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The Making of a World-Class Sailmaker By Dave Montgomery


f you were to see Tom White back in the early ‘90s, assiduously maintaining and repairing complicated hightech hospital equipment like heart/lung, dialysis and stem cell machines, the word sailmaker would not have leaped into your mind. Though highly skilled and well-compensated, Tom was not a happy guy. However, even in his own mind, sailmaker was not his next career choice. Flash-forward to 2013 and you’ll see a happy content man who’s found his true vocation and excels as one of A Newport 41 sporting main and jib by Winddancer Sails. Photo by Jacquie Welti. northeast Florida’s favorite stitchers of sails. Ironically, Tom showed a knack for sailmaking even before he entered the business. On a whim he designed and built a lightweight mainsail bearing the logo of the then brand-new Jaguars football team. While sailing by the stadium with his creation, he was featured on the stadium Jumbotron and shown on ESPN’s Inside the NFL. The die was cast even though he didn’t know it yet, but unfortunately, he couldn’t yet capitalize on his newfound fame. Tom’s wife realized this hobby could take his mind off the stresses of his job. So, at her urging, he flew to Washington State for a sailmaking course at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. With his appetite whetted, he sought out hands-on knowledge back home and began working for no pay at Wind Dancer Sails after finishing up at the hospital. Meanwhile, he read “every book that has ever been written about sailmaking.” He says his research revealed two things: “The authors always leave something out,” and “sailmaking is not just plugging numbers into a computer; there’s an art to it, and it takes creativity to do it well.” Tom was no stranger to sailing. He bought his first sailboat in 1986, a 1940s-era wooden Snipe that he completely rebuilt and raced locally. Other boats he’s owned include a C-Scow, Chrysler Mutineer, a Hunter 26 and his current vessel, a Hunter 320. Unlike the shoemaker’s barefoot children, his Hunter gets brand-new sails every year. He grins and explains, “It’s my experiment boat.” Although he doesn’t have time to sail these days, he competes every year in the annual 40-mile Mug Race from Palatka to Jacksonville and does quite well. One day, while he was apprenticing at Wind Dancer, the frustrated owner asked Tom if he wanted to buy the business. By then he was confident in his skills and knowledge, 54 October 2013


Southwinds October 2013

Southwinds October 2013