Sometimes, you just have a hole in your sail inventory that needs to be filled. Whether it’s a blown sail that you can’t repair, a gap in your wind range, or you’re just doing something new, you’ve got to make some changes. But when does a used sail make more sense than a new one?
New sails will always fit your boat perfectly, and for competitive racers, there’s no substitute for major regattas. You need that perfect shape and top speed.
They also make sense when you’re buying your sails for the next several years of long distance cruising, since you want to know that they fit properly and they will last as you cover thousands of miles of ocean.
But there are drawbacks to new sails. The first is obviously the expense. New sails are much more expensive than used, and you may not want to spend that much. Or you may need to stretch your budget to get more than one sail. And you may not want to spend brand new sail dollars on a sail you know may get abused, or where performance doesn’t matter so much.
The second drawback is timing and availability. Except for the smallest boats and a few larger one design classes, new sails are a mostly custom product. If you’re ordering in the fall, your sailmaker loves you because time doesn’t matter. But if you call up looking for a new sail in the peak season? That can take a while to order, cut, and build, and you may not have that time if you’re replacing a critical piece of your inventory for an event right around the corner.
So it may make sense to look at used.
Scenarios for Used Sails
The primary advantages of used sails are price and availability – the sail already exists, and it costs a sometimes significant amount less than a new sail. Sometimes, having an older sail is much better than no sail at all.
Of course, there are drawbacks. You may not really know the shape of a new sail until you fly it, so there’s a risk that it’s not what you expected. It may not fit exactly and need alterations. Or it may have unexpected wear and aging. And because it is used, it already has some of its life gone, and will not last as long as a new sail.
And sometimes, that doesn’t matter. There are many scenarios where the advantages outweigh the risks and that used sail makes sense.
In the heat of the racing schedule in season, the unexpected loss of a sail from your inventory can cripple your boat. Accidents happen, and sometimes a sail is too shredded to fix. Or to get fixed quickly. If you’ve got a big event or even a weekend regatta on the near horizon, you need a replacement.
If you blow out a sail on a weekend regatta, you can sometimes get a used replacement express shipped to you in time for the next weekend. This is especially true for one design boats, there are many used sails that should fit your boat with no modification.
So when you absolutely can not get a new sail made in time, a used sail can keep you on the water even if it’s not as crisp.
The Little Used Wind-Range Gap
Summer racers in the San Juan islands or on Long Island Sound rarely have need of a bulletproof blade jib, just as San Francisco Bay sailors hardly ever break out a light #1 Genoa. But boy, are they handy and fast when you need them.
But if you expect to need a sail once in hardly ever, do you really want to break out a full retail, new sail sized pile of cash on it? That’s a lot of money for a sail you may not even see once a season.
For a fraction of the price, you can cover that little used wind range with a quality used sail.
There’s no sense in putting wear on racing sails just to get your boat to a regatta, but an inexpensive suit of used sails will get you there just fine. You just don’t need a new cruising sail to move your boat up and down the coast between events.
A delivery sail needs enough shape so you can trim it to keep the boat moving, but there are better ways to spend your sail money.
Do you really want your crew learning a new spinnaker takedown with your primary racing chute? Nothing shortens a spinnaker’s life like getting sucked into the rig during a blown practice takedown, or wrapped under the boat.
A good quality set of used sails can be crisp enough to get the boat feeling close to regatta trim, while still giving your crew something to work out with. You’ll be more comfortable putting new tacks on older sails while they get batter and learn new things.
And for race teams just learning the ropes with a lot of beginners? Don’t even worry about nice used sails, just make sure you have a practice set. And an extra spinnaker…
Used Club Racing Sails
There two ways used sails can make a difference in club racing, and that depends on how you approach club races. Some programs use club races to keep crew sharp between events, but the club racing isn’t the pinnacle of the season. In that case, a suit of good, used sails just for club racing will keep it a competitive and beneficial competition, but not put hours and wear on the prime regatta sails.
And for boats looking to get into club racing, a used sail inventory lowers the entry cost for a competitive boat. When you race on your weekend cruising sails, you quickly learn they aren’t as shapely as you thought. But a spending thousands on new sails for club racing isn’t in everyone’s plans, especially if you’re not sure how committed you are. A few used sails can turn that racing from frustrating to fun without breaking the bank.
No matter the application, we’re always looking to save a few dollars. A good quality used sail can still have seasons of useful life in it, and is a way to keep having fun on the water without over spending.
When you look for a used sail, check both fit and condition. If you’ve got a one-design boat, then fit is less of a concern. But if you don’t, keep an eye on measurements. Talk to a sailmaker and give them the details of your prospective used sail to get a quit on any refits you may need to get it to size.
But for any sail purchase with a limited horizon, it’s worth considering a used sail.