Looking after sails Page 3

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
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Leech flutter in the sails might be mildly annoying to the crew, but when it’s prolonged it can gradually destroy the sailcloth. The noisy, rapid-fire flutter known as “motorboating” that often occurs when the headsail is strapped in hard for a beat is especially damaging. Don’t be afraid to tension up the leechline to get rid of this horrid noise, but don’t forget to ease it when you come off the wind.

There is a lamentable tendency to treat sheet leads as if the cars were bolted in place. It’s all too common to see boats blithely sailing along with the bottom half of the genoa trimmed correctly while the upper part of the leech is flogging away, out of the crew’s sight. This can be avoided by using the sheet leads correctly—moving them forward when the sail is reefed and also when the boat is put onto a reach. If they’re too far forward when you’re beating, there’ll be too much tension on the leech, and if too far aft, the foot will be overtensioned.

When you’re tacking, release the lee sheet early enough so the sail doesn’t catch against the spreader as the boat comes about, and sheet in quickly to minimize flogging. Don’t trim the genoa in so hard it rests against the spreader—four inches or so off is usually enough when going to windward.

Lastly, don’t overtension halyards. They should be just tight enough to get the horizontal wrinkles out of the sail. If vertical creases appear, the luff tension is too high and, if repeated often enough, such abuse can deform the sail. When you leave the boat, ease off the genoa halyard and the mainsail outhaul; leaving tension on them can result in permanent stretch in the boltropes.

Excerpted from Peter Nielsen’s Sailpower: Trim and Techniques for Cruising Sailors, published by Sheridan House.

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