My sails are old and pretty baggy, but I'm not ready to buy new ones yet. Is there anything that I can do in the interim to make them work bettter?
Dan Dickison responds:
There are a few things that you can do to get some additional life out of your sails. The first option is to have a sailmaker look at them and see if they can be recut. Some sailmakers are inclined to do this and others aren't simply because they'd rather sell you a new sail, but old sails can be recut and made to work well for a while if the material isn't too far gone to begin with.
What a sailmaker will likely do is take some of the broadseaming out of the overlaps between the panels and then restitch the seams. (We're talking about conventionally constructed sails here and not the newer breed of molded sails, OK?) If this is done properly it can make the sail flatter and thus less baggy. You may have to try more than one sailmaker if you don't find someone willing to work with you. Then again, these guys usually know their business and if a reputable sailmaker advises against recutting the sails, he is probably doing that because he feels you'll just be wasting money due to the fact that there's not that much life left in the sails.
Keep in mind what kind of investment this is. For the sake of argument, let's say the sailmaker charges you $40 per hour to recut a mainsail and that project takes about four hours, well that's $160 or so depending upon taxes and materials. Now if the recut sail gets you through a season, that's probably worth it, but otherwise it's $160 that might have been put toward a new sail that would last you several years.
Recutting is really the best option for used sails. As a short-term measure you can try making adjustments with the halyards, sheet-lead positions, outhaul, cunningham,and the leech and foot lines, but if the sails are really baggy, these adjusments won't really do much to resolve the issue.
If you like you can send your sails to the folks at AirForce Sails (SailNet's in house sail loft and ask them for a free assessment of the situation. All it will cost you is the shipping charges, and UPS via ground is pretty reasonable. To do that, just box them up and ship them to AirForce Sails, 3864 Leeds Avenue, North Charleston, SC 29405.
Here's wishing you a speedy resolution to the problem so that you can get out sailing again quickly.