Today Dolphin operates from 2 sail lofts in Essex, an office in Hamble and a loft in Palma De Majorca, Spain. We employ over 25 people throughout our bases, but the early days were a lot more humble…
In 1964 sailing buddies Brian Vincent and Pat Webb started Dolphin Sails. Together they built and raced dinghies, in particular Cherubs and enjoyed great rivalry. They raised each others game to such an extent that Brian and future wife Frances enjoyed success winning the 1970 Cherub Nationals beating notable sailors such as Russel Bowler. At this time, the sailmaking was done in a 22′ by 12′ shed at the bottom of the garden. Dinghy sails of course were the order of the day and experience was gained building them for various dinghy classes including Ospreys, Enterprises, Mirrors and Cherubs amongst others.
Fast forward 10 years and Pat followed a different road concentrating on building boats. Anyone buying a Pat Webb built boat guaranteed a bargain with high quality being a prerequisite. With Brian’s now wife Frances working full time in the business, the family team was expanded with son, Matthew Vincent, joining from University. The family had moved to a large 3 storey house/workshop that gradually began to lose internal walls as the need to make larger and larger sails increased!
In 1983 with all possible expansion exhausted the business was moved to an old cinema building in Harwich. Here sails for boats as large as 70 feet could be made and at the same time the company enjoyed racing success with wins in various classes including round Britain and Trans-Atlantic races.
In 1987 further expansion was undertaken to accommodate the burgeoning windsurf sail market and separate premises were acquired about a mile from headquarters. Local enthusiast Pete Boxer joined the team to head up the operation and the company went on to enjoy huge success, for a number of years, building up to 100 sails a week at its peak.
In 1992 the windsurf market was flooded with cheap imports and the decision was taken to close this division of Dolphin and sell the building. The funds from the premises were reinvested allowing expansion of the main sail loft at 400 Main Road where a second floor was added.
The company continued to be associated with considerable racing success, with sail designer Matthew enjoying some of his own. This was on the half tonner ‘Miss Piggy’ winning EAORA and her class in Cowes Week.
Our long standing relationship with world renowned, bespoke local boat builder, Oyster Marine began in the mid 90’s. At this point both Dolphin and Gowen were supplying sails to Oyster. It was later that decade that Richard Matthews started Ocean Sails which very quickly merged with Gowen to become Gowen Ocean. Dolphin were then given the opportunity to buy Gowen Ocean shortly after and since the take over in 2001, Dolphin have been the sail and canvas maker of choice for all new Oysters.
N.B. The owner of Oysters and Gowen at the time, Richard Matthews, owned a series of race boats for which Dolphin provided many sails for and still do!
In 2002 it was decided to add a boat cover and awning arm to the business and today with a team of 10 people the cover department create the finest and often the most innovative covers available worldwide.
In 2014 Dolphin opened a sales office in Hamble on the South Coast, covering marinas from Brighton to Poole. Paul Austin heads up this operation, he has over 20 years sail making experience and certainly keeps busy as the business continues to grow in the South.
In 2016 Dolphin expanded its operation and opened a sail loft and service centre in Palma de Majorca. This looks after the growing overseas and superyacht markets, as well as being on-site for one of the Oyster Regattas. We have recently taken on Simon Tubby who will be managing our Palma department, as well as Christophe Schiefer who will head up the loft alongside two part time machinists.
Back to the UK, Stef Goodwin and Gareth Heel now head up the loft at West Mersea and the sail business goes from strength to strength. The size of sails and number of orders continue to grow including producing many superyacht sails which now grace the world’s oceans.
55 years on from where it began, Dolphin have become one of the largest sail and cover making companies in the UK. We are always developing and one exciting area to watch out for is our Tensile Awning department. With company boss Matthew Vincent helping to develop this area further, the purchase of the ‘Form Finding’ software that was used to produce the Millennium Dome structure and exciting projects coming our way, this area of the company will be sure to impress. Dolphin plan to grow this ‘sails on land’ concept with the manufacture of unique and innovative shade and rain proof tensile structures. Watch this space!