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.
10-27-2011 03:17 PM
Race sails generally have a short competitive life if one wants to be at the top level. Many casual racers will get several seasons out of a sail, and in many cases the sail will still be serviceable, but not top-of-the line fast anymore.
Some of the non-dacron sails have a 'set shape' and do not react to normal tweaks of halyard tension and outhaul the way a conventional dacron sail might so in some respects can be less 'trim-able'...
Most real 'race' sails will not be as durable as a well made 'cruising sail'. Some of the materials used simply break down sooner.
All that said I quite like my 'no longer race worthy' pentex headsail. With no UV cover I remove it from the furler between sails, and appreciate its being half the weight of dacron. Some used race sails can be a great deal for a cruiser when that last nth degree of performance is less important. (I got a great deal on a used J-105 set that only needed jib recutting)
10-27-2011 03:10 PM
Racing Sails Vs. Cruising Sails???
Looking to get some advice on the differences between racing sails vs cruising sails. I know with cars and I am assuming that with boats its the same, you can't increase the performance without a negative impact somewhere else. Usually more performance means lower life or more difficult to use. So when looking at sails and seeing a performance cruising dacron sail vs a kevlar race sail, what other than money is the difference? Kevlar will have less give and be stiffer so it would react quicker to wind, thus faster acceleration, but would it be more difficult to sail? Is sail trim that much more important?