Looking after sails - Sail Magazine

Looking after sails

Dacron is a tough, long-lasting cloth that has only two real enemies—sunlight and chafe. There is not a lot you can do to ward off the effects of ultraviolet light except to make sure the mainsail cover is always in place when you’re not using the boat and to check that the sacrificial strip on the leech and foot of a roller genoa is in good condition.Chafe is another matter. It likes to
Author:
Publish date:

Dacron is a tough, long-lasting cloth that has only two real enemies—sunlight and chafe. There is not a lot you can do to ward off the effects of ultraviolet light except to make sure the mainsail cover is always in place when you’re not using the boat and to check that the sacrificial strip on the leech and foot of a roller genoa is in good condition.

sail_cloth_pop

Chafe is another matter. It likes to nibble at parts of the sail—stitching, reef patches, batten pockets, and the leech tabling. If you’ve had the sails valeted during the off season, the sailmaker should have passed an eagle eye over these vulnerable parts. If not, have a really close look at them yourself. This is best done with the sail spread out on the lawn. If the mainsail is still on the boat, drop it out of its luff groove or track, leaving the foot on the boom. Then you can pull the material over the boom as you inspect it. Look for broken or worn stitching and stretched stitch holes; these mean the seam is weak. You shouldn’t be able to see daylight through any seams.

It’s important to repair damaged stitching quickly, as even a few broken stitches can become a lot of broken stitches—and possibly a luff-to-leech tear—toward the end of a hard season. If your own needlework is of the ham-fisted variety, you could always plead with the local loft to repair the sail, but don’t count on them having time to do so at the start of the season, when most of them are run ragged.

webbing_check

The hardware also needs a close look. Sail slides can come under a lot of strain, especially at the headboard and tack, where loads are highest. Sailmakers recommend doubling up the slides in these areas. The top slide should be free to articulate, or the headboard will tend to jam on its way up the mast. Slides in general need to be checked regularly. UV light degrades the plastic, and this damage can be spotted easily enough—the plastic gets discolored. The webbing attaching the slides to the sail tends to wear and fray, but is easy enough to replace. Some slides are held on with shackles, and these have a tendency to go missing in the dead of night, so a good supply of spares should be kept on board. Many full-batten sails have expensive and complex devices for attaching the batten ends to the luff cars. If they fall apart they’re difficult to replace, so at least one of these should be added to the spares box.

Check the headboard for worn or corroded rivets and eyelets, and take a good look at the luff wire and the clew and tack rings. These are high-stress areas and, although they’re strongly built, they also suffer from general wear and tear.

Damage limitation

shackles

Mainsails chafe much more than headsails because more parts of them come into contact with the rigging. The knifelike trailing edges of spreaders are prime culprits. These “aerodynamically efficient” spreader shapes were developed for racing boats and have since found their way onto all too many cruising boats, where they’re nothing but a nuisance. They don’t make one iota of difference to performance on a typical cruiser, but they do harm sails. You can offset the damage by putting spreader patches on the sail. On long voyages, where a fair amount of time is spent reaching or running with the main eased against the spreaders, it pays to tape split hosepipe or pipe lagging over the spreader edges.

The mainsail bears on the cap and/or aft lower shrouds much of the time, and while they fret merrily away at the sailcloth in general, they will rub through full-length-batten pockets in short order. Sticky-back Dacron patches will help in the short term, but a more permanent cure is to get a sailmaker to sew nylon webbing along the pockets. It always pays to keep a close eye on batten pockets because they lead pretty hard lives, especially on short-batten sails where there is a lot of flogging while reefing.

Related

shutterstock_295810247

Cruising: Nova Scotia’s Bras d’Or Lake

I have rarely had a cruise that wasn’t different from my expectations, and my Nova Scotia travels have borne that out. For my friend and shipmate, Steve White, and me, our 2017 trip to Cape Breton Island and the Bras d’Or Lake on One Timer, my Sabre 362, was a much anticipated ...read more

ElanGT5-a

Boat Review: Elan GT5

Aboard many modern yachts, it can be hard to remember exactly what boat you’re on until your eye happens to light upon a logo. However, this is most definitely not the case with the Elan GT5, a performance cruiser with a look all its own and style to burn.Design & ...read more

01-Lead-P1060210

Handheld VHF Radios

For many sailors, cell phones have become their primary means of both ship-to-shore and ship-to-ship communication. Even the Coast Guard will often ask for a cell number after it receives a distress call. None of this, however, makes a VHF radio any less important—and this goes ...read more

Seascape24

Boat Review: Seascape 24

Since its inception in 2008, Slovenian builder Seascape, founded by a pair of Mini Transat sailors, has focused solely on creating boats that are both simple and loads of fun to sail. With their 18-footer and then a 27-footer they succeeded in putting out a pair of trailerable ...read more

01-Trash-Tiki_in-partnership-with-Subtch-Sports_starting

The Adventurers Aboard Trash-Tiki

If you were in Gotland, a popular island vacation destination off the coast of Sweden, on the morning of July 3, your holiday might have been interrupted by a startling sight: a tiny island of trash approaching shore with people aboard. It was, in fact, a sailboat made from ...read more

atlantic-cup-trailer

2018 Atlantic Cup Video Mini-Series

Atlantic Cup 2018: TrailerThis past spring, SAIL magazine was on-hand to document the 2018 Atlantic Cup, a two-week-long Class 40 regatta spanning the U.S. East Coast and one of the toughest events in all of North America. The preview above will give you a taste of the four-video ...read more

hardangerfjord

Cruising: Holland to Norway

In 2015, we cruised to Norway’s Lofoten Islands on our Nordic 40, Juanona, which we’d sailed transatlantic from Maine to England. Our 2016 plan was to cruise through the Netherlands to the Kiel Canal, sail into the Baltic as far as Stockholm, then cruise the western coast of ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comThe Watch-keeper’s Nightmare The commercial watchkeeper’s most awkward decisions come with a vessel converging from abaft the starboard beam showing a red light. If he’s more than 2 points, or around 22 ...read more