Sail design has changed a great deal in 50 years!
Just like in all walks of life, computers have changed the nature of the job, but in fact sailmaking was always done by calculation, and huge amount of data, which made it a natural fit for being re-configured to allow computers to help the hard-worked designer.
In the days of cotton, and sailing ships, sailmakers had to be able to MAKE full sized sails in the small deck-house that was their space on-board. The first time they would be able to see their work would be when it was hoisted up onto its yard and sheeted home. To be able to do this, tables and tables would allow each separate panel to be marked up, gores cut, and when sewn up each panel would be a perfect fit to its neighbour.
This ability to envisage how the sail would behave in ones mind was the attraction of computer design – suddenly sails could be seen, altered, revised and perfected before the panels would cut.
But sailmakers and designers needed to fully understand the peculiarities of sailcloth and how the design would altering for each batch of cloth depending on its characteristics. Software today makes this easier, with Finite Element Analysis (FEA) programs, which shows us what the sails are doing with a simulated cloth,
and the resultant sail shape. This is a powerful tool, which has really progressed design very quickly in the last 15 years.