OCC Forums

Sail Repair


By bbalme - 15 Nov 2018

We're capable of doing some basic stitching of sails, but I like to have a professional loft look my sails over after we've put a lot of miles on - and before we put a bunch more on.

This year we'd sailed from the Caribbean to the UK so I took our sails to Steve Goacher, close by Windemere and spent a morning with him and his staff. We looked at the two headsails first - which look to be in reasonable shape and some minor repairs are all that's called for.

Not so much the main! Steve inspected the seams closely and some had clearly begun to fail. Those that hadn't failed, he started to pick at with his thumbnail - and was basically able to break the stitching in many other areas. The cloth itself he felt was in reasonable shape (heavy Dacron).

In the end, I got an estimate to repair the sail, along with some proposals for a new sail altogether...
The repair estimate (£850) is about 25% of the new sail cost in similar material (9.46 Contender Fibrecon). (He also quoted in Hydranet 380 - which adds £2,000 to the bill...)
The current sails are only 5 years old, but have about 25,000 miles on them. They've been in the Caribbean for two winter seasons.
I've never much cared for the mainsail - the batten pockets and boxes are a lightweight design, tensioning the leech line is near impossible, and the sail had to be modified straight out of the box due to excessive roach, so the shape has always been a bit off...

We live on the boat full time and plan to do some pretty serious mileage in the coming years - down to Patagonia and then across the Pacific...

Like most, we're on a budget and a new main was not figured into it!

What would you do? Repair or new?

If new,
Is Goacher a reputable sailmaker?
Should I be getting other quotes - who from??
Thoughts about the two fabrics?

Appreciate your thoughts...
By Dick - 15 Nov 2018

Hi Bill,
You are not happy with the sail. Get a new one. Your boat is your home and it should be how you want it.
Repairs will not fix the design problems that you described, but should make the sail last for another 4+ years. Batten pocket problems can be a real headache and often cause problems (when a poor design) well before the sail gives out. Leach lines need to work, especially as a sail ages. Most sails can be repaired in the field with patience, but batten pockets are often a special challenge and maybe impossible for average cruisers in the field to repair. I would especially lean toward new were I to be planning 1. A lot of upwind sailing or 2. Care more about performance than the average cruiser or 3. Will be going where sail services may be hard to come by. The sailing itinerary you outlined also, to my mind, argues for having a very good sail inventory. Mainsails should always be the first priority in any sail plan.
Too many cruisers (in my estimation) spend years with compromised sails saving some money, but diminishing their pleasure and efficiency when under sail. And, I believe, you have a cruising boat (Outbound 44 ?) that sails well: that argues for good sails also.
I will write about my thoughts/experience with regard to sail clothe/sailmaker choice in the next day or so.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
By bbalme - 16 Nov 2018

Again thanks Dick.

Looking at a new sail - there are many choices to consider and I look forward to your follow-up piece on sailcloth, etc.

My main is 590 Sq Ft, (P=52.5ft, E=19.0ft). Currently made of Challenge 9.62 Dacron.
I don't like the batten boxes and the way the battens are retained at the leech - which has seen many modifications to prevent the battens falling out! The batten boxes themselves are too weak - with an M6 or thereabouts bolt being secured into plastic threads. I have stripped several and keep spares on hand. They also offer no adjustment opportunities.
The leechline is all but impossible to reach.

I would like to fix the batten problems by loading them at the luff - any concerns about this?
I would like to have the leech line brought down the luff

The sailcloth my current loft is looking at is Contender Fibercon 9.46 as a straight replacement.
He is also quoting Hydranet 380 as a premium upgrade (adding 50% to the cost). (Hydranet is a woven polyester with Dyneema strengthening - not a laminate)

He recommends using GORE Tenara thread - (at additional cost) - for it's strength and UV stability.

I've started looking around the various sailing forums about Hydranet - seems there's a discussion about Radial vs Crosscut - so that brings in a whole new dimension - how the sail is actually sewn together...


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edited by bbalme on 11/16/2018
By Dick - 16 Nov 2018

Hi Bill,
My personal considerations: I have a great sailing boat and I like to sail well and not be compromised. I have a feathering prop, I keep the bottom clean and over the years have, by casual observation, been able to sail (and chosen to sail) when others have put on their motor. Part of that is having good sails and I swap a year or so sooner than most. I am also willing to sail in light air as long as I am sailing and I am willing to spend a bit extra to ensure that my primary proplusions system is in good working order.
I had a suit of sails (main, staysail, jib topsail) made from HydraNet Radial (there are different types of HydraNet cloth) in the UK in 2012-3 which we now have used for 6 seasons: one Atlantic crossing and maybe 15,000 miles give or take a couple thousand. My sails are all radially designed/constructed. We chose them for a variety of reasons: I like to sail and I like to sail well so sail shape that lasts was of high priority, I no longer wanted Dacron, but I did want woven sails which dry better than laminate and are less likely to develop mold (and we were the UK where it is often wet or damp for long periods). More important a few friends who were maybe more particular than I and do better research had been using HNR for a couple of years and were very happy. As said, I did not want Dacron as its shape becomes more compromised than I would like too quickly, way before the sail “wears out” so to say. I have had laminates and found their shape great, and they lasted well, but did develop mold near the seams (just cosmetic but a bit yucky) and looked a bit ratty with age. At this point (6 seasons), the HydraNet looks likely to outlast the laminate sails I had in the past. By this time, with Dacron sails, I would already be starting to be dis-satisfied with the shape of Dacron sails (although they would have a couple years left in them) and the laminate would already be looking a bit ratty. This longevity might, in the longer run, mitigate some of the added expense of HydraNet. We shall see.
My friends, all long-distance cruisers, who bought HNR sails a couple years before me are still using theirs and have been very happy as well. Our sails still look close to brand new and show no cloth fatigue at all. They have needed no repair. Their one drawback is that very little sticks to the cloth which makes them harder to repair. I have some very aggressive double-sided seam tape, but, unlike my old laminate sails which I could fix with sticky back and sew later, HydraNet will need to be sewn right away for the repair to last.
Come back with questions/comments,
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
Ps. I used John Parker at Parker and Kay Sailmakers, part of the One Sails Group, who are in Suffolk Yacht Harbor on the River Orwell. He designed and built a great set of sails for Alchemy.
By bbalme - 16 Nov 2018

[color=#365899]Posted on behalf of Anne Lloyd[/color]
[color=#365899]I would definitely pay for the solar resistant thread. On our circumnavigation the treads on the seams gave out before the cloth[/color]
[color=#365899]Hydranet is pretty tough especially good on radial cut. We have the original staysail still going strong which was on board when we bought the boat in 2013. We have not yet used our new in 2014?dacron replacement. However it begins to look rather grey and dirty after a while so you may hate it long before it wears out[/color]
[color=#365899]Our previous experience with battcars was good so cannot comment on that.[/color]
By Dick - 16 Nov 2018

Hi Bill,
My thoughts on your questions:
Assuming a fully battened main. The batten pockets are a design issue: if you are having trouble loading from the leach, another pocket retaining design will likely solve the issue. My battens (5 full length) go in from the leach and I consider the design bulletproof and it has proven to be so. Loading from the luff would be a challenging incorporating the batten box/car and then having the tension be adjustable.
The thread is, I believe, a Gore-Tex product and is/was (it has been 6 years since I researched this) the best choice for sail building. If he has experience with this thread, he has probably been making high end sails as not all machines/needles (if memory serves) can tolerate the abrasiveness of this thread and sailmakers must upgrade to use it.
I am surprised that HydraNet kicks the cost up 50%. I do not remember that differential from 2012.
Leach tension lines dead ended at the boom end are often hard or impossible to get to. My leach line is adjustable both from the gooseneck and from the boom end (and the end of each reef clew) through the use of a small turning block at the head of the sail.
I would always want full length battens to be adjustable as to their tension along the sail, usually a screw at the batten box.
My best, Dick
By Dick - 16 Nov 2018

Hi all,
I also have a few thoughts on UV damage.
I would venture a guess that most UV damage does NOT occur when sailing and the thread/sails are exposed to sunlight. It is those days, weeks, and months at anchor or in a marina where the sails are covered with Sunbrella that the damage occurs. Sunbrella allows UV through its cloth and allows more UV through every year it is exposed: it deteriorates in UV and the older it is, the more UV it allows through. Take a piece of old Sunbrella that has been in the tropics for a few seasons and hold it up to look at the sun through it.
This is one reason (among a few) that I look askance at the permanent mainsail covers (side panels & zipped at top) that are so common nowadays. They are exposed to sun when sailing and at anchor and just deteriorate all the sooner.
My mainsail cover is of vinylized Sunbrella (apparently now made by a separate company that takes Sunbrella and adds the vinyl). It is bulkier for sure, but is completely opaque to sunlight and in addition, is completely waterproof, a bonus that was particularly appreciated when in the wetter regions of the world. (Older Sunbrella is not waterproof either: water treatments only go so far with older cloth).
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
By simoncurrin - 19 Nov 2018

We store our main in our mast and so are guaranteed 100% UV protection but it seems odd that [font=sans-serif]Sunbrella make a sail cover that doesn't protect against uv. A quick google suggests that it provides "98% protection in shade applications". I wonder why they are content with 98%?[/font]
By Dick - 19 Nov 2018

Hi Simon,
Yes, for sure, in the pros and cons of in-mast furled mainsails, UV protection is certainly to be listed on the pro side (and yes, the clew area is usually left exposed but it is usually overbuilt, small in size and easily inspected).
And, I consider 98% to be just fine. I suspect that the only way to up the UV protection on a woven material is to bulk it up: make it thicker. And Sunbrella, like any woven material I am aware of, is notable thinner and less robust after a few years in the tropical sun and that its UV protection is far below 98%.
My first introduction to Sunbrella’s lack of UV protection (and in the following I am also referring to waterproofness) over time was in (I believe) Dan Neri’s “Sail Care and Repair”. He gives examples. I would confirm this and give quotes, but the book is on the boat and I am not. Since then, I have had conversations with sailmakers and canvas people confirming this occurrence and, my sailmaker in the US joked that it was a sailmaker’s best kept secret.
I suspect that Sunbrella approaches opaque-ness when right out of the box (the 98% you referred to), but as it itself is exposed to UV, its capabilities to protect what is below from UV damage deteriorates. I tried to determine the rate of deterioration by calling Sunbrella a few years back, but was unable to get any real data from them, although I assume they must have testing data. A call to Sailrite at that time, confirmed that deterioration occurs, but no-one seemed to have a clue how rapidly one should be concerned (clearly those who sail nearer the equator have more to be concerned about than those who sail in higher lats).
Just from casual observation on my bimini, I felt the material to be significantly compromised as to UV protection after 3-4 years in the Med or Carib conditions where it was up most of the time. Enough so, although still OK as a bimini and the material was still in good shape, I would not think it acceptable as a mainsail cover for UV protection any longer. Conventionally stored sails and stitching always have their top trailing edge exposed (on top) when furled and even a slight deterioration over time can affect the stitching and that top exposed area.
Now, do not get me wrong, Sunbrella is still the best or at least equal to its competitors from what I can discern. But I believe it is wrong to assume that, if the material is still intact, that it still has full UV protection properties. And, I believe that yearly (twice yearly if full time in the tropics) dousing in Aerospace 303 will help. Some I know have doubled up the Sunbrella layer on the top of their mainsail cover and I am sure that makes a huge difference. As said earlier, we used a vinylized Sunbrella to achieve opaque-ness. Both make for a bulkier cover, but we deemed it worth it.
Sunbrella has also come out with a new product, Sunbrella Plus which seems to address the above concerns without going so far as saying they are addressing the above concerns. It is regular Sunbrella with a urethane backing. I am building my new mainsail cover of this material mostly to have a little less bulk to deal with and a bit easier time putting the cover on (a bit of geriatric-ication if you will). I plan to use Aerospace 303 at least yearly and keep an eye on how easy it is for light to get through (an old-fashioned camera light meter would be perfect for this, especially if you got a baseline when new). And, if I feel it is deteriorating more than expected, an extra interior layer can be added later.
Just an FYI, my old mainsail cover of vinylized Sunbrella lasted 13 years, 8 of them in the Carib or in the Med. The opaque-ness was still intact (the vinyl was still good in that respect) but the Sunbrella was quite ratty (the Sunbrella was on top) and it had been re-stitched numerous times.
Cruisers are always (and laudably so) looking for ways to make things last and to stretch their dollar/pound etc. But, too many of us, in my estimation, are penny wise and pound foolish in this area.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
By bbalme - 26 Nov 2018

In the end, we've decided to repair the old sail - and make some improvements... They will re-stitch the sail (the sailcloth Challenge Marblehead) is good, they'll upgrade the batten boxes to ones that are much stronger - and adjustable - and they'll install an overhead leech line so that I can actually adjust the leech line - without stepping on tippy toes with a boat hook!

Expensive? Yes! but less than a quarter the price of what I'd otherwise buy! Hopefully they'll get us to New Zealand where perhaps we'll spring for new!
By Dick - 27 Nov 2018

Hi Bill, Always good to have a decision made. Dick