Join Date: Jul 2000
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It all depends on where you sail, the prevalent wind/wave conditions and how precisely you want to sail; the % of time you race, etc.
Woven Dacron still remains an economical yet robust choice, especially when arranged in radial, etc. panels, especially when using 'high modulus' woven dacron made into a 'high aspect' weave. Cross cut (parallel panels) still remains the 'most adjustable' for sail 'shaping' to meet changing conditions and has the longest service life, etc.
Cruising Dacron Laminates, made from layers of an internal 'film' and overlaid with dacron 'taffeta' for the protection of the film would be the 'next step' up from woven dacron. As with all 'laminated' sails you get less 'adjustability' in the shape of the sail, although the dacron cruising laminates have more 'adjustability' than a Pentex, or other 'high-end' etc. laminate.
Perhaps MORE IMPORTANT is the matching of the geometrical design/shape of the sail to the normally encountered wind, wave height and helmsman ability. This will determine the 'roundness' of the luff shape of the sails - A. flat 'entry' luff shape for the precise helmsman who wants the best 'pointing ability' and the fastest speeds possible out of the sail and who will be constantly 'tweaking' the shape of the sail - a flat entry will require constant steering to keep the attack angle matched to the oncoming wind angle - this would be a 'racing cut'; OR in contrast, B. a 'rounded' forgiving luff shape that can 'wander' all over the place without 'luffing' to accommodate an inattentive/beginner helmsman or a cruising sailor who has no interest in tweaking and doesnt want to be constantly steering to prevent 'luffing' ... OR some shape in between the 2 extremes.
Also the sailmaker can set the 'power to speed ratio' (the amount of draft) to the 'normal' wind wave conditions .... flat shape & less draft for 'speed sailing' in normally low waves venues OR more drafted for sailing in areas with large waves or steep 'chop' with a 'powered up' shape.
A plain vanilla mail order cheapy sail will be set/designed for sailing in 12-15 kts. with 1-2 ft of chop and with an inattentive or 'beginner' helmsman in mind ... the result is relatively less pointing ability and less 'fast' sail.
If woven dacron, extra boltrope 'stored' at the headboard so to make it relatively inexpensive for the sailmaker to later correct a shrinking luff boltrope ... the shrinking boltrope is 99% cause of a dacron sail becoming 'baggy' and draft aft and the ability to adjust the boltrope will probably 'double' the service life of such a sail with a 'stored' and extra length boltrope.
If you sail in an area that normally needs 'reefing' ... consider an 'over the top' leech line control. An over the top leech line control system with cheekblock mounted on the head board allows leech adjustment from the mast and at each 'reef position' so you dont have to hang over the side of the boat with one foot dangling in the air over the water and one hand grasping the boom while 'futzing' with a leech cord and tempting or risking yourself to fall off the boat.
2 LONG/full tapered battens at the top and 2 LONG tapered battens at middle and foot ... easier to reef. The tapered battens dont 'wear out' the batten pockets and sail cloth as fast as non-tapered battens.
If you 'power pinch' (cupping the mainsail leech towards the weather side) a lot by applying extra heavy mainsheet tension, then suggest you add 2-3 small/short (8-12" long) auxiliary battens between the top and #2 and between #2 & 3 to be able to support the leech when the leech/roach later gets 'stretched out' from all that hard mainsheet pressure. If no aux. battens then expect the leech to flutter and more than what can be controlled with a leech line.
Loose foot so that you can flatten the bottom sections instead of reefing when @ 18kts to ~22kts.
If this is for a long distance cruising boat and woven dacron is the choice and where the sail's stitching is vulnerable to rapid UV destruction .... consider GoreTex PTFE "tenara" stitching thread (very expensive) but will last longer than the sail material in long term UV exposure and is thus cheaper in the long run than getting a sail constantly 'restitched'. If this turns out to be a prohibitive 'cost' factor then simply choose a BLACK thread for better/longer UV resistance.
As regards 'laminates', the shape that is designed into the laminated material sail is the shape that you will live with and such sails arent as shape-adjustable as woven dacron.
A cheapy mail order loft usually cant/wont provide such 'specialties', usually you need a local loft for such a design.
hope this helps.