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  Topic Review (Newest First)
09-10-2002 11:52 AM
new sails

Thanks to you as well for the advice. Again, although they''re obviously not going to solve all problems, I do expect new sails to boost performance some. This year on several occasions a sister ship on an identical tack with seemingly identical sail trim would consistently pull away from me. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the boats themselves is that he has pentex/mylar laminate sails that are two years old.
09-10-2002 09:36 AM
new sails

While new sails are always nice, in light air stretch is minimal and a properly trimmed old sail along with good race strategy should serve well. In my opinion light air sailing is the most challenging of all sailing. My mental image is that of hopping from rock to rock across a shallow stream. The "rocks" of course are the light air puffs scattered across the course. Getting from one to another is the payoff.
Sailormon6 and JeffH have already provided some good information. About all I can add is to use a light weight genoa or drifter and hold the sheet in your hand for instant feedback and to be able to "nurse" the sail through the power boat wakes. Keep the headsail still and full and mind the upper telltales for that is where the wind is. For more whys and wherefores see Bethwaite''s High Performance Sailing, page 281-287.
09-10-2002 03:39 AM
new sails

I think that Sailormon6 has hit on many of the key points of light air performance. A few minor points;

First of all, get out there and practice. There are few things that are harder to get good at than light air sailing.

Sailormon6 is right about heeling your boat in light air but you want to heel your boat over for a number of reasons besides maintaining sail shape. In light air, what ever air movement exists will often have a large vertical component to its direction. Heeling the boat over exposes more sail area to that large vertical component. In light air it is important to reduce wetted surface. Waterline has no bearing on speed in light air. Wetted surface is everything drag wise. You want to trim (fore and aft as well as amidships) so that the boat is floating on its most cylindrical rather than eliptical sections of the hull. This usually means heeling the boat over to leeward and trimming down in the bow. This normally means getting your crew''s weight clustered up near the leeward shrouds and in flat water even forward of the shrouds. Avoid moving the helm as much as posible as a turned rudder offers a lot more resistance than one that is close to neutral. That said, heeling you boat over will give the boat a little weather helm and some helmsman prefer having a bit of ''feel'' in the light stuff.

Even small gains in speed in light air are important as they produce more apparent wind and allow you to sail from puff to puff and ideal avoid the big holes. In the really light stuff tacking or jibing can really kill you as it can take a huge amount of time to regain your speed and lost apparent wind. You often need to power up after the tacks and then reshape the sails as the boat achieves more speed.

With all due respect to sailormon6 who clearly is an experienced and knowledgeable sailor, I strongly disagree with his recommendation regarding a shelf foot and flattening reef being good for a light air mainsail. Shelf feet and flattening reefs are really outdated technology. In modeling airflow at slow speeds along the foot of the sail, it became apparent that instead of acting as an end plate and directing the air smoothly aft, (as was the original justification for a shelf foot) the vertical component of air moving along the sail, resulted in the shelf producing large amounts of turbulance which meant lots of drag without gain in drive.

The current theory on mainsails for light air is to use a loose footed mainsail. With a properly cut loose footed mainsail you don''t need a flattening reef to blade out the sail as the wind speeds increase.

09-09-2002 04:14 PM
new sails

One way to "see" wind puffs is to look for ripples on the water surface. Another good way is to watch other boats that are ahead, behind and near you, regardless of whether they are racing or just daysailing, and see what is happening to them. If you see their sails fill and they start to heel more, you know they''re in a puff. Recently, I was running downwind in a dying puff a few hundred yards from the finish line, and looked to my left and saw a competitor with his sails straining in a new, strong puff, so I broad reached over and got into the leading edge of the puff, turned downwind wing-and-wing and roared down to the finish line ahead of the other boat. If I had stayed where I was, the other boat would have beaten me to the finish line. Look at flags and trees near the shore, and anything else that gives you a clue as to what the wind is doing. There are indicators out there that can tell you what the wind is doing, and the more you look, the more you see. At one time, I lit a cigar and watched the smoke rise from its tip to see which way the air was moving in ultra-light air. (I quit, however, because I started enjoying the occasional puffs that I had to take on the cigar to keep it lit.)

It sounds like you are making the right sail choice. When you get around to replacing the mainsail, consider the shelf foot and flattening reef. They really help in light air.
09-09-2002 01:20 PM
new sails

Thanks a lot for all the good advice. I have crewed on some pretty good boats, but I found that as rail meat you often learn very little about tactics. There usually isn''t time to do much explaining in the middle of the race, and most of the skippers are real type A personalities who don''t do a lot of "nurturing" of their crew. Although equipment won''t make me a better sailor, the boats here are all excellently equipped, and I''d rather have my handicap come from my sailing skills rather than the boat itself. I will probably leave the dacron main for now and replace the genoa.

I have read some good books on racing, and I especially liked Dennis Connor''s "Sail Like a Champion." But I do need to find something that focuses on light wind racing. I appreciate all the tips about taking advantage on puffs...basically to see these you just look for little ripples on the surface of the water, right?

09-09-2002 11:31 AM
new sails

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.

Good luck!
09-07-2002 05:28 PM
new sails

I''d like to hear some more opinions about this. I have a Cal 28-2 with the original dacron sails dating from 1986. I race in Marblehead, MA with very light winds most of the summer. I got smoked by most boats in my class (PHRF Class D) but didn''t care cause it was my first season and was learning the ropes. Next year I want to be much more competitive, and most people (and there are a lot of good sailors around here) tell me that new sails will make a BIG difference. Are they wrong? I''m making the same choice between dacron and mylar. While there''s no question that dacron is more durable, can I assume that a laminate will be a big advantage in light winds? Thanks!
09-06-2002 01:04 PM
new sails

Recently (last two years) replaced the main sail (North) of a Ranger 26. Like you, debated the headsail or main and elected to go with the main.

A couple things relating to sailormon6''s response. I like his selection of the racing shelf. I opted for a loose foot and I don''t like the stress put on the outhaul rigging and the cringle. Everything rides on these two items which have blown out on a couple of other retrofitted loose foots.

I was talked out of high modulus fiber sails for the main by the loft. Good choice, sail is too small to seriously be affected by stretch. And the hi mod sails still haven''t demonstrated 20+ years life expectancy like Dacron.

A couple of more items relating to mains that you must address are the increased roach of today''s designs and batten design (full or deep). Not wanting to switch to a car setup at the mast, I elected for a deep batten in lieu of full.

Big loft vs little loft. I used a big loft (UK) and the service was great, but I think having the loft within throat grabbing distance is the secret and size doesn''t matter.

All said, it was the best boating money ever spent. Never realized how much weather helm and degrees off wind I was getting with that original old baggy main!!
09-06-2002 09:41 AM
new sails

I don''t have all the answers, but will start with what I think I know, and others can chime in.

The most reliable opinions I have heard say that the laminated sails are greatly improved, but still are not as durable as dacron. I race my 20+ year old dacron sails against boats of the same and different designs that use laminated sails, and beat them routinely. However, in light air the laminated sails have a big advantage, because they are much lighter in weight than dacron and they will fill and take their shape in less wind. If you are involved in local club racing, dacron sails will serve you well. If you buy laminated sails with the thought that they will move you up from the middle of the pack to the front of the pack, you will be disappointed. They don''t help that much. If you are into racing at a more competitive level, you should have laminated sails, because you can''t afford to concede the light air races to them.

In my opinion, the bigger the boat, the more important it is to have laminated sails. In smaller boats (less than 30") you can compensate for the stretchiness of dacron by constant sail trim. In larger boats, the resistance of laminated sails to stretch is more useful.

My old sails were built by North, and are excellent, but last year I replaced the mainsail with a plain vanilla brand mainsail, and it is every bit as fast. North used excellent dacron sailcloth 20+ years ago, but my guess is that modern dacron sailcloth is at least as good as 20 year old North fabric. Time will tell how durable they are.

On both my old North and my new plain vanilla mainsail, I had them built with a racing shelf foot and flattening reef, and highly recommend those options. The shelf foot creates a very deep pocket in the foot of the mainsail, which provides more power in light air, and the flattening reef allows you to eliminate the deep pocket and flatten the foot of the sail very quickly and easily when the wind pipes up. They are not expensive options when you order a new sail, and they are very useful, both for racing and cruising.
09-05-2002 11:15 AM
new sails

OK. The boat has 23 year old sails. The sails are in decent shape for such an advanced age but they are obviously not going to perform as well as they once did. So on my Niagara 26 it is time to replace one sail (I am not a millionaire so I must do one per season at most).

The spinnaker is seldom used and is not declared in my racing inventory so we will skip that.
I only race in club races and only about 10 times per year. I also use the boat for some cruising.
During races I use the #1 on light wind days which is about 70% of races and the #3 on other days.
In Nova Scotia there is a fleet of N26 that race one design with #3 and main only. My boat is not currently in this area but may be at some time (2+ years in future).

With this info which sail should be replaced? I am thinking on the Niagara 26 that the main will produce the biggest improvement. Am I wrong in this?

The next part of the question is about materials. Apparently the genoas and blades can be made with dacron (of various grades), mylar or kevlar within a mere mortal''s price range. I am being told that the mylar and kevlar headsails are far superior to those made of dacron and that they will actually outlast their dacron counterparts as useful sails that can be used for racing. What should be used? Is this a sailmaker trying to sell more product or is there a generally accepted rule used here? Is the laminate/dacron arguement the same for a #3 as it is for a #1? What about mainsails? Do you use these materials in a main?

Finally what about the sailmaker. North Sails is big and offers a good product but there are local sailmakers in both the cruising and racing sails market. Is North any better than a local loft or is it the other way around?

I have had quotes that vary from 1325 thru 1850 to 2200 (Canuck Bucks) for just a mainsail. These are from three different saillofts that all sell quality goods. I am confused and bombarded with information. I am being told by some parties that saving a few dollars will get me poor quality product and that dacron sucks when kevlar is available...

Is there anybody out there that has all the answers????


PS. Routine maintenance like replacing windows, refinishing decks, rebedding keels is far less confusing!

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