Ask Sail: Why all the Membrane Sails?

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Q: I am noticing more and more cruising boats carrying high-tech membrane sails, and I was wondering why that is.

— Carter Dickens, Houston, TX

Brian Hancock Replies 

It’s all about the engineering. Specifically, membrane sails are highly engineered, so you can end up with a sail that is almost half the weight of a similar sail made out of Dacron. Why is this important, you ask? Basically, heavier sails will result in more weight aloft, and that will increase the heeling and pitching moment of the boat. That in turn, over a long passage, results in fatiguing the crew, which is why so many cruisers are opting for lighter sails. Lighter sails are also easier to set and trim, and take up less room below when they need to be stowed. As a side note, you might look closer at some of those wooden masts you see out there. These days many of them are made out of carbon and then covered with a thin wood veneer for the same reason.

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