Choosing Our Sails

This page is intended to explain how we came to choose the sailmaker, materials and cut of the sails for the new boat.

Its an area that certainly requires some knowledge because of the vast choice of cloth, sail types and cut, so we first asked Discovery, and coupled their answers with a local sail-maker with an enviable reputation.

Our boat comes standard with a double headed (Solent) rig, inmast furling and swept back spreaders: which, overall, we liked and wanted to keep so here are the questions we asked to help us choose the sails for our cruising agenda with a crew of 2.

The answers are mainly from the sail maker we chose, Peter Sanders in Lymington who come with great reccomendation and reputation, plus input from the Discovery team and our own previous good experience with 8 different sails from a delta riding sail through to a furling code zero.

  1. What is the best Sailcloth material for an offshore cruising boat?
    • Offshore cruising sails should have the following features: Good resistance to chafe, Good resistance to UV degradation, Durability, Low stretch and the ability to be repaired in places that may not have a fully equipped sail loft. For me this means that the best fabric for most offshore cruising yachts is a “woven one” as opposed to a laminate. As a Sailmaker it is easier to sell something that is perceived to be “modern, fashionable and cutting edge” rather than something that is considered to be “old fashioned” but because it is woven does not mean that it is “low tech”. The woven fabrics that we most commonly use for our offshore cruising sails are nothing like the “terylene” that was first used in sails in the 50’s; developments in the weaving techniques have resulted in “hybrid” fabrics that are not only durable due to their “bulk” but are also low stretch due to the incorporation of a high modulus yarn such as “Vectran” or “Dyneema”. Introducing these yarns increases the stretch resistance of the fabric significantly, making it possible to use a single ply woven fabric where in the past we have had to consider “2 plying cloth” or even selecting a laminate.
  2. Should I have Tri/Bi radial or cross cut sails and should they all be the same?
    • To answer this question I have assumed that woven fabrics are being selected rather than a laminate. When weaving fabric it is easy to achieve a straight tight weft (across the width of the cloth) yarn but it is very hard to achieve a similar quality of warp (along the length of the cloth) yarn which is why the majority of woven fabrics should only be used in a sail with a “Crosscut” panel layout. This is particularly true if the sail is “high aspect” because this means that the loads will be very vertical requiring the best resistance to stretch in this direction; however; if a sail is “low aspect” the loads are not vertical they are directed more towards the centre of the sail which means that either a crosscut fabric with a very good bias (bias stretch is never really good) or better still a tri-radially cut sail would be better. It is impossible to have a woven sailcloth that is as good on the warp as it is on the weft (or visa versa) therefore it makes sense to use different materials as this means that you will be using the correct cloth for the aspect ratio of the sail. A good example of this is the sailplan on your Southerly 480; the Mainsail and self tacker are both high aspect ratio therefore a crosscut panel layout using a weft orientated cloth is the best choice and because the Genoa is low aspect ratio a tri-radial panel layout using a warp orientated cloth would be preferable.
  3. The boat comes as standard with in-mast furling, should I have full part or no battens?
    • There are three styles of “in mast” mainsail: a) Battenless:   hollow leech with no battens, b) Short battens:   Straight leech with short vertical battens, c) Maxiroach (Fat Furl):   Positive roach with full length vertical battens. Before deciding on the best choice for your sailing make sure that the mast is capable of accepting all the options because some have such a small “gap” in the section that jamming is common. Luckily the Discovery/Southerly range of yachts all use Selden Masts which do have a suitably large gap therefore the choice is not affected by this. The Battenless option is the “safe” option because there is no chance of a “sail jam” caused by the battens; however; it is not as cosmetically pleasing to look at and the leech can become quite “hooked”. The short vertical battens are probably the most popular because there is little chance of a “jam” and it is more cosmetically pleasing than the “hollowed leech”. The Maxiroach (Fat Furl) has become more popular now that the method of “batten fitting” has been refined. It does provide you with almost the same area sail as you would have with a conventional mainsail and (if the battens remain at the correct angle) it will roll neatly into the mast. We do sell a lot of these sails and I do like them; however; if a customer has long distance aspirations I would probably recommend the “short battens” because damage to the battens on the Maxiroach/Fatfurl sail could make it unusable whilst this would not be true of the “short battened” alternative.
  4. I’m nervous about the sail jamming in the furling mast, can the sails be made to help avoid jams?
    • If the sail is well made it will not normally be the cause of a “jam”; the normal cause is “improper use of the furling system”. The best way to avoid this problem is to listen carefully to the instruction given at the “handover”. With an electric/hydraulic furler in the Mast and/or an electric winch there is potential to do considerable damage to the sail and also to create a “jam”. I recommend that suitable time is reserved for this discipline.
  5. How long will the sails last before they need renewing?
    • This is a very hard question to answer because it obviously depends on the material that they are made from and the use and abuse that they receive. Generally “in mast” mainsails will not last as long as conventional Mainsails because they have to be “less bulky” to fit in the mast.
  6. How will they fail, ie slow degradation or BANG?
    • Woven sailcloth stretches with age therefore before it fails you will notice a reduction in performance, pointing and neatness of furling. If you continue to use the sails in this condition the cloth will eventually tear in the area that has been highest loaded or most UV degraded. This tear is not often terminal making it possible to achieve a temporary repair prior to replacement. Laminate sails are different; because the yarns are not crimped (bent) they do not have the same issue with stretch that is found with woven sailcloth. This means that a laminated sailcloth will hold a better sail shape than a woven one and the initial shape will be maintained for longer; however; when the cloth fails it is normally catastrophic.
  7. I’ve seen Sunbrella fabric used for UV protection is this a good choice
    • Sunbrella is just a trade name for an acrylic canvas that was originally made in America but has now been purchased by a French company. Any good quality acrylic canvas has excellent UV resistance and is therefore a very good choice; however; it is rather heavy. For this reason there is now a lighter alternative called “Weathermax”; it has the same UV resistance as the acrylic canvas whilst being a third lighter. It does not matter which of these fabrics you choose but what does matter is that the Sailmaker should stitch the Sunstrip onto the sail with UV resistant thread like “TENARA” because ordinary stitching will not last.
  8. Are there any “extras” over a standard sail that I should consider?
    • With a good quality brand the standard sails will normally be very good. If there is a better woven sailcloth option (like the new Nautosphere Voyager) then do consider it but do not be tempted by “fashion over function”.
  9. The boat will have swept back spreaders what can be done to offset chafe?
    • Chafe is the number 1 killer for sails on offshore cruising boats and this is especially true of “in mast mainsails”. It is better to look at the “cause” of the chafe rather than the “effect” of it therefore: a) Fit soft padding on the spreader ends; b) try to avoid sailing dead downwind (if possible); c) Always keep the boom off the standing rigging; d) Fit a lightweight chafe patch on the Mainsail where it touches the spreaders; e) If sailing downwind for a long period (transatlantic) do not use the mainsail; furl it away and consider twin headsails instead.
  10. I won’t be carrying storm sails, will the normal main and self-tacking jib be OK well reefed?
    • Mainsail: An in mast mainsail is obviously not a Trysail but it does have the ability to be severely reduced in area which is much safer than changing sails for a husband and wife team. Self Tacking Jib:  The normal self Tacking Jib clewboard only works if the sail is fully deployed; if you tried reefing the sail the foot would become tight and the leech would become slack making it impossible to sail “off a lee shore” if you had to. What we do with many of our Self Tacking Jibs is to fit an additional sheet position above the clewboard and when the weather dictates transfer the block on the clew to this new position which will enable you to reef the sail whilst still using the self tacking track.
  11. I plan to pole out both headsails on downwind passages, would I gain much in light winds from a Gennaker/Code zero/Parasail?
    • The standard sail plan does a great job of covering most of the windward requirements but you may be “left wanting” when sailing downwind because the self tacker is quite small and the clew is really too low for “booming out”. If you were anticipating a long downwind trip I would recommend replacing the self tacker with a light weight high clewed genoa as this would be a far better sail to match with the existing genoa. If you wanted to have a bit more excitement you could consider a Cruising Chute and snuffer but I would not recommend a “Parasailer” because they are heavy, bulky and expensive.

As a result of our discussions and machinations, and despite using North Norlam (Laminate) sails on our previous Southerly 47, here’s what we have chosen:

The in mast furling mainsail will be Vectron (was very tempted to try Nautosphere Voyager anyone have any experience of this?) for its proven stretch resistance, simple repair and reliability. We have specified partial battens which will give us a neutral roach, avoiding the greater consequences of me breaking a full-length batten when we are somewhere inconvenient. Weathermax UV over the padded clew area, and Tenara stitching.

The Self tacking jib will also be Vectron crosscut with short battens, weathermax UV strip and Tenara stitching. There will be an additional clew/sheet point on the sail to allow for a more effective shape if it needs to be reefed.

The outer genoa has a lower aspect ratio and will thus benefit from being tri-radial cut, and since this is essentially a light wind sail, we have opted for DP PR344 cloth and the same UV/stitching as before.

At some point we may well do some long downwind passages, so we will add one extra sail to cover this need. This will be a genoa designed for our inner furler, so we can pole out both inner and outer headsails it will be close to the size of the outer genoa, so not self-tacking but will reduce the need to use the main.

When the sails are in production, I will be getting some photo’s of the process so will post those here as they arrive from the sailmaker.

Please ask any questions you may have in addition, and I will include an answer if possible….