An interview with sailmaker, NACRA dealer and F18 sailor, Grant Piggott by Lotte Johnson
What do you do and how did you get into it?
I make and repair sails and covers, and try and look after people the best that I can in the sailing world. I got into sail making because my Dad sailed cats. I used to go to Dolphin Sails to get his sails made, and Mathew Vincent who’s now the owner of Dolphin Sails was my crew, so I naturally ended up making sails. I had the job lined up before I left school, so I don’t think I really tried that hard!
Thats a pretty good job to have!
It is, I’ve been doing it since 1980 and I still enjoy everyday, I think I’m very lucky with that. It’s a nice job.
How many sails do you think you’ve made during your career?
This is a difficult question because back in the early days when I was at Dolphin Sails, we made about 150 sails a week when we were making windsurf sails. I sat and worked it out once, I think it’s about 50,000 sails and I know that sounds a lot, but it has been thirty six years, so it’s been an awful lot of sails.
What has been you’re most difficult job?
The most difficult job… some of the big sails we made at Hyde Sails, were the most difficult. The hundred footers and things, purely because of the size and moving the around, the size of the machinery that you need. Even small sails can be fiddly and difficult, like moth sails, now they’re really complicated to make.
How did you get into sailing?
I got into sailing, thats a really easy one to answer, like most people it’s because my Dad sailed. He sailed catamarans from the 1960’s onwards. I started crewing for my Dad on a Tornado, which I think is best way of learning cat sailing, absolute one on one training. You don’t know you’re getting trained but you are, and my Dad was pretty good, very good. From there I went on to sail condors, won the Nationals a few times when I was 14, 15, 16 and naturally in those days I progressed onto the old style, single trapeze, no spinnaker Tornado. I got into the Olympic squad for a while. I think then it was the time the Prindle was coming out and things like that, so Prindles, the early Nacras, which then led onto F18 and Hawks…
Is there anything you haven’t sailed?
Theres not much I haven’t sailed with two hulls, there really isn’t, not much at all I guess, one of the favourites, the Tornado it used to be the king of the cats for a long long time, still is a great boat. I sailed Spitfires for quite a while, worked with Reg White, selling them, won Eurocat on one, I’ve sailed F18s, Nacra 17s… all at a good level, the F20 as well! I’ve won Nationals, I think I’ve won 18 National Championships. Hurricanes as well for a long while and the Firebird, sailed a little MOCRA cat which was one of the most scary things ever. It’s a very fast, wide, tall but very short boat and it was like a big Spitfire but with a lot of power. I used to sail that with Reg White, then I took it on as well, I helmed one and famously capsized it in Southampton water, which wasn’t my best moment!
How important do you think the new Nacra 15 is to sailing, and change the path were on a couple of years ago with the Spitfire?
I don’t think the path has changed that much, but I think it has improved big time because I think the 15 is the best thing that has happened to youth sailing in a while. I don’t want to name names but if you look at the boats that have come before, it’s the first time a small youth cat has been done properly, they’ve all been compromised before, I don’t know if you know but I sailed the Nacra 15 for the first time last weekend; it’s a proper cat scaled down, before this they haven’t had dagger boards or boom. But I think it’s a far better feeder class into the Nacra 17.
Who do you think it will benefit the most? Is the Nacra 15 a good bridge boat?
I think the one thing I have learned through sailing the 15 is that it has a bit of a split personality. It’s quite slow in light winds, but as soon as it gets a little bit of breeze, the foils start working, and even I was pulling the downhaul on. It fills the gap between the bigger boats perfectly. I think the other boats do have their place, the Spitfire is a great boat and always will be, it’s got bang for your buck. It will be better for someone, say out of a Topper or a 29er to get on the 15, it’s not quite so intimidating, everything works properly. Then at the other end of it, I think you will learn all the skills on a 15 to be able to sail a 17 or an F18. But I don’t think that the generation that is gonna come off the 15 will want to sail an 18, as the 18 will be too slow for them, I think they will want to sail the foiling boats. Foiling for me it’s the best thing that’s happened to cat sailing for years and years, I have two foiling cats myself, and it’s for sure the best thing thats happened to cat sailing. The hard bit is that there won’t be any cheap second hand boats on the market for a long time. Also they are very technical boats to put together, so I can see youngsters when they get good, they’ll have to beg steal and borrow to get onto foiling boats.
What do you miss about sailing that has disappeared over the years?
The thing that has dropped away, is a lot of people have disappeared and I can’t put my finger on why. I don’t know whether it’s they see foiling boats and they’re too expensive and they’re still knocking around on their old Hurricane. So I think that the foiling boats have had a slightly detrimental effect. That’s it really, I miss a lot of of the people, Will Sunnucks and I have been at it forever, a lot of the people who started with us have gone, whether there’s something wrong with us…
Adam Piggott and Adam Kay have been doing some seriously impressive things with the big boys, what’s your opinion on commercial championships?
You’re talking about the GC32 circuit and the extreme circuits and really the rise of stadium sailing. It’s the best thing that’s happening to cat sailing, even the America’s Cup has brought sailing to the masses. That is fantastic, I just wish I was a bit younger, and the two Adams, they’ve done really well I’m proud of them both, I’m just a bit jealous.
How did you start GP Sails?
Well I started working and making sails at Dolphin Sails for fifteen years and sort of ran the loft there then ran Hyde Sails loft for seven years, then Edward Hyde moved the loft down to the south coast here moved myself and Lindsay. He paid for us all to move and come and run it, we did that for a couple years and then he moved abroad. I then worked at White Sails for three years in the same loft as here, got made redundant and we thought push comes to shove really about that time, and we thought now is the time. My Dad always told me I should start a loft, in fact it was the last words he ever said to me, so I always think he’s behind me in this, now we’ve been doing this for eleven years, and just got busier and busier every year.
It is great going to an open meeting and seeing so many sails with GP stamped on them!
Yeah it gives me a real kick! It’s not just about making money for me, my ambition always was to have a loft making cat sails. One thing got me into sailing, racing and all the sail making, was that we were good friends with the White family. When I was at school, I was asked what I wanted to do when I left school and I sat down and wrote that I wanted to be like Reg White and win lots of cat races and make sails and I think I’ve done it.
Many thanks for your time and honest answers.