TIME FOR NEW SAILS?
Q: I have had the same Dacron sails on my boat for five years, and the previous owner had them for a number of years before that. I know that they are getting old, but how do I know when it’s time to replace them?
Pat Chandler, Chardin, OH
BRIAN HANCOCK REPLIES
I like to say that you should measure the life of a sail by how long it has a decent shape, not just by how long it holds together. That’s definitely true for racing sailors or anyone looking for good performance out of their sails. For cruisers just putting around sail shape is not as important, but all sailors should remember that good equipment upkeep on a sailboat is always good seamanship. You don’t want to blowup your mainsail on a lee shore, for example. I would suggest giving your sails a close inspection. Start by checking out the seams. That’s usually where sails come apart. Look for chafed or missing stitches. You can also do a fairly basic test on the fabric itself. What usually happens is that the fabric becomes brittle from UV degradation. Take an awl and poke it through the fabric. Don’t worry, a small hole in the middle of the panel in the middle of the sail is not going to be a problem. Now try and pull it sideways. If the fabric rips, get rid of the sail right away. It’s done. If the yarns arrest the awl and the fabric doesn’t rip then the fabric is probably in fairly decent shape.
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