The Doyle New York City loft, located on City Island, is at the center of some of the busiest sailing regions in the US - situated at the mouth of the East River with Long Island Sound and the Connecticut coast to the north and Manhattan and New Jersey to the west and south.
This tiny island is synonymous with America’s illustrious yachting history described in 1891 by “The Rudder” as being “no place better situated, or in possession of more advantages and facilities for yacht building, hauling out for repairs, and storing for the winter, than City Island. It is virtually the yachting center of New York” and by explanation New York was the yachting center of America in the 19th and early 20th century.
As a sailmaking company on City Island, Doyle NYC owner Mark Ploch states that “we are truly in an historic sailing area. We are like the custodians of the sailing community and of the legacy of our sailmaking and yachting history."
The island’s past represents the who’s who in yachting from sailmakers like Ratsey & Lapthorn, a British sailmaking company that opened on City Island in 1902 and was known as the biggest sailmaker in the world to Henry B. Nevins Yacht Builders to the naval architects Sparkman & Stephens.
Currently, with the sailing season on the US East Coast launching soon, the Doyle NYC loft is focusing quite a lot on the fast approaching and highly competitive sailing season that includes the renowned Block Island Race Week from June 23-28, as well as the much anticipated 12-metre worlds in Newport from July 8 – 13 among many other regattas and cruising activities for sailors here.
We caught up with Mark and his sales manager Paul Beaudin, 62, who have worked together at the City Island loft for the past 20 years, and for each of them it was their love of sailing and opportunities in sail making that brought them to City Island.
"Because we are located between New Jersey, New York City, Long Island and the Connecticut shore - the tri-states - our customers range all the way from Annapolis, MD to Newport, R.I.," said Beaudin. “And there is a lot of sailing and sailmaking history right here that makes it a great place to be."
Paul, a world class sailor in his own right, is particularly pleased with the coming season because as a J105 competitor himself he is servicing the regional J/105 fleet of up to 40 boats with 90 percent of them carrying Doyle sails.
Credited with being one of the first to build a retractable bow sprit back in 1988, Beaudin is known as the “father of the first sport boat.” He began working as a sailmaker in his home state of Vermont on Lake Champlain in the 1990s while also competing in the same circles as Mark Ploch, Jud Smith and Robbie Doyle.
"In 1997, I talked to Jud and asked what he was doing and he said he was going to work with Doyle Sailmakers. Based on Jud’s recommendation, my sail loft in Lake Champlain became a part of the Doyle family. After two years servicing our fairly small community of lake sailors, I got a call from Mark Ploch. It was 1999 and he said I should "get to New York City as he was taking over the well-regarded Herb Hild sail loft on City Island.” There was a big boom in sailing at the time and Mark claimed "investment bankers were changing their boats like underwear so I couldn't say no. Mark and I have been working together now for over 20 years."
Mark Ploch, 65, is a native of Florida and world class sailor who was a sailmaker in Florida during the heyday of Southern Ocean Racing Circuit (SORC) in the 1980s and early 90s. While the SORC brought a lot of sailing and enthusiasm to the area, by the late 1980s the sailing circuit had really dropped off. So, in 1999, Mark bought the City Island loft from Herb Hild and called on his friend Paul Beaudin to help him run it.
“I was sailing and competing a lot against Jud Smith and Robbie Doyle and Dave Curtis in those days and they were all great people and really great sailors. I felt the knowledge they possessed was too good to pass up and I saw how much innovation was going on at Doyle’s and with that much talent when I was setting up my loft 20 years ago, they were too good not to be involved with and I felt that I would be with the very best. It was a great move to become a Doyle sail loft. I have really enjoyed working and learning from them."
For Ploch and Beaudin and the Doyle NYC loft, keeping customers coming back has a lot to do with service. “In a tri-state area that includes Manhattan, this is a high service area and we have to be accommodating to that. There are a lot of things we have to do to maintain that and one thing is that we try to make it as easy as possible for people to service their sails and make it as easy as we can for them to get what they need."
Ploch has seen the evolution of sailing and takes note that in sail-making, they have had to adapt with the times.
"One of our biggest markets is cruising sailors right now – and a lot of sailors are eager to learn so not everyone is just interested in going fast. However, for our competitive fleets, I think what we often focus on is that we build sails that not only keep the competitive spirit in sailing but we build sails that remove sheer luck so that the skills come out. “
Additionally, working and sailing at City Island is a privilege for any sailor and Doyle Sails NYC has remained an integral part of that.
"Here at Doyle, we do offer all kinds of support from our Friday night racing at the Harlem Yacht Club to our work volunteering with the J/105 class,” Beaudin said.
“I think as sailmakers so much of our success includes participating at every level in our sport. I still get a real kick out of the fact the when the wind blows, the boat moves. I can say with all honesty that often times this is not a job, it is a passion. I didn't get into it to get rich, I believe that it was then and still is today a true passion."