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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Seamanship & Navigation
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Seamanship & Navigation Forum devoted to seamanship and navigation topics, including paper and electronic charting tools.


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  #1  
Old 01-03-2012
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My Sails are Old and Baggy

I frequently see boats with newish sails rigged, and old sails stuffed away "in case of emergency". Just today I noticed a thread here in which the poster is asking about a new mainsail and suggesting he would be keeping the old sail for backup.

Is this really a good practice? In my line of work, the backup equipment must be equal or superior to the primary, otherwise a load-related failure would just cascade through.

It seems to me that by far the most likely cause of a damaged sail at sea would be very severe weather. Have any of you ever had a sail damaged for a different reason? If the winds are so high that they destroy a good sail, that backup sail doesn't stand a chance.

Now, I freely admit that I don't have firsthand experience with sail failure, hence my question. Would it not be better to eke the last bits of life out of the old sail under good conditions, keeping the better sail in reserve until the old one reaches its true end of life? Or, alternatively, to purchase two sets of sails and alternate them regularly so they wear at the same rate.

Opinions and war stories, please.
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Old 01-03-2012
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Sails, especially dacron ones, can be functional for long after they have lost their optimal shape. This is more exaggerated for racers, but affects everyone. You would not want to keep using an old stretched out sail, even though it may still be functional, since it will be slower and will hurt your boats pointing ability among other things. Of course if your spreader just punched a hole in your genny, or if some un-taped cotter pine or split ring manages to put a tear in your main, then it might be nice to have a beater around to throw up until you can effect repairs on your new sail. Likewise, racers will often use older sails as delivery sails, thus avoiding putting hours on a sail outside of competition.
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Old 01-03-2012
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When the wind picks up, a good acronym to remember is TROLL:

Temporarily
Reduce
Overall
Luff and
Leech

If you just remember to TROLL (reduce your sail area), you will have no trouble keeping your old sails in good shape so you can keep those new sails untouched in their sails bags where they belong, as pristine as they were 20 years ago when you first bought them, while you proudly fly your old yellers!

I have a feeling you are a natural TROLL-er.
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Old 01-03-2012
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No, not trolling. Just not satisfied with blindly accepting conventional practices.

Yes, I should have specified racing excepted. I fully understand the difference between "everday" and "Sunday best", but that's almost the exact opposite of the model I was questioning.

Yes, I've been accused of being a little bit obsessive about maintenance. Don't like being stranded.
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Old 01-03-2012
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Basically your old sails are only good as a "stop-gap" fix ... otherwise, you'd still be using 'em. I kept mine, so if I'm out, and something happens to either sail, I have a replacement to get me where I'm going.
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Old 01-03-2012
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Especially with woven dacron sails, most sailors simply dont know how to RAISE them and what tensions should be applied by the halyard (and/or cunningham); this leads to 'baggy' sails and a boat that aggressively heels over and is 'cranky'.

Another 'characteristic' of woven dacron sails is that the 3 strand 'boltrope' (inside a sleeve at the luff) typically shrinks/shortens over time and 'usage' .... and all thats needed to 'restore' a bagged-out sail is to simply 'readjust' the boltrope. Sailmakers usually dont like to readjust boltropes, as they would sell far fewer new sails.

Most times a boltrope readjustment and 'proper raising' by the sailor will enable a supposedly 'old' and 'baggy' woven dacron sail to be correctly shaped and longer-lived. Modern 'quality' woven dacron is quite 'robust' and dimensionally stable ... with periodic routine 'boltrope readjustment' such sails can be in service for a VERY long time ... and with good shape too.

Here's a posting from another forum on how to properly raise a boltroped cacron sail .... and how to assay and what to do about it if the boltrope has become 'shrunken'.
How to properly RAISE a woven dacron mainsail - SailboatOwners.com .... see posting #1
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Old 01-03-2012
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We had the 130% jib and the main tear while beating our way through 6-8' Buzzards Bay Chop and 18-24 kt winds on a Sabre 28. We limped into port, and repaired the main with sail tape, and spent the night. The next day was bright & sunny with 3' swells and 10kts. The gentleman whose boat I was crewing on had an old beat up working jib which we used to complete our journey.
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Old 01-03-2012
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The first thing I noticed when I got new sails a few years ago was that the boat healed less for a given wind strength. I wasn't expecting this, but it made perfect sense- the sails were more efficient in driving to windward- more force forward and less sideways.
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Old 01-04-2012
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Just because a sail feels soft to the touch does not necessarily mean it has been stretched out of shape. As has been mentioned above, properly shaping the sail via halyard/cunningham/outhaul/sheet twist, etc. has everything to do with whether a sail is still useful. A perfectly good sail will perform terribly if not set right. There are some very subtle things to be done that drastically improve the way the boat sails. I feel that many sailors leave way too much mainsail up before reefing which leads to many problems, and then incorrectly place blame on the condition of the sail.
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Old 01-04-2012
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Judging when to buy new sails is a lot like judging how long you can keep seafood on ice before eating or tossing it. There is a point where they are fresh and there is no doubt, and there is a point where they are rotten and there is no doubt, and then there is a world of opinion in between.

Every time you use a sail, you take a little of it's life and efficiency away. If you are a racer, and performance means more than savings, you would replace sails frequently. The more hard core a racer you are, the more frequently. Top one design boats use a new set of sails for one regatta, and then replace them. For those racers, 3 days is the useful lifespan of a new set of sails. At the other extreme, I know of a few boats where I sail that are flying 30 year old sails with enough stains and patches to make a hobo blush.

Most of us are somewhere in between those two extremes, and I would encourage everyone to consider that none of us has exclusive hold to the right opinion here.
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