- Hometown: Sydney, Australia
Sydney has always been my home. As a region it covers a large area and at each stage of my life I have lived in different parts as dictated by work and family activities.
How did you get into sailing, sailmaking and learn to design sails?
Watching a series of America’s Cup trials in Sydney Harbor with my father as a young boy is an experience that has always stayed with me. As I got older and was looking for activities and sailing came to mind.
Upon graduation I postponed attendance to university and started sailmaking with Bob Fraser at Fraser Sails. At one point the loft relocated and didn’t have enough room to lay out big sails so we had to come up with a creative way to plot a sail’s panels independently from one another. My solution was one of my earliest projects at the loft – it involved programming magnetic cards for a Texas Instruments calculator to generate the manual plotting output for each panel that made up the sail. I would input the linear dimensions of the sail, edge rounds, batten hollows and broadseams and it would output the x and y plotting data of the sail’s panels. Since this was at a time when electro-mechanical plotters had not entered the realm of sailmaking we would have to manually plot the outputs onto the sailcloth. Once the panels were marked and cut, you could sew the panels together and finish the sail in the normal way. Today’s plotters of course are able to handle all of that automatically. I think working on this kind of project only further fostered my interest in sail design and the solutions technology could offer sailmakers.
How long have you been involved with sailmaking and the technology behind it?
Not so long that I still don’t think about it every day! I started sailmaking in late 1975 and by the early 1980s I had written a 2D design program. By the mid-to-late 1980s I had written 3D design programs that remained in use for many years. These programs and their formulas had to be created from scratch, and obviously the personal computers around at the time were pretty slow. It might take as much as 20 minutes for my programs to process a simple cross-cut sail design, while today’s computers can load much more sophisticated designs in the blink of an eye.
What is your favorite part of being in the sailing industry and designing sails?
I think sailmaking and sail design puts you in a unique position to bookend a boat project or campaign. It allows you to be involved from inception to completion and sometimes even onto the sailing. It can be an exciting and total immersion.
As a lifelong learner I also appreciate how sailing allows me to perpetually pursue that end. While I have a tremendous interest in the technology, it has always been informed by my interest in sailing. In that way the sailing industry continues to excite me – it’s all about finding ways to make better sails.
What was the first sail you ever designed?
I was club racing my 470 dinghy during my early years on the loft floor, so I think a mainsail for the 470 would have been my first design project. My early designs included a lot of trial and error that produced a variety of results. Through this experimentation I learned some things that challenged my assumptions. Ever since I have looked at assessing developments from a first-principles basis, rather than accepted assumptions.
How did you hear about Ullman Sails and decide to join the Ullman Sails group?
I have known of Dave Ullman and Ullman Sails from my earliest years in sailmaking. It turns out we even sailed against one another in the 1987 Admiral’s Cup. Following my departure from Dimension-Polyant, which was a natural consequence of the sale of the D4 equipment, I was approached by Bruce Hollis of Ullman Sails Sydney.He saw a natural fit with my abilities and Ullman Sails. It was clear from my discussions with Ullman Sails International that Ullman Sails is entering an exciting time with tremendous possibilities and I wanted to be part of that.
What are some of the highlights of your sailing career?
Although I am lucky enough to have a number of Sydney Hobart Race wins under my belt, I think that the win in 1990 on ‘Sagacious V’ was truly memorable, not just for the win but for the high level of performance we exhibited all that season.
Other Career Highlights:
- 16 Sydney Hobart Races, including a number of overall corrected time and line honors wins
- 5 Admiral’s Cups representing Australia, the US and Hong Kong
- 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1990 CYCA Blue Water Championship winner
- 1985 San Francisco Big Boat Series division winner and Outstanding Yacht of the Regatta
- 1986, 1996, 2001, and 2002 Hamilton Island Race Week winner
- 1988 Kenwood Cup winner as part of the Australian team, participant in 6 Kenwood Cups
- 1995 Block Island Race Week winner
- 2001 Australian IMS Champion
- Participated in several One Ton Cups
Do you have a favorite sailing event? Why?
Every sailing event is unique. Even events held in the same location each year are never wholly the same so it probably gets down to the people I am sailing with. From that I would have to say that sailing with friends in a competitive environment is my favorite sailing event, no matter where it is.
Name one of the best places in the world to sail.
Hamilton Island Race Week has been held amongst the Whitsunday Islands of tropical North Queensland in Australia since the mid 1980s and I have competed in it many times. In recent years the grand prix divisions have sailed primarily windward/leeward courses, but in the last edition of the regatta we returned to the traditional around-the-island courses. The beauty of the region is so much more evident, getting to sail in close and enjoying the extensive sea life that is always on view is magnificent
About Brad Stephens
Brad Stephens is an authority on innovation in the sailing industry, having worked on the leading edge of sailmaking technology for nearly 40 years, including as a key mind behind the development of D4®. As a veteran sailor and design expert Brad is also an established thought leader in the sailing community. Brad is the Head of Technical Development for Ullman Sails and is focused on creating and testing new products for Ullman Sails’ customers while simultaneously enhancing the current offerings of the group.