Home Town and Current Residence:
Mount Clemens, Michigan – I’ve always lived in this area, it’s nice, about 25 miles north of Detroit. I was recruited to work as a sailmaker for the Boston family when I was 16 and I’ve stuck with it ever since!
How did you get into sailing and sailmaking?
I wasn’t really given a choice of whether or not I was going to sail – I started as a four-week old in the fall series in a car seat down below deck. My family was just on the water all the time. My parents sailed on a number of boats growing up, and when I was old enough, they put me in the junior program at North Star Sail Club. I did that until I was 18, then coached the junior program, and am now the Vice President on their Junior Sailing Board.
I started sailing, as many do, in Optimists until I was about 12. From there I found the Laser, which I’ve sailed ever since. Competing was a great way for me to travel around the Great Lakes, going to Cork a few times, etc. I wish I could sail in the class more, but at least as a coach for a high school team here I can occasionally borrow a Laser from the club and take it for a spin.
As for my start in sailmaking, Skip Boston had a cool tradition of calling young hotshot sailors and getting them into the loft to make sails as soon as they had their driver’s license. Sure enough, when I turned 16 he gave me call, confirmed I could get to work and said he’d see me Monday. Skip is totally genuine, the kind of guy who would check-in after regattas just to chat about the conditions. He would always push you to do the best you could.
How long have you been in sailmaking?
I started in April of 1999,just in time for the spring rush.
What is your favorite part of being a sailmaker?
There are a few different dynamics to it. I love building the actual sail, broadseaming and putting shape into the material. I’ve always been a fan. I love the service side of the work as well. Sometimes you have the opportunity to take on unique problems. It challenges me to find creative solutions that work for the customer, the budget and the given material. For example, sometimes we’ll get someone who ran over their spinnaker and pulled off the head. Then I get to put it back together in a way that makes it not only perform, but also look good. Sometimes I’ve taken radial sails and made them smaller, all while maintaining the sail’s ability to handle loads on threadline.
Being so involved in the sport of sailing has also enabled me to help teach others too. Whether it’s coaching youth sailors, or advising clients on what they can do to get more out of their products – I get a lot from giving back.
What was the first sail you ever made? You’ve made a lot of ice boat sails?
I’m not quite sure about the first sail, it’s been a while and I’ve seen a few! I’ve done work on all kinds of sails though, everything from a Corel 45 sail back in the day to Cal 25s, and of course, the DN ice boat sails, which we are known for. The biggest consideration for those sails is that you have to be extremely precise and pay attention to detail – the smallest imperfection really shows when then boats are doing 75mph.
What are some of the highlights of your sailing and sailmaking career?
A couple of years ago I won the Cal 25 National Championships in Annapolis aboard ‘Draco’ with Brian Shenstone – that was really rewarding considering how long I’ve been involved with the class. Another highlight was one of the closest, and most exciting, races I’ve been in. It was the year the team I was on, ‘Patriot’ owned by Ken Sharpe, won the Bayview to Mackinac Race in the Beneteau 36.7 Class. We were eight miles ahead of the rest of the fleet and nearing the finish line at sunrise, then, all of a sudden the wind shut off. We watched everyone catching up in total agony. Thank goodness we ended up winning the event– by a generous margin of 44 seconds – it was a rush.
In terms of sails I’ve built, the highlights would have to be building sails for Ron Sherry – a multiple-time World Champion in the DN Ice Boat Class. It’s always a great feeling when we build championship-winning sails, and we’ve produced quite a few of them now.
What’s something that makes sailing in Detroit and the rest of the Great Lakes unique?
There area lot of interesting point-to-point races with some really cool opportunities to explore the Great Lakes. We have one race in particular that’s called the North Channel Race. The course is simple – go up one channel and then down another. It’s short too, only about 50 some-odd miles, kind of like a small-boat Mackinac Regatta. But, there is a ton of current which for some really interesting strategy in the narrow channels. There are some crazy stories of the race going on for multiple days, people pulling over to a bar for lunch while the current is stronger than the breeze and so on. My favorite part about sailing on the Lakes might have to be that there’s no salt! You can just drop the sails and put the boat away, unlike sailing on the coast where it can be a whole ordeal to clean up after sailing.
What are a couple of the best places you’ve had the chance to sail at?
I really like sailing in Annapolis. It’s a really cool town and cool place to go sailing. St. Petersburg, Florida is really nice as well – a venue with both nice sailing and the added benefit of being a fun place to hang out in as well. It was always enjoyable to go down for the NOOD Regattas to sail with the Tartan 10 fleet.
Where are the top cruising destinations for you?
I don’t cruise very much. If I’m on the water it’s mostly for racing or coaching. I wouldn’t mind going up to the North Channel of Lake Heron to explore. I’ve heard its beautiful there. There are a series of islands to discover and hang out on.
About Ian Pouliot
Ian Pouliot is an outstanding sailor and sailmaker. Ian offers the Detroit sailing community top-end service and insights into how they can get the most out of their sails. A life long sailor with over 15 years of sailmaking experience, Ian has won both a Cal 25 National Championship and the Bayview to Mackinac Race. Ian is the Loft Manager for Ullman Sails in Detroit, working with Wally Cross and Mike Boston.