Join Date: Jul 2000
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Hopefully this will give you a 'functional' difference between the two.
Cruising sails are cut so as to be 'forgiving' to an inattentive or inexperienced helmsman. The area of the luff is cut more 'rounded' so that separation and stagnation stalls dont as easily develop and the helmsman can be more inattentive and 'sloppy' to hold a 'course'.
Cruising cut sails are designed for a 'wide range' of expected wind/wave conditions - a generalized 'cut' or designed shape that effective between 5-15kts and with waves (typically) not exceeding 2ft.
Racing sails are cut for precise helmsmanship ... quite FLAT luff 'entry' shapes which are useful in a very narrow 'groove' or range of steering by the helm. They are also designed for the exact target conditions of wind and waves (an optimized 'balance' of speed and power). Racing cut sails shouldnt be used by inattentive or inexperienced helmsman, as they require CONSTANT attention to angle of attack and precise rudder steerage. Racing cut sails are very sensitive to trim and 'shaping' adjustment ... shaping adjustment for optimum performance hardly/rarely ever encountered on 'cruising' boats unless the helmsman has prior 'racing experience'.
The differences in 'forgiveness' and 'easy steering' can be quite LARGE
You need to be 'constantly on' with racing sails or they will luff/separate/stagnate in the blink of an eye.
Others will chime in on the longevity, etc. etc. differences.