Established in 1946 in New York City as Charles Ulmer, Inc., UK Sailmakers is one of the oldest groups of sail lofts in the world. While the company’s logo has changed over the last seven decades, putting customer needs and customer service first has been a hallmark. Charles “Buster” Ulmer opened the first Ulmer Sails loft now the UK Sailmakers group has nearly 50 lofts and service centers around the world. Ulmer’s son, Charles “Butch” Ulmer, took over the business in 1968 and even though he sold the loft, he still shows up with sail orders at New York loft frequently.
In the company’s first three decades, Ulmer Sails played a major role in one-design, ocean racing and various 12-meter America’s Cup campaigns as the company developed innovative design technology and manufacturing techniques.
Over the subsequent decades, Ulmer Sails transitioned to Ulmer/Kolius Sailmakers when Texas loft owner John Kolius became a partner for a handful of years. During the 1982-1983 America’s Cup run up, Butch said in his self-deprecating humor, “I sailed with John Kolius aboard COURAGEOUS (as tactician) for about a month when she was the trial horse for DEFENDER. I wasn’t up to the job and was replaced by John Bertrand. COURAGEOUS out-sailed her newer stablemate DEFENDER and came close to beating Dennis Conner for the right to defend. Dennis went on to lose the America’s Cup that year for the first time in history. Glad I got out when I did!”
When Kolius left sailmaking, the company kept the logo and shorted its name to UK Sailmakers in 1987, just after Tape-Drive®, the first sails made with continuous, corner-to-corner loadpath fibers, was developed. For three decades, Tape-Drive provided sailors durable, light racing sails as durable performance cruising sails. Subsequently, Tape-Drive had developed into two new sail construction methods: X-Drive® and Titanium, both of which have continuous load path.
In 2005, the UK Sailmakers group merged with the Halsey/Lidgard group and the name changed to UK-Halsey Sailmakers. When Andy Halsey got out of sailmaking, the company and reverted to the UK Sailmakers name.
Through all the changes, Butch Ulmer guided and grew the group to nearly 50 lofts around the world. The knowledge base of such a large group helps UK Sailmakers’ customers as group members share sail designs, construction details, racing experiences, boat information and more. Whenever a customer has a question, each loft can access the knowledge and experience of a vast number of well-informed sailmakers. We truly do offer “Global Experience and Local Knowledge.”
In 2013, Butch Ulmer sold UK Sailmakers to a large group of UK Sailmakers’ loft owners. With the individual lofts becoming owners of the brand, the global group of lofts is growing stronger and attracting more lofts to the group in major sailing centers around the world. This is a unique business model in sailmaking that is tying together the individually owned lofts more closely. With the lofts becoming partners in the company, there is more personal capital invested in making the group stronger as profits from the company are reinvested to strengthen the brand. All UK Sailmakers group members stress the importance of customer service—helping sailors select the right sail for their needs and then servicing them throughout their lifespan.