Shown above are two pictures taken recently of Charles “Butch” Ulmer — the “U” in UK Sailmakers — still at work even though he celebrated his 80th birthday last December. Butch has probably forgotten more about sailmaking than many current sailmakers know. His father, Charles “Buster” Ulmer, opened the Ulmer loft on City Island in 1946 when Butch was seven years old. Growing-up the son of a renowned sailmaker, Butch was drawn to the water from the very beginning.
Upon leaving the U.S. Navy in 1968, Butch took over the family business. Under his leadership, Ulmer Sails grew from a single loft on City Island, N.Y., to the UK Sailmakers group of more than 50 lofts around the world. Butch has sailed boats with cotton sails, early synthetic wovens, as well as being around for the introduction of modern materials like Kevlar and carbon fiber. Also on his watch, he shepherd the company though the development of computer design (machines with punch cards), to one of the first computerized cloth cutting machines in sailmaking (ran on an Apple II computer that did not have a hard drive), to America’s Cup development with COURAGEOUS and DEFENDER, to Tape-Drive that was the first loadpath sail construction method, to computerized gantries that applied load path yarns into laminate sails. And just to put his arc of time in sailmaking in perspective, Butch’s first Newport to Bermuda races was in 1958 on an engine-less wooden naval academy yawl that used kerosene running lights. Butch has seen and done it all.
Even though he sold the loft, Butch continues to be part of UK Sailmakers New York, working on the floor, assisting customers find the right sails and helping sailors uses their sails optimally. Butch’s dedication to customer served is echoed throughout the UK Sailmakers worldwide group.