ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF ULLMAN SAIILS
class like that, and then it can go away so easily. In my case, after the boycott year came in, my crew and I took a year and a half off, came back and were never the same. As easy as it is when it's going right, there's such little difference between the 10 people in the top. So with just a little change, you're no longer there.
operation, and that changed it completely.
At what point did you realize the business was taking off? Did you ever see it becoming a multinational venture? Never. In the early years, we were never looking to make this a multinational brand. That was the furthest thing from my mind. Our success didn't hapIs it mental? Is it physical, or pen overnight — it was very is it a little bit of everything? gradual. The Newport loft, Yeah, it's mental. It's also which is the one that I started whether it's a priority. For us, and was most associated with between '80 and '84, it became — had nice steady growth for more of a business opportunity. a number of years. I can't say We were selling and making 470 that there was ever a time that sails, and it was less of a priority to go to the Olympics. And Ullman's ﬁrst boat was a pram his father Chuck — himself an accom- I opened my eyes and said, "Oh, this is not what I expected; this then when '84 came around and plished sailor — built. is something much bigger than it was trials time, yeah, it was a I thought it would be." Because it didn't happen that fast. priority, but we had been fighting Steve Benjamin [who won The licensing aspect of the business caught me totally by this year's Etchells Worlds] for four years, and we couldn't quite surprise around the mid- to late '80s. We didn't ever go out catch him. He beat us in the last race in the trials and then and pursue other lofts in the early days. In most cases, they went on to win a silver medal. were friends of ours who sailed and wanted to open a loft under Again, at that level, there's very little difference between bethe Ullman logo — they wanted to be part of something bigger, ing at the top and just below the top. It's such a fine line. It's and would ask to join and use our technology and advertising physical, it's mental, it's preparation time — it's not one thing as a way for them to grow. And we had a number of large lofts over another. come in and want to do the same thing. It's just a way to be Olympic sailing is at minimum an eight-year project, and associated with a bigger entity than yourself and to utilize good more like a 12-year project. Never — well, rarely — in the first designers and manufacturers. quad does somebody win a medal in a class that was already At first it was just one or two lofts, and then it just kind of established. That's very rare. poured in. And that was totally unexpected. I did not see that coming at all.
"I had a family. I needed to make money. That was my motivation [for founding Ullman Sails]. I needed to make living. Like, that day." How did you get into sailmaking? I worked in lofts when I was a teenager at a local spot called Baxter & Cicero, which, along with North Sails, was the primary one-design small-boat loft in Southern California. And then in '67, I started my own. Why did you want to start your own loft? I had a family — I had a wife and a baby on the way, and I needed to make money right away. That was the primary motivation. I needed to make a living. Like, that day. It was interesting because, financially, it was actually quite easy. For the first three and a half years, I was the only employee. I did the sewing, I did the billing. I did everything. So every sail I made, I made all the profit. But the business model had to change after a while because I was working too many hours, and sailing on the weekends. It was just getting to be too much, so I had to get employees, and that changes things because you're no longer a sailmaker, you're a businessman dealing with payroll and taxes. That changes the complexion completely. And after a while, we started having other lofts join us, and it became a licensing
You mentioned that some of your sailing became tied to the business. When you're a sailmaker and own a loft, a major part of your business is promotional, especially when you go big-boat sailing. There was some 470 sailing — like '72 to '80 — that was quite good businesswise, but I did that because it was the challenge of sailing at the very top level, and seeing how good I could be at that level. But most of the sailing I did before and after that was to promote the brand. Once the business started to take off, did you ever see yourself in the caliber of a Lowell North or a Ted Hood? Well, it's nice of you to put me in that caliber, but I certainly could never be spoken in the same sentence as Lowell. He's one of my absolute heroes, and was an incredibly smart engineer and sailmaker, and just a great guy. Ted Hood I don't know, so I can't say. But no, I never thought the business was going to be what it turned out to be. How has Southern California changed in terms of sailing? Well, a number of years ago in Costa Mesa, it was of course the manufacturing center for production boats. Cal Boats was here, all of the major manufacturers were here. So there were lots of production racing boats between, let's say, 25 and 50 feet. And also, one-design was quite popular. But it's kind of been the trend everywhere in the country November, 2017 •
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The November 2017 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.