Meet the salty sailors—and accomplished sewers—outfitting some of the biggest boats in the harbor for catching the breeze
(Above) John Bowden, at left, and Tripp Fellabom outside North Sail’s Charleston City Marina loft, where spools of rope hang at the ready (top right) and a small team readies sails for both local and transient clients.
Lifers. That’s what you’d call Tripp Fellabom and John Bowden of North Sails. Each grew up sailing and started making sails straight out of college. Up until a year ago, they competed against each other: Bowden established Charleston Sails in 2008, and Fellabom had operated a local UK Sailmakers loft for nearly four decades. But after a corporate buyout made them partners—and part of the world’s largest sailmaking company—they now run one of two sail lofts in the Holy City.
With 60-plus years of combined experience and a pair of additional employees, they design, build, repair, and sell equipment for an exceptionally broad array of boats. “Our customers range from someone who has an eight-foot pram to someone with a 100-foot yacht on the Megadock,” explains Fellabom. “We’ve also done repairs on the Spirit of South Carolina’s sails,” adds Bowden, referencing the tall ship designed to resemble a 19th-century schooner.
Operating out of a 2,000-square-foot space at the Charleston City Marina, the team serves local and transient boat owners alike. “Combining our companies was a great move,” Fellabom notes. “We still do a lot of local business, but now we have the facilities and staff to attract out-of-town owners with larger boats, and that’s a big change.”
Each man has his own niche. “Tripp focuses on the midsize cruising boat owner, and I focus on the racing customer,” explains Bowden. “It works, and we’re both learning from the other.”
Sails & Sales - Fun facts about the local loft
All Hands on Deck: Though it sells the occasional machine-assembled sail, Tripp Fellabom and John Bowden’s shop stitches most products by hand or using sewing machines.
Size Matters: The biggest sail they’ve worked on weighed 400 pounds and had to be delivered via forklift.
Fostering the Future: Fellabom founded and manages the Southern Collegiate Offshore Regatta. February’s fourth annual event attracted teams from nine universities across the country.
For the Win: Bowden is also a professional racing sailor, traveling some 150 days a year to compete internationally. Bowden machine-sews a sail.
Photographs by (2) Taylor Drake & courtesy of (boat) North Sails