities now at Doyle’s Auckland loft. “We currently have six apprentices working at the Doyle loft, but will be upping this to six new apprentices a year,” says David Duff, General Manager at Doyle NZ. Duff also began his career as a sailmaking apprentice, later working in multiple management positions for high-profile races including six Americas Cup campaigns and several Volvo Ocean Races.

All of the Doyle senior management team, including managing director Chris McMaster and head of design Richard Bouzaid, began their careers as sailmakers as did almost every key member of the Doyle team. “You only have to look at the crew list of the TP52 Super Series Crew list to see how many sailors began their careers as an apprentices,” says Sanderson. “An apprenticeship is a no brainer if you are serious about sailing.”

To apply for a Doyle Sails apprenticeship contact David Duff with a CV and a covering letter –


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