For Al Declercq of Detroit Michigan, being from a sailing family gave him a start in this industry. He learned to sail in the Bayview Yacht Club junior sailing program and on their family boat, Flying Buffalo. Like many keen sailors in the late 1970’s, as a college-aged man, Al was drawn to participate in the coveted Southern Ocean Racing Circuit (SORC). He was fortunate to have cooperative professors and sailed in three SORC’s while attending college.
In 1980, Al was headed to a career in banking after graduation from college, but on his flight home from an SORC event in Florida he met one of his sailing heroes, Peter Barrett, on the same plane. Barrett, who was a 1968 Olympic gold medalist in the Star class on a boat he sailed with Lowell North, happened to be flying to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he operated a sail loft. Al did not catch his connecting flight to Detroit that day but instead followed Barrett to Wisconsin to learn about the sail making trade and then returned to Detroit to open a sail loft. It was that moment, meeting Peter Barrett, that ended his short banking career and began his life in the sailing industry that continues to this day, some 40 years later.
“The best part of sailing in the Great Lakes is that you are sailing in freshwater and our lakes are far bigger than most people realize.” Al notes that it is the two Mackinac Races and the Trans-Superior race that bring so many of their Great Lakes customers out each year. While most of our customers have boats in the 25 to 50-foot range, Al notes that they work with Santa Cruz 70’s, Orma 60 Multihulls and a B&C 58. Further, they are making sails for the Melges IC37 and hope to continue supplying sails for this growing fleet.
“The IC37 fleet is growing in interest and popularity and the boat has done so well. I see a lot of guys out there buying Doyle sails for non-class events and they are seeing the excellent performance of our Doyle sails.”
As one of the best known lofts in the Great Lakes region, Al began his career with North Sails that same year after meeting Peter Barrett and stayed with North from 1980 to 1989. In 1990, he went with UK Sailmakers from 1990 to 2004.
Al notes that he saw the development of the Stratis product and the ongoing innovations at Doyle Sails and joined the group in 2005. He has been with Doyle with the exception of a brief return to North Sails ever since.
“I joined Doyle in 2005 because I thought the Stratis product was really going to take off, and it has. It is absolutely a great product. Our customers truly appreciate the durability of Stratis sails. Simply stated, they last longer than any other high-tech products on the market. As the company continues to evolve, Mike Sanderson has attracted people to the lofts that no one else can get. That is the strength of his reputation and we are going to see the continuation of very well-known people joining the team.
“With our veterans like John Baxter, Bill Columbo, Jud Smith, and Mark Ploch, we have a team who really understand sails. Our customers can get some really good advice from these guys. I think that for me is the greatest strength of Doyle. Our customers are getting the best possible guidance and advice on their sail inventory.
Al added that because he has been in sail making business for forty years, he became increasingly convinced that Doyle Sails is the best choice for most of our customers is the best reason we can offer them to select us as their sailmaker.
“Our goal was to figure out what is the best thing for our customers, and we decided that the company to go with was Doyle. They have the right product, fair pricing, and we felt very comfortable with the Doyle management team.”
Al notes that he is also impressed with the new Doyle leadership in Mike Sanderson and the team that he is building around him. "For those of us who have been in the industry for a long time, change doesn't always play well. Mike Sanderson has been an amazing leader and he gets things done. The company is set to make a great deal of progress and the truth is that the people in our worldwide Doyle lofts and here in the US are also a big part of the company’s success.“
Our people, paired with the Stratis product, will fuel our success.