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Old 06-24-2008
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IMHO, if you are serious about getting new sails for your boat, you should speak to a number of sailmakers in your area. Tell them what you are looking for, the type of boat you have, sailing you do, etc. They will make suggestions on type of sail.

When I was looking to buy new sails for my Newport 28, the sailmaker I ended up with (UK in City Island) suggested a laminate headsail and a dacron main. For that boat, the headsail provides most of the power, the main does not. The laminate headsail would work better in light air and be strong enough to handle heavy wind (especially when rolled up from a 140 to a 110). There are many different kinds of laminated sails, some that can be rolled, furled, reefed, etc. and others that can't. UK makes 'cruising' and 'racing' laminates. They use different material for them.

Regarding lifetime, my understanding is that while a Dacron sail has a longer lifetime than a laminate sail, the laminate sail will hold it's shape much longer than a dacron sail, so in reality, the laminate sail may provide a longer life instead of letting you sail around with a sail that is all blown out and baggy.

FYI, on my current boat, an O'day 35, the same UK loft that sold me the laminate sail for my Newport did not suggest a laminate headsail for the O'day. For the type of sailing I plan on doing, the type of boat I have, and the cost, the salesman said that a dacron headsail would be a better choice.

All I can say at this time, is that the new headsail (dacron), combined with a fresh boat bottom, has made my boat work like a totally new boat.

Barry Lenoble
Deep Blue C, 2002 C&C 110
Mt. Sinai, NY

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Old 06-24-2008
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Laminated sails are not significantly faster than good quality dacron sails in normal winds (between about 7-15 knots). Within that windspeed range, the lighter weight of laminated sails is not a significant advantage, and their resistance to stretch is not a significant advantage (because the wind isn't strong enough to cause dacron sails to stretch very much).

Laminates are usually faster in light air, because the light breezes are not strong enough to lift the heavier dacron sailcloth. The dacron sails will hang limp like a sheet on a clothesline. Laminates will lift more easily into the shape that generates power and drives the boat. If you carry extra crew, so that you can use their weight to make the boat heel, dacron sails will fill, and hold their shape well in lighter air, notwithstanding their greater weight.

Laminates are also faster in strong winds. As the windstrength increases, dacron sailcloth stretches, forming a deeper pocket at a time when you need less power. You can correct for the stretch by constantly re-trimming the dacron sails with every puff. In a puff, you increase the tension on the jibsheet. By doing so, the sail becomes flatter. When the puff subsides, you ease the tension on the jibsheet slightly. It requires a lot of effort to do that, but the dacron sails will remain competitive with laminated sails over a slightly greater range of windspeeds.

To summarize, and answer your specific question, with laminated sails you get a sail that lifts and takes it's shape in lighter air, enabling the boat to keep moving when heavier dacron sails are hanging limp. You also get a sail that doesn't stretch as much in strong winds, thereby retaining it's most efficient shape. In normal winds, between about 7-15 knots, you're not getting any significant advantage. In those moderate winds, the lighter weight and reduced stretchiness of laminated sails aren't significant benefits over dacron sails. In light air and in stronger winds, you can make your dacron sails much more competitive with laminated sails by moving your crew weight properly and by aggressively re-trimming your sails.

Last edited by Sailormon6; 06-24-2008 at 11:48 AM.
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Old 06-24-2008
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Medsailor, I think the problme comes back to the fact that laminated sails are inherently DIFFERENT and they require special handling to avoid damage. You don't flake a laminate mail to stow it on the boom, you drop it and ROLL IT. And then store the sausage roll, without folding it. That can get underfoot on a cruising boat. Ditto for any headsails, you roll--not fold--because folding breaks high tech fibers and encourages delimination as well.

What you are asking is a bit like asking "Well, why can't I take my Ferrari off road?" and the answer is, you'll break it. A Jeep is faster. Offroad.

Now, if you can deal with the special handling, and don't mind giving over your cabin or decks to rolls of sails--the way racers do--that's something else again. But I don't think any of the major lofts expect (or warranty) their laminate products for the same length of time as their "offshore" crusiing sails, which speaks ot the long-term durability of them.

Laminated sails should also--in theory--be able to be "tuned", built in three dimensions, with a more tightly controlled shape. So the sail shape (depth & max draft position) should be better controlled for specific wind ranges as well. But of course, that also means more sails, more sail changes, and more sausage rolls underfoot. Step on a laminated high-tech sail, and you'll REALLY hear the skipper yell. And don't even think about sleeping on it.
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Old 06-25-2008
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I happened to pick up my main from my local loft and raised the topic of this thread. He is a very experienced sailor and I think he makes a terrific sail. Many of the comments on the board were supported by him.

He was pushing the benefit of Dacron. A well made dacron sail can be tuned a laminate "is what it is" so "you better hope the sailmaker got it right". You can ruin a laminate sail by trying to change it's shape through halyard tension, outhaul, cunningham, etc.

It was his contention that for those of us doing the beer can races with a limited sail inventory, Darcron is the superior choice.

He recounted a story from some years ago. He was on the boat that had just won the Larchmont race week. He built the sails for the boat. As they were tooling around the harbor, the skipper of the boat was drooling over the laminate sails of a competitor. The skipper expressed his envy and then had to be reminded who won the thing!

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