A Disappointing Customer Service Experience.
Mary Grace and I try to keep our blog focused on the positive, explain some of the difficulties we encounter and try to give our readers a realistic view of our sailing lives. Our relationships with the vast majority of our suppliers and technical support have been positive and very helpful. For example, customer support for CZone / Mastervolt, Hudson Yacht, Northern Lights, Spectra, PYI, and Harken I would rate excellent; the support from B & G electronics I would rate average, and a few others such as Magma and Pochon Electronics score below average. Unfortunately, we had a long, difficult and very poor recent customer experience with our sail maker, Doyle New Zealand, which is the reason and the topic for this writing. I am truly sad that I feel compelled to write this article; however, the overwhelmingly negative experience will not let me rest.
Hudson Yacht encourages their HH55 clients to choose their own sailmaker and work directly with them. With HH55-01 and HH55-02 choosing Doyle Sails NZ, we decided Doyle would be a good choice for Ticket to Ride. Every sailor’s plan is different and we explained to our sales rep, Matt Bridge, that we were cruisers, only the two of us, and wanted one furling headsail that would cover the TWA of 130-160 and could be left hoisted on passages when not deployed. The solution introduced to us by Matt was Doyle’s new cableless reacher made from their Stratis laminate with a mid girth of 62% and on a continuous line bottom up furler. The reacher was contracted at an actual finished weight of 38kg and the contracted size was 150 sqm (square meters). Seemed to be the perfect solution. I asked Matt via email (July 12, 2018) this question,
“Will I be able to keep the main up and the Code 0 (reacher) full (not fluttering or falling against the rig) when the TWS is 12-20 and the TWA is 135-160?”
And I received this answer (July 15, 2018), “it all depends on apparent angle.”
Moving forward the sails were fabricated, delivered to HYM in time for sea trials, and with a few modifications the sails seemed to accommodate our boat.
Ten months after boat delivery and while sailing south in the Baja Haha, I noticed obvious problems in the leech of the reacher while sailing. After dropping anchor in Bahia Santa Maria and dropping the reacher, the deterioration on the trailing 18 inches and some areas further in were very obvious and serious. The sail material was toast! After finishing the HaHa, I shipped the entire reacher to Doyle Sails San Diego. After a month of discussion between myself, San Diego and New Zealand I was told that the problem was a product issue and the sail would be replaced under Doyle’s 3 year “material and any workmanship” warranty with no cost to us.
Multiple issues can be seen in the integrity of the leech of reacher #1.
A close up of the leech of reacher #1.
About 2 weeks later, I received the “hate to tell you the bad news” email from Doyle NZ. Matt stated that after examining the small samples sent to NZ from the San Diego loft, the problem with the reacher is 100% user error caused by UV because The Stiches had been furling the sail improperly. The painted-on UV strip is absolutely clear and was on one side only. The Stiches had been instructed by the Doyle rep at sea trials and others during commissioning to furl the reacher always using the windward line; so depending on the tack when the sail was furled this meant that one side or the other (about 50/50) would be exposed after furling. Mary Grace and I, along with other much more experienced people than us, questioned Doyle NZ about how such significant UV damage could occur to a sail that is hoisted only occasionally. Doyle NZ squashed any questions about load and design of the sail. Doyle NZ insisted the cause was 100 percent UV as evidenced by this email quote (March 1, 2020) from Matt Bridge to the yacht’s designer who also questioned the UV diagnosis:
“In the case of Frank’s reacher, it absolutely is a case of the sail being rolled backwards. Honestly, if you could see the sample I have on my desk right now it is blindingly obvious.”
Before any fabrication of a replacement sail was begun, Doyle now insisted that the Stiches contribute 30% of the sail retail cost ($18,835 x .30 = 5,650), and The Stiches paid an additional $725 dollars in shipping costs. Doyle made an identical sail, except now the UV strip was painted on both sides of the leech and foot. There was no owner’s manual, no 29 cent sticker stating “roll this side out,” and we were following the instructions given by a Doyle rep at sea trials. Mary Grace and I were not delighted; however, we needed this sail for our Pacific crossing so we swallowed the pill and moved on.
Ticket to Ride got her new reacher (Reacher #2) in March, the day before leaving on our passage to Hawaii. During the passage of 2900 miles and 16 days, the reacher was deployed for about 103 hours according to our log and at TWA typically from 120 to 160. Unfortunately, when the reacher was taken down after arrival in Hawaii, the exact same problems were occurring in the leech of the new sail. This time I had caught the problem earlier although it was still very obvious.
Damage on the leech of reacher #2 appears identical to that seen on reacher #1.
Another image of reacher #2.
After several emails with Matt at Doyle NZ, we agreed to find someone in Hawaii who could evaluate the sail and the way we were using our cableless reacher. Doyle had a representative on TTR for a short sail and Mary Grace and I hired our own expert to evaluate the cause. Doyle’s rep determined that there were no Stich sail handling problems and stated “the set up is just about right” (June 1, 2020). Doyle NZ’s conclusion of the cause of the problem is explained in the email quote below from Matt Bridge (June 1, 2020);
“the biggest issue is that the sail is definitely more suited to reaching angles, rather than deeper running ones and that the break down in the leech surfaces is caused by the leech being unstable at the lower angles. That sounds about right to me and I can say that laminate sails are not great at handling that collapsing and re-filling for extended periods. With hindsight, it is probably asking too much of that design to have a sail that can cope with that big a wind ranges for extended use on ocean passages.”
After no apologies for the incorrect reacher #1 UV diagnosis, no financial discussion response from Matt Bridge, and my less than cordial reply, Doyle NZ’s co-owner, Mike Sanderson, took over the conversation. Mike’s diagnosis of the problems with reacher #2, although showing identical symptoms to reacher #1, was our chosen style of sailing deeper wind angles and lower boat speeds. Mike stated we were using the sail improperly by deploying the reacher in wind angles for which it had not been designed. Mike insisted we were not sailing to polars and why “not put the bow up to 145 TWA and do 16, 18 knots?” (email June 3, 2020). Basically, Doyle had designed our reacher according to how Doyle thought we should be sailing our HH55 not how we expressed in writing we wanted and expected to sail.
Yes, Mary Grace and I were furious.
- Did we not explain who we are and our downwind sailing intentions?
- Was the onus of responsibility not Doyle’s to ask The Stiches the right questions and therefore design sails to meet our plans?
- Why was this “sailing improperly” cause not explored in Reacher #1? Several knowledgeable people questioned the UV diagnosis and suggested load or material issues. Doyle could have saved all parties time, hassle and money if there had been a better analysis.
- Why didn’t we hear from Doyle NZ that the recommended wind angles for this sail were 38-105 AWA until after reacher #2 began showing issues?
- Quote from the Doyle warranty “… designed wind range, (as detailed in the user manual supplied at the time of commissioning).” Mike, we are still waiting to receive our user manual.
- Why would any sail, especially one designed for downwind angles, show these delamination problems after only 103 hours of use? Certainly, Stratis was not the proper material for our only downwind sail.
- Why was the cableless reacher specified in the final contract as 150 sqm made to be 177 sqm? I had consulted with the yacht’s designer and other owners to arrive at the 150 sqm size. The sail size was changed and I was not informed.
- Why is the actual reacher weight 65 kg versus the contracted and promised weight of 38kg? I would have cancelled my boat purchase if the final boat weight was 171% over contract. Mike’s statement from his June 4, 2020 email “it’s obviously a shame that if this (contracted weight) was an issue for you that we went ahead and made the replacement sail the same” almost made me blow a gasket. Who builds a carbon fiber performance cat and is not concerned about weight?
- And finally, since reacher #2 showed problems after a 20-day life, UV was certainly not the cause. Therefore, Doyle NZ should be returning to me, no questions asked, the $6375 spent on reacher #2. Furthermore, Doyle NZ should apologize for blaming The Stiches for the problems with reacher #1 which was accompanied by the accusation that the Stiches lack “basic knowledge” (email Feb. 26). Then we could have opened a customer friendly conversation
One of the most common questions we hear from guests on Ticket to Ride is “Can you and Mary Grace handle this boat?” My standard answer is an unwavering “yes, on our terms.” We don’t sail around with our hair on fire, the windward hull out of the water, or matching polars. Unfortunately, after 20 days of email discussions with Mike Sanderson, we actually started to wonder if we had bought too much boat, even though we already had 10,000 successful miles under TTR’s keels. It is very sad that the owners of any company would lead a customer to doubt his ability.
In the end, Doyle made no conciliation to our requests for monies to be returned and made only weak attempts to make us happy on Doyle’s terms. Doyle NZ’s entire point of view was summarized in this Mike Sanderson email quote (June 4), “the bottom line is that it is still the right sail for the boat.” There is no doubt that Doyle NZ had designed this sail and built it from a material according to how THEY think we should be sailing our boat.
In our opinion, Doyle had 3 chances to make this right: 1. Initial design, listen to the customer. 2. Proper diagnosis of the problems with reacher #1. 3. Evaluation and customer friendly plan after the problems with reacher #2.
After a month of confrontational emails, wasted money, and the delays to our cruising plans, Mary Grace and I had totally lost confidence in Doyle Sails NZ, both the people and the products. We wanted nothing to do with Doyle Sails.
Doyle did pay for the repair to the reacher done in the Hawaii North Sails Loft which involved cutting a deep hollow in the reacher leech, adding a wave strainer to the reacher leech and replacing the leech tape. Disturbingly, our Doyle Stratis Genoa was showing early signs of similar delamination on many spots along the leech. Doyle paid for a portion of the genoa repairs needed.
The Stiches paid in full for necessary additions and repairs made to the mainsail in the North Loft. Areas of the mainsail along the foot were chafing due to the inability to control the reefed portion of the main below the new foot. North Sails Hawaii carefully placed reinforced grommets in the mainsail to control the reefed portion of the sail. These mainsail reefing grommets were considered by Doyle to be owner preference. The Stiches considered the lack of grommets to be a Doyle oversight.
A rusty C-clamp and a few sail ties is not the proper way to control the reefed portion of our main.
The added grommets and bungee ties are a necessity, not an owner preference, to control the reefed portion of this main.
Essentially, our current, repaired reacher is too fat cut to fly properly in reaching wind angles and especially in light wind. At the same time, it is made of the wrong material to accept our downwind sailing style without damaging the sail. So where do we go from here to create a sail inventory for our cruising itinerary?
- We are working with North Sails Hawaii to design and build a sail for the deeper downwind VMG angles that we explained to Doyle in the beginning was our preference and intention. The design being considered is a woven polyester sail on a top down furler with the torque rope encased in the luff to help prevent some of the issues with top down furling.
- At some point in the near future, we will add to our inventory a sail properly designed and made from appropriate material for the purpose of reaching, especially in light winds.
- In the mean time, we will use the repaired reacher in limited situations. This reacher will not tolerate any fluttering so the sail can only be used below an AWA of 100 which for TTR means a TWA of probably 115-120 depending on the wind speed. This reacher was designed with a fat cut mid girth of 62% and does not fly well under TWA of 85, so we are left with a usable TWA range of about 85-115 for this sail.
Certainly, this entire experience with Doyle Sails NZ is unfortunate and not a part of life or cruising that Mary Grace and I enjoy. I would assume there are many Doyle Lofts who value customer satisfaction and would regret the manner in which this issue was handled. At the same time, I was dealing with the owners of Doyle Sails and their philosophy will be reflected in corporate policy.
Doyle Sails may have some excellent products; however, every company has occasional issues with a product or a decision. Our greatest surprise was the attitude of the Doyle NZ management, their lack of ownership of the problems, and especially their treatment of us as customers. Mike Sanderson went to great lengths using theoretical polars and VPP’s that are irrelevant to our stated sailing preferences to show us and prove to us and others that our choice of sailing style was faulty. I have never had a business owner communicate with me with as little respect as I received from Doyle NZ.
Based on Doyle NZ’s handling of this issue, our lack of confidence in Doyle products, and the attitude displayed by one of Doyle’s owners, we will never purchase or recommend Doyle products again.
Many people have followed this issue; I would invite those people or others to comment or express your thoughts. Thank you as always for reading.
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Posted on September 7, 2020, in Ticket to Ride, Uncategorized and tagged boat life, cruising, Doyle Sails, HH Catamarans, laminate sails, mainsail reefing, North Sails, performance catamarans, sail inventory, sail makers, sailing. Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.