Dominic Marchal Loves Making Sails
A Barnhill Marina resident who learned what he knows about sails from his sailmaker mother also loves sailing.
By Mary Corbin / Photos by Clayton J. Mitchell
Alameda Magazine – March 2019
Living on a floating home in the Oakland-Alameda Estuary, Dominic Marchal knows about boats. He can tell you a thing or two about hanked-on jibs versus roller furling, full battens and luff car systems, or how to make sure your boat is ready for cruising.
Starting Marchal Sailmakers almost eight years ago in the vibrant sailing community of Alameda was a dream come true for Marchal. A resident of Barnhill Marina on the estuary in Alameda across from Jack London Square, Marchal started his business with the idea of providing a sailmaking alternative to the bigger international brands, concentrating on customer service at a very local level. The support he has gotten from customers has been overwhelming since day one, and his business thrives on word of mouth, an aspect that Marchal appreciates every day.
What inspired you to become a sailmaker?
My mother, Susan Ashley, was a sailmaker at Mariner Square in Alameda, starting in the early ’80s. I was hired on as an apprentice in 1985, right after I graduated from high school. I kind of knew what sailmaking was, but I was not a sailor at the time, despite both my parents being into sailing. Once I started working with her, I realized how respected and well regarded she was, and it helped me realize the “cool” factor of sailmaking. That led to me starting to sail with her and others, and then I was hooked. My mother went on to run another sail loft before owning her own custom high-tech sewing business, which is now run by my brother. My business has given me the chance to build things, travel and sail around the world, meet interesting people, and make a living doing what I love.
What is the most interesting part of being a sailmaker?
My personal philosophy is to deliver quality service at a fair price and to help people get as much enjoyment out of sailing as I do. The most interesting part of this is that I am making something tangible — you start with a few rolls of cloth, some tape, and a sewing machine, then at the end of the day, you have a historic yet high-tech piece of equipment that you can witness being used for sports and leisure, bringing pleasure to its users. Ninety percent of my business is about sails — making sails, providing evaluations, doing conversions, and making repairs. The other 10 percent deals with custom-made bags, signs, safety hardware, flags, and various other non-sailing projects. For example, we’ve modified conveyer belts for the construction industry, made fabric filters and spreaders for a local bakery, and delivered “No Wake” banners for the Barnhill Marina Floating Home Community. For another recent project, we stitched up a replica of an iconic David Bowie costume for an art exhibit for the Brooklyn Museum in New York.
Why is Alameda the place for your business?
I was born in Wales and moved to Alameda when I was 10 in 1976. Alameda is home. And it’s home to a large maritime community with over 3,000 boats, which means that I am close to my customers, suppliers, and other maritime businesses with varied skill sets that I can access. And by being an active sailor here, it helps me keep abreast of the current boat designs, materials, and trends. I have made many great friends and colleagues through growing up in Alameda and becoming part of the sailing community here. As for my business, I like being the boss and the one who is responsible for all aspects of it. Finding talent and identifying the next generation of sailmakers to further the work and support of the sport — that’s the next challenge.
Sailing lingo is so esoteric to the landlubber. What exactly is the conversation about “hanked-on jibs” vs. “roller furling” about?
Sailing does have its own lingo, for sure. “Hanked-on” versus “roller furling” refers to different ways of attaching headsails to boats. A hanked-on jib is a sail that is connected to the boat through a series of sliding clips, and roller furling is a sail that is permanently attached to the boat but is stored on the boat by rolling it up. I am always happy to take the time to discuss sail conversion options with customers, help you go through your sail inventory and give you an honest expert evaluation of the condition of your sails before you hit the water. Whether we do it at my loft or on your boat, I know what to look for and aim to help you get the most out of your sails.
What does an Alameda sailmaker do on his day off?
Sailing, of course. I’ve lived in Alameda most of my life with a couple of overseas stints thrown in. I like the combination of the small-town feel and old-time traditions here, like the Independence Day Parade, contrasted with the closeness to the bright lights of the big city. And of course the weather. The annual race up the Delta to Stockton in June, the Delta Ditch Run, is one of my favorite races because of the variety of sailing conditions that this race poses. Marchal Sailmakers has been sponsoring the race for a few years. That’s how much I enjoy it. The other place you’ll find me sailing — or more recently, paddle boarding — is the estuary. Other than that, I’ve been a Warriors fan for over 30 years, I love to travel, and enjoy spending time with my wife, Dina, and our French bulldog, Neville. Living on the water and the support from the local community makes me realize everyday how lucky we are. We look forward to living and working in Alameda for as long as we can.
For more information, visit MarchalSailmakers.com.