It’s a good idea to place full-length plastic rollers on shrouds that come into contact with sails. Dyform rigging wire, with its sharp corners, is especially hard on stitching and sailcloth. Some long-distance cruisers place lengths of split plastic tubing over the shrouds for downwind passages and remove them when they get to their destination. Another bluewater dodge to avoid chafe is to slide plastic hose over reefing lines where they pass over the folds of the reefed sail; this verges on overkill for the average coastal cruiser.
Other lines that can cause chafe over the long term are lazyjacks and the topping lift, which both tend to rub across the proud stitching on the seams. You can go some way toward preventing this by rigging the lazyjacks so that they can be taken forward to the mast while under sail, and by adjusting the topping lift so that it doesn’t rub against the sail.
A headsail suffers a little damage each time it is tacked. As it’s dragged from one side of the boat to the other, it chafes against the shrouds, spreaders, mast, or babystay. As with the mainsail, any part that stands clear of the sailcloth is vulnerable, especially the stitching. The parts of the sail that come into contact with the rig should be checked during the season, so it will pay to drop the genoa on deck once in a while and examine the stitching along the leech.
Damage limitation is simple enough. Make sure the sail has chafe patches where it bears against the spreader tips and along its foot where it passes over the pulpit or lifelines. Spreader tips can be covered with inexpensive plastic caps from chandlers, or you can go all salty and make up some leather protectors.
Go around the foredeck and tape up all cotter pins and anything else that can tear or snag the sail. The forward lifeline turnbuckles can be completely taped up so they don’t chafe or bleed grease onto the sail. Either tape up the cotter pins on the shroud turnbuckles or install plastic covers (make sure covers are loose enough not to trap dirt and water inside).
Sail Care Under Way
Many drivers develop a sense of mechanical sympathy—they come to recognize the sounds an engine makes when it’s being over-revved or is in too high a gear for the speed. The ability to empathize with sails is not so easily acquired, which is one reason why sailmakers will never be short of repair business.
Step one is to not let the sails flog. Flogging is bad news, because it breaks down the filler that is put into the sailcloth to stabilize the weave and stop it from stretching. Once this is gone, so is the sail’s ability to retain its shape. This will happen over a period of years in any case, but there is no reason to speed up the process.
On short-batten mainsails, the cloth immediately in front of the batten pockets is usually the first to suffer the effects of flogging, which results in a noticeable “hinge” effect. Eventually the dacron fibers will break down. Full-batten mainsails are much better in this regard. When you’re reefing the main, rather than dumping the sheet altogether and letting the sail flog madly, try to spill just enough wind to take the weight out of it so you can drag the luff down easily.