The old adage that we learn by our mistakes certainly proved true (and profitable) in the case of a humble fisherman from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. Almost two centuries ago he inadvertently revolutionised the ways sails were made.
Short of money and unable to buy a new suit of sails the poor fisherman was compelled to make his own: as good luck would have it this turned his fortunes around. All of a sudden, as much to his surprise as the rest of the fishing fleet, the fisherman regularly became the first rather than the last fishing smack (boat) back to shore each day. This was a much prized slot because the first, and therefore the freshest, catch landed commanded the highest prices.
Intrigued as to how this could be, his fellow fishermen took a close interest in his boat and rigging which is how his mistake was discovered. The sails he had so carefully made were incorrect: the panels of fabric had been sewn together running in the opposite direction to everyone else’s. Unbeknown to Chris Jeckells this difference used the warp and weft of the fabric to its best advantage: by having the stronger of the two running sideways rather than up and down, the fabric was prevented from stretching quite so badly. This meant less wind was ‘spilled’ and the boat was able to travel faster...
You can read this article in full in Selvedge issue 47.