Ask SAIL: Time To Buy New Sails?

Author:
Publish date:

TIME TO BUY NEW SAILS?

Q: I have a very old set of Dacron sails on my Catalina. Friends have told me I should have them replaced because it will make my boat sail better. But quite frankly, I’d prefer not to spend the money on sails that seem plenty sturdy enough for the kind of sailing I do, which is mostly daysailing with the occasional overnight. To tell the truth, I also kind of like the way they are much easier to work with than stiff, new Dacron. How can I determine if my sails are still up to the task aerodynamically? How can I make sure they are, in fact, sturdy enough to keep using?

Cabot Franklin, Aurora, OH

BRIAN HANCOCK REPLIES

There is a saying I like to use and it goes like this: you measure the life of a sail by the length of time it holds its shape, not by how long it holds together. In other words, when the shape is shot the sail is shot. That said, your sails are probably fine for the type of sailing you do. You are not racing, and cruisers usually avoid sailing upwind, which is where you will experience the most difference.

What I suggest you do is this. Sail upwind with the mainsail and the headsail trimmed for a beat. Lay on the deck in the middle of the foot of the headsail and take a photo of the sail looking up toward the head. Do the same for the mainsail, and then print out each photo. If you have draft stripes this will be easier, but in any case, what you want to do is visualize a line running across the sail from luff to leech. This will help you to see where the maximum draft in the sail is. For the headsail it should be around 30 to 35 percent aft from the luff. For the mainsail, the maximum draft should be around 45 to 50 percent aft. If your sail is not in that range, then the shape is not great. It will usually be farther back as the fabric ages and stretches, and the maximum draft sags.

As far as durability is concerned, I am fairly sure even without looking at the sail that the fabric itself is fine. It’s the stitching that wears out first, so take a look there. If the thread is chafed or worn, the sail will not be good for any kind of extended voyaging. If you are concerned about either the stitching or the sail shape, take the sails into your local sailmaker and have him add a row or two of stitching (over the old stitching). 

He can also recut the sail to improve its shape. This is usually done by re-cutting the luff curve.

Got a question for our experts? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com

June 2016

Related

dometicadler-700x

How to: Upgrading Your Icebox

The time has come when the prospect of cold drinks and long-term food storage has you thinking about upgrading your icebox to DC-powered refrigeration. Duncan Kent has been there and done that, and has some adviceFresh food must be kept at a refrigerated temperature of 40 degrees ...read more

Jet-in-Belize

Cruising: Evolution of a Dream

There’s a time to go cruising and a time to stop. As Chris DiCroce found, you don’t always get to choose those timesAlbert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, ...read more

01a-rosemary-anchored-at-Qooqqut,-inland-from-Nuuk

Cruising: A Passage to Greenland

When a former winner of the Whitbread Round the World Race invites you to sail the Northwest Passage, there is only one sensible answer. No.More adventurous types might disagree, but they weren’t the ones facing frostbite of the lungs or the possibility of having the yacht’s hull ...read more

Allures-459-2018

Boat Review: Allures 45.9

Allures is not a name on the tip of many American sailors’ tongues, but it should be. After the debut of its 39-footer last year, the French company has made another significant entry into the U.S. midrange market with the Allures 45.9, an aluminum-hulled cruiser-voyager with ...read more

ZP-Sail-Away-pic-No

Jury-Rigging on Charter

A little know-how goes a long way on vacationThey say cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic places. Maybe that’s why so many people prefer to charter. After a week of sailing you pack your bags and step off your charter boat without another care in the world, leaving the ...read more

shutterstock_673678240

Chartering in Cuba, A Study in Contrasts

It was a bit of an unexpected flashback. After all, it had been decades since I lived in the old Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) and yet the feeling that bubbled up was the same. I stuck my camera out the bus window to capture yet another of a dozen billboards dotting the ...read more

TRINKA-OVERTURNED_final

Experience: Misadventures in the Med

After crossing the Atlantic in 2011 and spending two leisurely years crossing the Med, I found a homeport for my Crealock 34, Panope, in Cyprus. In 2000, we had completed a villa in Tala and the little pleasure/fishing port in Latsi was a scenic 40-minute drive away.The ...read more