Sails

Ask Sail: Sailcloth Woes

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Andrew Marvin of Boothbay Harbor, Maine asks:

Two years ago I bought a new mainsail for our Bristol 35.5. I specified that the material be soft and not stiff, as a friend who purchased a new mainsail for his boat found his new sail was difficult to handle and particularly difficult to flake. Unfortunately, my new sail, although well crafted, is even more difficult to handle than my friend’s. The sailmaker advised that soft sail fabric is not really available.

Do you know of a process that could reduce the stiffness of my sail? I have been told I should try lazyjacks, the Dutchman system or in-boom furling, but none of these appeal to me.

Win Fowler replies:

I know of no process that will soften your new sail without seriously compromising its performance and structural integrity.  For better or worse, fabric manufacturers and sailmakers favor performance, durability and reasonable price over ease of handling. Sailors and sailmakers have been spoiled by the shape-holding qualities of modern laminates and are no longer willing to settle for spongy or wrinkled sails.

As I understand it, producing softer fabrics with even fair performance would be prohibitively expensive. Moreover, the fabric would be difficult to cut and assemble accurately. I therefore urge you to reconsider your aversion to lazyjacks and particularly the Dutchman sail-flaking system. I think you’ll find one of these systems will make your sailing more pleasurable. 

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