Back to His Roots: Drew Mitchell Returns to Nova Scotia Sail Operation

After many years away from Nova Scotia, veteran sailor Drew Mitchell has returned home to run the North Sails Atlantic loft.

North Sails prides itself on its sail production method, which stands apart from its competitors by doing away with the standard lamination process that most racing and performance sails undergo. Instead, North Sails builds their sails from 70 per cent fibre and 30 per cent resin, according to Mitchell.

“The benefit of that is that you’re building the sail up interiorly instead of exteriorly. Just like a boat, where you would build bulkheads at high load areas with more fibreglass or carbon, we do the same thing with a sail where we would build up on the corners, the reef points and the head where there’s a high load concentration,” said Mitchell. “These sails are 3D thermomoulded, so these sails don’t have any seams in them. They’re actually all one piece.”

Mitchell is well-acquainted with North Sails products, having worked with the company for the past 12 years. Mitchell graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in 2011 and decided to drive out west to Vancouver, British Columbia. It was there that he began working with North Sails.

“I started on the floor with North Sails Vancouver as a junior salesman, but I was really just pulling staples and doing some sewing,” said Mitchell. “Then I did a little stint down at our superloft in Nevada during one of the Volvo Ocean Races. I went down there to learn the sailmaker trade and the bigger picture side of things… Most of the sails that are made there are for boats that are over 100 feet long, so it’s a pretty neat spot.”

Around age 25, Mitchell was promoted to the position of Manager at North Sails Vancouver. He said that while he was younger than the average candidate for the job, his business degree mixed with his passion for sailing made for a perfect fit.

If there’s one thing Mitchell has, it’s a passion for sailing. Having started out at the Lunenburg Yacht Club and advancing through the junior sailing program, Mitchell began to race lasers around North America in the under 18 category. At 18, Mitchell became a coach for the same sailing program he went through in Lunenburg.

After moving to Vancouver, Mitchell began focusing on one design sailing, primarily on the Melges 24. In 2014, he won the Farr 30 North American. He has also won a couple of Canadian championships in the Martin 242. He also participated in and podiumed in a “Transpac” race from Los Angeles to Waikiki, Hawaii and a “Vic-Maui” from Victoria, B.C. to Lahaina, Hawaii. Every year, Mitchell would also come home to Nova Scotia to compete in Chester Race Week.

In 2023, the owner of North Sails Atlantic and former Olympic Sailor Sandy MacMillan was looking to take a step back from work. Around the same time, Mitchell started to have aspirations of moving back home.

“We started talking about an agreement. That went back and forth for about a year and a half, trying to figure out logistics and all that other fun stuff,” said Mitchell. “Then I moved home in July and started working at North Sails Atlantic.”

As of March 1, Mitchell has taken over the North Sails Atlantic loft. For him, the move back home to work in the sport he loves in the area he first learned it was a pipe dream that eventually came true.

“Sometimes on my way home, I almost have to pinch myself and figure out how I sorted this all out,” said Mitchell. “It’s been a lot, but it’s been exciting.”

With the busy season for the Nova Scotia sailing scene on the horizon, Mitchell said his focus has turned to servicing the dedicated sailors of the province while also trying to grow the sport locally.

“I think for the future, my priority is continuing to grow sailing in the Maritimes and continuing to let people be serviced and know where they can get a hand when they need one,” said Mitchell. “I want to grow the sport inside of Nova Scotia and try to make it as accessible as possible for people, whether it’s a day sailor or a distance cruiser or a racer. With the experience I’ve had in the industry, I want to pass along my experience and my knowledge to help out any sailor in the Maritimes or in Canada to set goals and get on the water and have fun.”

Looking back at his journey, from starting his sailing career in Lunenburg, to beginning a career with North Sails in Vancouver, to his transition back home, Mitchell said none of it would have been possible without the support of North Sails corporate team.

“This type of stuff doesn’t happen very often. This is a franchise, which is an older business model at North Sails. From my hard work in Vancouver, they allowed me to move home and sort things out with Sandy and continue selling sails. That gave me the ability to get this all taken care of,” said Mitchell. “Working for a company that really empowers their employees and supports their salesmen and service people really allows us to grow and continue to be the industry leader, no matter where we are globally.”

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