How Can You Know that Your Sails Have Had Their Best Days?
Although sails are quite expensive, they seem to last forever especially on cruising sailboats. Without the stresses of competition or a yardstick of measuring whether your sails are appropriate or inappropriate for racing, it can be a lot harder to tell if your sails have worn out and need to be replaced.
This can give you a false sense of security that your sails are still in a working condition. So how do you know that your sails have had their day and what's the best time to upgrade to new sails? Well, you can know that your sails are worn out if they become saggy and dangerously long in the tooth or if they can no longer drive you upwind off a lee shore. If anything, you shouldn't wait until a self-destruct moment to buy new sails.
In essence, you should know that it's the right time to change the sails if it doesn't make economic sense to service or repair them. You should also change the sails if they absolutely refuse to work when you're trying to trim. This is because the sailcloth will break down or become extremely elastic to the point that you can no longer apply enough force to the corners or on the edges even when sailing in light winds.
How to Assess the Structural Strength and Damage of Your Existing Sails
When assessing the structural strength and damage of your existing sails, it's essential to know areas that are prone to tear and wear. While you should inspect every area of the sails you should put a lot of emphasis on the inboard batten pocket, the leech, and spreader patches.
You should also remember that stitching on your sails will get damaged by the sun and chafe long before the material itself. And because buying new sails is a huge investment, you should consider re-stitching the damaged parts if it means extending the sail's life. So how can you know that the stitches are damaged? Well, just rub your thumbnail along with the stitches. If you can pull them out easily, then they're weak and should be re-stitched. It would be appropriate to do it at an early stage to prevent it from becoming worse.
You can also assess the leech and see if it's in a working condition. You can do this by trying to poke your thumbnail into the weave fabric. If it's possible to poke the weave fabric, then it's in a bad state. That's not all; you should as well assess batten pockets for any form of damage or any worn-out patches on the sail.
As we noted earlier, you should know that your existing sails have seen their best day if they don't make any financial sense to repair or service them.
Different Types of Sails
When buying new sails, it's important to have even the slightest idea of the mainsail types. There are four main types of sails.
Mainsails - These include mizzen on yawls and ketches. They're the main driving force and should be fitted with anything ranging between one and four reefs.
Foresails - These include genoas, jibs, and can be used on cutter-rigged boats. Most boats have a single roller curling foresail. However, some have single-standing sails that are designed in different shapes and sizes but optimized for varying wind strengths. For example, you can use larger foresails when the winds are stronger and smaller foresails when the winds are somehow calmer.
Downwind Sails - These are symmetric and asymmetric spinnakers, as well as code zeros, and cruising chutes.
Storm and Heavy Weather Sails - These are storm jibs and trysails that are essential for safety, especially if you're often sailing offshore and may encounter challenging conditions. Given that reefing genoas have incompetent shapes especially when extremely reefed in heavy winds, it's recommended to have a smaller but heavier weather jib. This can be set as part of a removable inner forestay. In essence, this can be a crucial addition to your sail suit.
Choosing Sail Materials
The type of sail material that you choose when buying a new sail is another crucial thing to consider. Nearly two decades ago, the only viable option for sail material was woven Dacron. As such, the only thing to consider in terms of sail material was the grade of the woven Dacron. Sailors could choose between more durable but stiffer woven Dacron meant for cruising and a stiff, highly-resinated material used for racing.
Things, however, have changed recently thanks to technological advances. There is a wide range of sail materials with each having its own advantages and disadvantages. Let's look at the available sail materials.
Woven Dacron - This is not only one of the most durable sail materials but remains the least expensive option. The only downside is that it tends to lose shape quickly and may not retain the appropriate shape even when there's still more life left in the material.
Keep in mind that Dacron materials aren't made the same. There are Dacron materials meant for cruising sailboats. They generally use materials with the permeated finish. This is done by soaking the material in glue to bind the yarns together. Although this ensures that the material is softer and more long-lasting, the material will stretch more in strong winds, especially when it's still new.
On the other hand, there are Dacron materials used in racing sailboats. They're usually coated with a hard melamine finish to reduce stretch.
Hydrant Woven - These materials incorporate Dyneema fibers on the sails. This is fundamental in increasing resistance to substances such as ultraviolet degradation and chafe while also increasing durability and endurance. That's not all; the Dyneema fibers are known to help the sails maintain their original shape.
Laminate Sails - These are designed with load-bearing structural fibers that are crammed between two sheets of Mylar film. Several types of fibers such as carbon, polyester, Kevlar, and Twaron can be used.
However, the cost of fibers such as polyester and carbon tend to be expensive, which means that these sails might be a little costly. These materials can retain their original shape longer than other materials but have the shortest lifespan. But to increase durability, sailmakers do add taffeta layers on both sides but you may have to deal with a heavier and costly material.
String/Membrane Sails - These are molded in one piece using fibers that are aligned by following the exact load paths in the sail. These fabrics are effectively custom made and reinforced in the right places not just to maintain their original shapes but also to ensure that they remain durable.
Keep in mind that these materials are high-end products that can be costly and are mostly used in racing sailboats. This doesn't, however, mean you can't use them on your cruising sailboat. In fact, these sails are very appropriate for long voyages.
To this end, an appropriate sail material should be able to offer extraordinary durability and desirable shape retention. These are two important features to look for when buying new sails for your boat. So when buying new sails, make sure that you ask about the above-mentioned features as well as the weight of the material. Although woven Dacron is the standard material for sails, you can choose from other materials too as long as they suit your specific needs. More importantly, make sure that the prices and quality are within your specific and reasonable budget.
The Weight of the Material and Additional Extras
The weight of material used in making your sails may seem like a minute factor but it's of great importance. The idea here is that heavier material will generally be stronger and last longer. This should, therefore, depend on what you actually need but a heavier material will make the sail heavier.
In terms of additional extras, you should make sure that you ask what comes with the sails. For example, do they come with bags that can be of any use to you when out there on the water? This can be of great importance if you want to buy headsails that must be carried to the deck and hooked up. If this is the case, the bag should be bigger and longer to make carrying and transporting the headsail a lot easier.
You can also ask for boom covers. These are essential in protecting mainsails from various substances, especially when not in use. In essence, these extras are important in preserving and maintaining the life and conditions of your new sails. You should, thus, take advantage when negotiating for the new sails as it is these extras that sailmakers are willing to give out if it means making a sale.
How to Buy New Sails
Here is how to buy new sails.
Have Your Boat's Measurements
One of the most important factors that when buying new sails is your boat length. This is because the sail area is mostly determined by the boat length. If your sailboat is of popular design, the sailmaker may have enough information to make the right sail size. But if your boat is not that popular, you can take a few measurements to make it a lot easier for the sailmaker when giving you a quote. In most cases, you'll be given a form to fill in the information that the sailmaker needs in terms of measurements or anything else that might be of importance when choosing the right sails for your boat.
How Do You Want to Use the Sails?
It's very important to consider the type of sailing you're planning to do with your new sails. In most cases, there should be a fine balance between conflicting elements. For instance, the sails should be easy to handle, durable, and cost-effective. But to maintain this balance, you should always have an idea of what you want to use the boat for or how you'll be using the boat. For example, how often will you be sailing? Are you planning for long voyages? How many people do you usually sail with? Do you pick your sailing days or go out on the water irrespective of the weather?
Focus on the Detail
Do you want asymmetrical sails, symmetrical sails, or storm jibs? Are you planning to upgrade to roller reefing or will you go for a cruising chute? You should make the right choices in terms of design and the type of sail that you want. Keep in mind that more sophisticated designs such as tri-radial and bi-radial designs may be a little expensive. All in all, make sure that you put a lot of emphasis on buying sails that optimize the performance of your boat.
Choose the Right Fabric and Design
In addition to choosing the right fabric for the sails, you should make sure that the new mainsails have the right number of reefs. Ensure that each of the reefs is deep enough. You should as well decide whether to go with long or short battens.
If you're planning to use your sailboat for racing, mainsails with short battens could be the best option. This is because short battens offer more control in terms of speed, maneuverability, and acceleration. On the other hand, long battens are the best option for cruising sailboats as they are more durable even though they may come at an extra cost.
Generally, sails are often sold with standard two reefs but three reefs would be ideal for offshore sailing. This is to make it easier for you to reduce the sails to appropriate sizes in heavy weather or stormy conditions. The third reef will be essential in reducing the luff length by at least 40%. Again, you can choose sails with four reefs if you're planning to go for long voyages as this will eradicate the need to have trysails.
It's important to talk to a number of sailmakers to compare different designs and prices. The designs should be similar but prices will vary from design to design. You should, therefore, compare the prices of similar designs. You should also ask the sailmakers for detailed info on their designs and how much each design would cost you.
Estimated Costs for Different Boat Lengths
As we noted earlier, the costs of new sails will not only depend on the type of material and designs of the sails but also on the length of your sailboat. Let's highlight the estimated costs.
The Estimated Costs of Replacing a Jibs and Genoas
- Sails for boats measuring 42' to 50' can cost around $5,500-$9,000
- Sails for boats measuring 36' to 42' can cost around $4,000-$7,000
- Sails for boats measuring 32' to 36' can cost around $3,000-$5,000
- Sails for boats measuring 24' to 32' can cost around $2,500-$4,000
- Sails for boats measuring 18' to 24' can cost around $1,000-$2,500
The Estimated Costs of Replacing Mainsails on Bermuda Sloop Rigs
- Sails for boats measuring 42' to 50' can cost around $2,500-$4,000
- Sails for boats measuring 36' to 42' can cost around $2,000-$3,000
- Sails for boats measuring 32' to 36' can cost around $1,500-$2,500
- Sails for boats measuring 24' to 32' can cost around $1,000-$1,500
- Sails for boats measuring 18' to 24' can cost around $650-$1,200
It's important to note that these are estimated costs that should give you an idea of what to expect when buying new sails. It would, however, be appropriate to get a quote from a professional sailmaker, and most of them are willing to help.
The Aging Process of Your Sails
Whether you've just bought new sails or still using the old ones, the aging process of sails may depend on several factors such as the materials used, the type of use you subject them to, and the level of care you give them. That being said, it's almost impossible to accurately determine the lifespan of your sails based on the number of miles you've covered on the water or the number of years you've used the sails.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the shapes of the sails will change gradually without you realizing it. You should, therefore, check regularly to see if there are changes in the shapes of your sails. You can also take photos occasionally to determine the changes in shape over time.
This can be a great way of assessing not just the shapes of your sails but also in monitoring both the performance and the type of handling that new sails will provide. The idea is that new sails cannot instantly move from good to bad. They'll stretch as they age and this can lead to change in shapes. When your sails lose shape, they will not point well and steering will become difficult. This will, in turn, make your boat to drag, increase heel, and ultimately reduce speed.
Prolonging the Lifespan of Your Sails
Although sails can last a long time, they'll not last forever. Replacing your older sails with new ones will instantly increase the speed and handling capabilities of your boat. Here's how you can prolong the lifespan of your new sails and protect your sail investment.
- Do not expose your sails to unnecessary sunlight and heat
- Motor your sails down if they cannot be filled or if they are not in use
- Avoid extended flogging and luffing
- Use the appropriate halyard tension
- Protect your sails from chafe
- Take off the sails when not in use
- Rinse the sails with fresh water from time to time
- Dry the sails before storing
It's a known fact that sails don't last forever. While it's difficult to exactly determine how long the sails will last, it's a good idea to replace your sails before they become severely stretched and out of shape. Using old or worn-out sails can make a huge difference in the way your boat sails and handles. Just like you'd replace worn-out tires or an old engine on your car, replacing worn out sails with new ones will improve how your boat sails. This will give you a greater sense of control and going out on the water will be more fun.
Unfortunately, buying new sails can be a costly endeavor. That's why you should be well prepared and armed with lots of information when buying new sails. In addition to having in mind what new sails would cost you, you should know how to choose the right material for the sails and the type of sails that can be perfect for your sailing.
Don't wait until you experience serious structural failure with older sails to buy new ones.