If you are like me, you probably like to get as much utility out of your sails as possible before replacing them. But like anything on a sailboat, sails eventually wear out and need to be repaired or replaced. After all, the ocean is a harsh environment that can wreak havoc on even the best constructed sails. Depending on the level of use, the construction of the sail, and the environment where you sail, a set of sails can last anywhere from a couple years to more than a decade. In this article, we are going to cover some of the most common problems with used sails and what you can do to solve them.
Shrunken Luff Cord
The luff cord is the line that runs along the leading edge of the sail. Sails rely on the luff cord to be able to hold a full shape and to properly distribute loads throughout the sail. Unfortunately, one of the more common issues in older sails is that the luff cord shrinks over time. Sailmakers have experimented with building luff cords out of longer lasting and more resistant materials, such as North Sails’ Helix luff cord, which results in a longer lasting and better shaped sail, and ultimately better sailing performance. If the luff cord on your sail has shrunk to the point where it is no longer usable, the best course of action is to replace the cord with a new one.
Delamination of the Sails
Many sailors now choose to invest in laminated sails, especially those who are looking for improved performance and speed on the water. Generally speaking, laminated sails tend to hold up quite well to a certain level of abuse. That said, with laminated sails it’s especially important to take the sails down and make repairs at the first sign of delamination, since the damage can get worse fast, especially at sea. The yarn layout and construction on a laminated sail is more delicate than with traditional canvas, and even a small tear can spread rapidly. When it comes to small tears, it’s often easiest to use ultrabond patches to repair the damaged area and prevent it from spreading. This technique is fast and easy because no sewing is required. If the yarns in the sail are fully severed, then you’ll likely need to use new cloth of the same style and weight to make a proper repair. For more significant delamination, you’ll need to use a needle and thread to sew on patches or bring the sail in to your sailmaker for a reliable fix.
Leech gets Hooked on Genoa
On older used sails, you may notice that the leech on the genoa sometimes has a habit of curling. This issue could be caused by two potential issues. One cause for a hooked leech is that the leech line was overtightened. To solve this, slack the leech line completely and then tighten it in small increments until just before it curls again. If this doesn’t solve the issue, then it’s possible that the headsail is old and stretched. When the sail cloth that is forward of the leech stretches more than the leech itself, the sail needs to be taken down and fixed by a sailmaker.
Another common issue for used sails is broken battens. Most mainsails and many racing jibs rely on battens in order to hold a proper shape and limit flogging in light winds. When the sails flap violently and hit the mast or rigging, the battens can be broken, especially with older sails that use wooden battens. The good news is that this is usually an easy fix. Just drop the sail and remove the batten from its pocket. On some sails you can slide the batten out without cutting the sail, while on others where the batten is permanently attached to the sail you may have to cut the edge of the pocket to remove the batten. In some cases, the batten can be fixed with a stint, but if it’s broken in multiple places, you’ll probably have to replace the entire batten. I often sail with an extra batten or two so that I can quickly replace any that break. Fortunately, most newer battens are built out of durable materials that are much less likely to be damaged.
Chaffing on Sails
If you sail a lot, you’re probably very familiar with dealing with chaffing, especially if you complete a lot of offshore passages. Most sails rub on the spreaders or the rigging over the course of a voyage, and over time it wears out the sail. It’s important to regularly inspect the sails so that you can notice parts of the sail that are subject to chaffing and apply patches right away. If you stick on a sail patch or sew extra material to each part of the sail where chafing occurs, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to extend the life of your sails by several years.
UV Cover Peels Off
One of the most common issues with roller furling sails is when the UV protective cover peels off. This part of the sail is often left out in the sun even when the sails are furled, so it breaks down over time. This UV cover protects the rest of the sail from suffering sun damage, but since it spends much more time exposed than the rest of the sail, it may need to be repaired or replaced much sooner than the rest of the sail. One way to minimize damage is to take your sails down and put them away when you won’t be sailing for a few weeks. If you find part of the UV cover peeling off, you may be able to simply sew it back into place, but if the damage is significant, you’ll probably want to consider replacing the entire UV cover. This can be done either at home or by a professional sailmaker.
I often have to sail on a limited budget, so I’ve relied on used sails to get out on the water as much as possible. Used sails do eventually wear out and suffer problems, but by taking proper care of them and staying ahead of any damage, you can keep your older sails flying for many years to come.