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

qr_main

Antal: QR Clutch

Get a Grip Italian deck gear maker Antal’s two new QR clutches not only have high holding power—up to 3,500lb for the QR10 and 4,800lb for the QR12—they can be opened and released under maximum load, so there’s no longer any need to take up the strain on a winch before freeing a ...read more

leadpicBoxes

DIY: Easy Drawers and Boxes

During the extensive refit of my Pearson 40, I needed to create a significant number of custom-sized plywood drawers and stowage bins, or boxes. These included 10 under-floor storage bins, under-sink organizers, boxes for tools and stores, and even a specially fitted cat ...read more

ARC2018Flags

Tips on Gaining Experience Passagemaking

Whether you want to build a sailing resume or just gain practical experience, getting more miles under your keel is key. You can sail a lifetime of summer afternoons and never quite get the hang of cruising—where creativity and offshore savvy result in self-sufficiency and ...read more

arc18-3981

Stories from the Cruisers of the ARC

Each December, the docks at Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia are abuzz as the fleet of the ARC—the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers—arrives to much fanfare. No matter what time of day or night, the staff of the World Cruising Club, organizers of the 33-year-old rally, are there to ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com A sign from outside the box  Rev counters on modern engines are driven electronically from a terminal on the alternator. If all is well, as soon as the engine fires up the revs will read true. If, ...read more

emSelf-tacking-jib

Ask Sail: Are Self-trackers Worth It?

Q: I’m seeing more and more self-tacking jibs out on the water (and in the pages of SAIL) these days. I can’t help thinking these boats are all hopelessly underpowered, especially off the wind, when compared to boats with even slightly overlapping headsails. But I could be ...read more

01-LEAD-hose-leak-CREDIT-BoatUS

Know how: Is Your Bilge Pump up to the Job?

Without much reflection, I recently replaced my broken bilge pump with a slightly larger model. After all, I thought, surely an 800 gallon-per-hour (gph) pump will outperform the previous 500gph unit? Well, yes, but that’s no reason to feel much safer, as I soon discovered. The ...read more