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Ask Sail: Full Battens or Not

I’m in the process of ordering sails for a 40-foot cruising boat. I’m looking for good performance, but I’m not racing. I’ve heard conflicting views on short vs. full battens in a mainsail.
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Philip Donegan, Ballina, Ireland
Q: I’m in the process of ordering sails for a 40-foot cruising boat. I’m looking for good performance, but I’m not racing. I’ve heard conflicting views on short vs. full battens in a mainsail. I gather full battens make it easier to drop the main with less flogging generally, but that short battens allow for more sail-shape adjustment and in particular make it easier to flatten the sail and delay reefing. One sailmaker told me a mainsail’s roach could be increased with short battens, as the roach won’t catch on the backstay, as happens with full battens. Another advises I can have more sail area with full battens.

Win Fowler Replies

A: Full battens allow a sail to have a longer working lifespan, with better shape retention during that lifespan. And yes, they are much quieter. They also allow for better light-air shape. One disadvantage is increased friction on the mast track, though this can be greatly reduced with low-friction luff cars. Using the proper hardware will, however, make full-batten sails more expensive. They also weigh more and are harder to trim well, as their shape always looks good. As for the ability to flatten the sail, the difference is negligible. It shouldn’t be a problem if the sail is cut properly.

If a mainsail projects well beyond the backstay, full battens can hang up, but if you don’t plan on racing, this usually is not an issue. Most modern boats can carry maximum non-penalty girths with full battens without a problem. The key is to make sure the upper battens are not too stiff. I personally find the advantages of full battens more compelling, and that’s why I have them on my boat.

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