75 Years of UK Sailmakers, Part 4

Published on April 20th, 2022

Founded in 1946 in City Island, New York by Charles “Buster” Ulmer as Charles Ulmer, Inc., UK Sailmakers is one of the world’s oldest groups of sail lofts. WindCheck magazine sat down with Charles “Butch” Ulmer to discuss his father’s founding of the company that bears his name, and its evolution. Following Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the interview, here is the final installment:

Butch, in our previous installment you spoke about the departure of John Kolius in the late 1980s. Please bring us up to date.

After John Kolius left our group and the sailmaking industry, business went along on a more or less even keel. We lost and gained group members for a variety of reasons and at the end of each year, we were always in about the same place in the sailmaker pecking order. Big corporate names like Ratsey & Lapthorn and Hood disappeared, only to be replaced by others such as North and Quantum.

Along with the corporate losses came the individual losses of the gents that made being in the game a true pleasure. Guys like Tom Blackaller, Colin Ratsey, Kenny Watts, Jack Sutphen, Herb Hild, Howard Boston and others of like caliber departed. They were joined by my old friend Owen Torrey.

In 2005, we joined up with the Halsey-Lidgard Group and changed our corporate name to UK-Halsey. Although they were a considerably smaller group, it was a great shot in the arm for all concerned. Andy Halsey’s loft in eastern Connecticut had a great reputation for making big sails, something that was foreign to a lot of our existing members.

Once again, as with Horizon, we picked up some new and talented members and our enlarged group enjoyed a few years of increased business and economic success. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last and after five or six years we went our separate ways. Our enlarged group (most of the Halsey lofts stayed with UK) went back to being UK Sailmakers again.

In December of 2012, having had my 73rd birthday, I met with a couple of the key loft owners to discuss the sale of UK Sailmakers International. At that point I had spent just under fifty years in sailmaking, and I decided it was time to bear off and set the chute. Shortly after consummating the sale of UK International, I sold my loft in City Island and my career as a business owner came to an end. – Full report

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