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

Moored-at-Molinere-Point_©-Michaela-Urban

Cruising: Exploring Grenada

For years, I’d been wanting to visit Grenada. There are many things that fascinated me about this island: its rugged, mountainous interior, its rainforests and waterfalls, and the fact that it’s less traveled than some other Caribbean sailing destinations. My photographer ...read more

Lead

The Link to a Good Shore Support Network

Much has been said and written about preparing your vessel for an offshore passage, but few think about the importance of having good shoreside support set up before heading out to sea. Almost all offshore racing teams have sophisticated onshore support teams providing them with ...read more

191203_JR_AUCKWORLDS_359559_5434

Racing: the Olympic Gold Standard

If there was a moment that gave the US Sailing Team hope to break a major Olympic medal dry spell, it was the first day of the 49er FX worlds in New Zealand last December. Paris Henken and Anna Tobias had a rough 18th in race one, then banged out two bullets and a fifth to lead ...read more

noaa

A Farewell to Paper Charts

It’s goodbye to the paper chart, at least those produced by NOAA. The agency’s Office of Coast Survey is soliciting comments on plans to completely phase out the production of paper charts and associated products within five years. Its tighter focus on ENCs (electronic ...read more

shutterstock_538143214-2048x

A Round Trip Panama Canal Transit

Our driver, Dracula, has a thick slack body, and his head leans heavily to the right. One eye wanders and looks only up and left. The other is covered with an opaque membrane. His ungainly body is covered with a loose, soiled shirt and pants. It is a hot day in March 2007, and ...read more

outremer_LEAD

Patrick Le Quement and Multihull Design

If you Google the name Patrick Le Quément you’ll come up with some 194,000 hits, most attesting to the Frenchman’s long and successful career designing automobiles. Ford’s iconic (in Britain) Sierra? That’s one of his—at first nicknamed “the jellymold” by detractors, it went on ...read more

Bali

Boat Review: Bali 5.4

In the few years since the Bali brand appeared as an offshoot of the Catana line of catamarans, it has grown rapidly. The original models are popular bareboat charter vessels in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and the new Bali 5.4, the largest of the line, moves the company ...read more