Learn to Sail Like a Pro – Seven Ways to Add New Life to Your Costly Sailboat Sails

It can be a harrowing experience to watch a mainsail rip across a seam from luff to leech while sailing down a narrow channel in a 25 knot breeze. That happened to me a few years back, and it proved to be a real “wake-up” call. Here are some little-known sailing tips, guaranteed to save you big money in costly mainsail and Genoa repair and replacements costs!

These days, the mainsail often gets left on the boat, lashed to the boom, and covered with a sail cover. The Genoa or jib stay rolled up like a window shade.

This may be convenient, but there’s no way you can inspect a sailboat sail for damage, the stitching for wear, or the sailing hardware for integrity–unless you remove them from the boat.

At least once every sailing season, pull the mainsail and headsail off your boat and inspect them from head to toe (or foot–that is!).Follow these easy steps:

Inspect Stitching From Head to Foot

Look over every inch of zigzag and straight sewing stitches for wear or chafe. Concentrate along sail edges, like the luff and leech, where sail loads are greatest..

* Mainsails:
Mark worn areas with a pencil. Check across each sail seam for broken stitching. Look next to each slide or slug on the luff and foot. Sailing hardware causes extra tension on the sailcloth and can lead to worn, weakened fabric.

* Headsails:
Look for chafed areas along the foot. With roller furling headsails, inspect all along the luff. With snap-on headsails, look around the area of each piston-hank for wearing. Circle worn areas with a pencil and repair to increase sail life.

Wash Salt and Dirt from Your Sails

Salt and dirt grind on sail seams like a mini nail-file on a fingernail. Remove these particles and you will extend sail life. Bathe your sails once a season in a mild solution of water and mild, non-bleach soap. This keeps stitching strong and flexible.

Keep Sails Dry as a Bone!

Make sure you dry sails before you cover or bag them. Otherwise, mildew will grow in wet areas. If your sails have mildew spots, brush the spore with a medium stiff brush to loosen the spore. Dacron sails can be soaked in a 1% solution of Clorox and water for 3 hours. Never use bleach on nylon spinnaker sails; it could eat through the sail cloth!

Protect Resin Coated Sails

Remove your sails and fold them at the end of the sailing season. This protects the surface coating. Most cruising boat sails use some resin on the surface to help the sail keep her shape. But this coating breaks down without care.

* Cruising mainsails:
Dry the sail; then flake it over the sailboat boom. Cover with a sail cover.

* Cruising Headsails:
Dry and fold the sail accordion-style. Then, bag the sail on deck or stow below.

* Racing sails

Mylar or high-tech sailcloth should not be folded because this can lead to permanent “memory creases”. Instead, stow these sails flat or roll them like a cigar from head to foot.

Make Batten Wear Your #1 Attack Point

Battens wear like the dickens in their pockets as the mainsail vibrates and flogs in a breeze, or when hoisting or lowering. Inspect each batten pocket all around the perimeter for worn stitches. Test the elastic in the pocket bottom. Just like the elastic in underwear, it tends to blow out after time. And this will cause accelerated wear.

Have your sailmaker reinforce each pocket with an additional row of stitching. Replace elastic in the pocket. If you use full length battens, inspect batten hardware at the luff. Before bagging a mainsail, be sure to remove battens to prevent punctures.

Check Sail Attachment Hardware

Sail hardware causes a “hard spot” on the sailcloth. This can lead to lots of tension and stress at that point on the sail. Catch and replace broken, chipped or worn hardware because this can cause unexpected failure that results in a rip across the sail

* Mainsails:
Check headboard, tack and clew rings. Then check luff slugs and slides for cracks, missing shackles or deformity. Don’t hoist the mainsail until you have replaced damaged hardware.

* Roller Furling headsails:
Inspect head and tack thimbles, and clew rings for wear or chafe. Remove the sail from the headstay extrusion to check for luff chafe. Repair worn areas right away to prevent further damage.

* Hank-on headsails:
Look for chafe in the corners and then inspect piston snaps and grommets. Lubricate corroded piston snaps with a drop of light machine oil. Work the piston in and out to free it of corrosion.

Replace Sacrificial Furling Sail Covers

The extra cloth that your sailmaker sews along the leech of a furling headsail protects the rolled sail against the ravages of UV sunlight. But, like any sailcloth, it deteriorates, stitching wears, and the cloth becomes weak and porous.

When you see these signs on your furling sail cover, have your sailmaker remove the old cover and install a fresh one. This will protect your costly headsail from damage and extend it’s life by many years.

Use these seven super sailing tips to learn to sail like a pro and keep your sailboat sails in tip top shape. You will save lots of money in repair and replacement costs and enjoy sailing with the same suit of sails for many years to come.

Sailing Beginner Terms – Sails

In this article of sailing beginner, I am going to be discussing sailing terms associated with sails. In general there are three general types of sails known as the Mainsail, Jib, and the Spinnaker used for downwind sailing. The main sail is typically triangular in shape and the top of the sail is known as the head where the halyard rope is attached for raising it up on the mast. The bottom of the sail is known as the Foot.

The Tack is where the sail is attached to the boom and is located on the bottom luff side of the mainsail or the side closest to the mast. The Clew is where the sail is attached to the boom and is located on the bottom leech side of the mainsail on the opposite end of the mast. As mentioned the Luff is on the mast side of the mainsail and runs the length of it. The Leech is the opposite side of the mainsail and runs the entire length from the bottom or the foot to the head or top of the sail.

Although there are various kinds of sails, the mainsail is the workhorse of them all. It allows the sailing boat the ability to sail up or down wind. With that said, as a sailing beginner, you may want to use just the mainsail initially when tacking upwind. Otherwise it can be overwhelming to control two sails at once especially in high winds! The mainsail can also be reefed in high winds, which is nothing more than reducing the area of the sail. More about reefing in my next article. So in essence the mainsail is the most versatile of the three general types of sails because it can be used in all sailing applications, techniques, and adverse weather conditions.

The next type of sail used is known as a Jib and this is what I have on my Renken pocket cruiser. Jibs are located in front of the mast, triangular in shape, and are the main source of propulsion when going upwind or sailing into the wind. The Genoa is similar to the jib, but overlaps the mainsail when in place, unlike the jib’s leech side that remains in front of the mainsail. The Gennaker is a hybrid of both the genoa and a spinnaker that was developed in the 1990′s and is used primarily for racing. Most common of the three are jibs and most likely as a sailing beginner, it’s most likely the sail you will use of the available headsails.

Also as a word of caution, please be careful using the jib when sailing in high winds, especially if you are sailing perpendicular to the wind. Just recently while sailing, I was deceived into thinking that the wind was not all that bad and raised my jib sail while sailing downwind. It was smooth sailing up to that point until I was forced to make a starboard turn because I had to navigate around a point of land on my port side. I steered my sailing vessel into a port jibe or gybe, and all of the sudden a gust of wind of over 15 knots hit me so hard that I was just short of taking in water on my port side.

At this point, my adrenaline put me into high gear and I put as much of my weight on the starboard side almost sitting directly on the side of the boat, and was contemplating on jumping on the keel if I was able. It was either that or jump ship!

In this case, I made the split decision to stay aboard. So with my hands white knuckled to the tiller pushed away from me, I was able to counteract the force of the wind and upright my boat. Mind you this is a 1,200 pound sailboat with a keel that weighs over 400 pounds! And I was single-handed sailing that day, but I was able with much difficulty to retrieve the jib while I had my Renken in irons while in the middle of the lake.

The last most commonly used of the three general types of sails is the spinnaker. The Spinnaker also called the Kite or Chute is used for sailing downwind or when the wind is behind you. Much like a parachute, the spinnaker fills up with air and creates a maximum amount of lift, thus propelling the sailing boat forward while going downwind. Since a spinnaker can be twice the size of the mainsail, it takes more effort to raise and to retrieve it. I hope that this gives you a general idea of the sailing basics associated with sails. In my next article, I will discuss reefing. Happy Sailing!

Join me and learn how to sail. I bought the sailboat first, then learned how to sail. So I was on my own as to how to rig the sailing boat, and of course just how to sail it as well. But with great determination salted with a little stubbornness, I was able to learn how to sail. It was fantastic feeling the first day and every time I go sailing. Fortunately, to give me a kick start I just happened to have a sailing