chris 1 f,
Laminated sails will definitely work better than dacron in light air, but you can be competitive using dacron sails if you know how to use them. If you give a 30 handicap golfer a set of the finest golf clubs made, he''ll still hook and slice his drives and top the ball. In every sport, it isn''t the equipment that matters the most. What matters is what you do with the equipment.
To race successfully you have to prepare the boat, the skipper and the crew. You must be willing to make at least the same effort that your opponents are making.
You can''t race well with a boat that can''t reach its maximum speed. When you repaint the bottom of your boat, you have to sand the bottom, rudder and keel smooth, fair the keel if necessary, and apply a good coat of bottom paint that works well in your sailing venue. You have to get in the water regularly throughout the racing season and scrub it all clean.
Anyone who knows how to sail can sail in 10-15 kt winds. But, when the wind is only strong enough to fill your sails intermittently, you have to know specific techniques that you can use to keep the boat moving. Get some good sailing and racing books, and read the sections on light-air sailing. Generally, in light air, ease all your sail trimming and tensioning devices and make the sails as full as possible. When sailing downwind, steer down in the puffs and broad reach in the lulls.
Watch for wind puffs coming down the water, and try to sail from one puff to another. Don''t sail into an area where there is no air. You can''t predict with certainty where the next puff will be, but you can improve your chances of being in its vicinity. As a general rule, try to stay near the middle of the course, so that, if the next puff of wind comes down the left or right side of the course, you can get to it. Whenever possible, position your boat in the area where the next wind is most likely to come from. If the puffs are coming out of the east, stay generally on the east side of the course, so that you are the first to get the new wind. Look along the shore for little localized patches or strips of wind. Many times, I have found strips of wind 100 yards wide and a mile long that ran parallel to a shoreline, when there was hardly any wind elsewhere. When you get into a puff, steer the boat on a course that will keep you in the puff as long as possible, and that will maximize your progress downwind. When a puff arrives, head downwind, wing-and-wing. When the puff dissipates, start broad reaching to keep the boat moving.
In very light air, carry 5-7 crew, and put them on the lee rail, to make the boat heel. When the boat stands upright in light air, your sails often hang limp, like a sheet on a clothesline, and sails that hang like that can''t drive the boat. When the boat heels, the weight of the sailcloth makes the sail hang in the curved shape that drives the boat. When the sails hang in that shape, any air that moves over the surface of the sails will drive the boat. This technique is commonly used by small dinghy sailors, but you don''t see it as often on ballasted boats, because it takes a lot of crew weight to heel a ballasted boat. Using these techniques, my 20+ year old dacron North sails have been able to remain competitive in light air races with other boats that were using laminated sails.
A good way to learn how to race is to follow a really good racer and watch what he does, and try to understand why he does those things. Crew for a really good racer. Watch and learn and ask questions.
If you continue to use your dacron sails for cruising and for general putzing around, and only use your laminated sails for racing, the laminated sails should last many years. Therefore, since you have a serviceable set of dacron sails, the durability of laminated sails doesn''t have to be a major issue.