How to care for your sails
Tips to help your sails last longer
Unless you’re into serious racing, it’s a fair bet your sails are made from Dacron. Even though Dacron is a fairly robust fabric, it does break down and even a little care and attention will extend the life of your sails considerably.
Here are 7 tips to help you care for your sails.
1. UV protection
If you let it, the sun’s ultra violet radiation will cause more damage to your sails than anything else.
Sailcloth manufacturers add UV stabilisers (usually titanium dioxide) to their cloth when it’s made. Titanium dioxide may add weight and stiffness to the cloth, but it absorbs and blocks UV radiation. However, when this treatment has absorbed as much radiation as it can, or has worn off, it can no longer protect the sailcloth.
Unfortunately there is no way to reapply the treatment and nothing can reverse the damage caused by UV radiation.
For the mainsail, the answer is to flake and cover it at all times or remove it from the boom if you’re not going to use your boat for more than a couple of weeks.
Similarly, for a furling headsail make sure the “sunshield” layer on the front is in good condition before you leave the sail furled for more than a couple of weeks. It’s preferable to remove the headsail and stow it below.
Make sure you wash your sails periodically to remove salt crystals which can act like tiny light prisms increasing UV damage.
They say 5 minutes of flogging or strong luffing can cause more damage to a mainsail than a month of normal use.
Prolonged flogging of a mainsail damages the head of the sail just below the head board due to the shock loads on the sail at this point during flogging. In heavy weather, allowing the main to depower by letting it flog will also damage the leech of the sail.
Damage around the headboard can be reduced by having a full length batten at the top which stiffens the sail at this point. However damage can occur at the outboard and inboard ends of the batten pocket.
It’s good seamanship as well as good economic sense to reef before you get to the point of having to depower the main by letting it flog.
The obvious areas for sail chafe are lifelines, staunchions and spreader tips and most of us apply patches to our sails at these points.
However, if you don’t keep your sails clean, salt crystals will work their way into weave and seams of the sail. The sharp edges of the crystals chafe and cut the filaments of the fabric, effectively chafing and wearing out the entire sail.
Make sure you wash your sails periodically during the season.
4. Take photographs
Before you finish sailing for the season take lots of photos of your sails on all points of sailing and from all angles.
There’s nothing like a photo of a flogging leech or a strange set of wrinkles in the luff to help explain to your sailmaker the problems you’re having with a sail.