Inspecting the sails
When inspecting the sails, what are you looking for, really? According to the great Don Casey book I've been reading, he suggests simply pulling a corner of each sail out of the bag to see what it looks like (and see if there are any frayed stitches, basically). Is that really sufficient?
Also, what's the average life expectancy of Kevlar/Mylar/Dacron? Are 5-year-old Kevlar sails likely to blow out at any moment?
The biggest issue with laminate sails, like Kevlar and Mylar, is delamination. Dacron sails will be more prone to losing their shape.
It's hard to tell the quality of the sail by looking at it in a big. If it's clean and crispy, then it's probably good enough. Unless you're buying a racer, though, don't expect a first rate sail inventory.
Whatever's there is probably good enough to get you going and you should probably plan on buying a new set within about the first year of owning the boat. You may get lucky of course (and good luck!) but more often than not a new sail or two will be on the menu.
By the way, there are few things better than new sails...
Depending on the boat & your sailing plans you should also check out the number of sails that come with the boat. Smaller jibs, storm jibs, trysails, etc will cost extra $ if they're missing and you need them.
The biggest danger to the kevlar + composite sails is UV damage... they are meant for racing not everyday cruising and if used for the latter expect about 2-3 yrs life span for such ( if lucky) ... Dacron is fairly heavy duty - not light air friendly in most cases - but can last 5-14 yrs depending on usage and proper care...
I have the latest and greatest X-10 sails from North - they were honest and upfront - 3-5 yrs max depending on how they are used... but one has too look at the price tag to see what that means in the long term..
Just an observation..
Ok, thanks for the guidelines... now:
What can I possibly hope to look for when inspecting the sails in this guy's garage? What do you look for to see UV damage on a Kevlar sail? Delamination of Mylar?
Is a 5-year old Kevlar sail likely to be of any use at all (assume it's been raced about 4-6 weekends at most per summer)?
"What can I possibly hope to look for when inspecting the sails in this guy's garage?"
You'd really need to be familiar with sails to make a reasoned evaluation. I'd suggest calling a couple of lofts, or stopping by, and telling them up front you are looking at a used boat and won't be able to buy new sails THIS season, but you need to understand what "good" versus "trash" is, could they show you some sails and educate you a bit? Odds are they will say yes.
With any sail, you can't really see if it is holding shape unless it is hoisted. You can tell if the sail bellies out too far aft. But with any dacron, once the coating has gone and the material starts to get soft enough to sleep on--that's going to be stretched out as well. With stitching (on any material) it is easier to look at the sail hoisted, you'll see daylight coming through where stitching is wearing. Laying down, that's harder to see.
Mold damage, internal in layered sails, is also something to look out for. Delamination will make composite sails look "crinkly" as it is starting, and you'll see the layers peel and separate once that really takes hold. There's no stopping or patching that. With Kevlar and some of the other composites, lofts will also tell you to only ROLL the sail, never fold it, never step on it, never flake it, because that breaks the fiber strands and the sail loses shape quickly after that.
But the best way to get an idea, is to have seen and held sails in your hand, to get a better feel for what "degraded" is. Sometimes there are bargains in used sails, i.e. someone may buy a storm trysail or a particular jib/genoa and simply never use it. More often, used sails are used up, stretched or otherwise just not much better than bedlinens. Yes, you can sail with them, but once you've sailed the same boat with sails that have proper shape--you'll be amazed at the difference it makes.
If you can call a loft and arrange to come by, do so. Simple bribes like coffee and donuts often get people to be very happy to take a break in their day and talk to strangers.[g]
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