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Caring for Your Sails
By Captain Jack Klang Quantum Cruising Consultant.
Caring for your boat’s sails is simple and easy. Whether your sails are made from woven fabric or state of the art laminates, proper care will extend their life. Here are my recommendations for proper sail care. For more information contact your local Quantum® loft.
Dry your Sails Thoroughly
At the end of each sailing season it is important to thoroughly dry your sails before storing them. I recommend you avoid the temptation to spread sails on the lawn. Lawns contain moisture and warm sunlight on their surface will cause moisture to collect on your sail material. The best way to dry your sails at the end of the season is to contact your local Quantum® Service Technician and set up an appointment to have your sails laid out on the loft floor overnight. This is a great way for these professionals to quickly assess their condition and make suggestions. Your sails will be properly folded or flaked preparing them for storage throughout the winter months.
Between sailing adventures, I keep my genoa on a roller furling unit and my mainsail on the boom under UV covering. Sailing daily (or frequently) will usually allow sails to dry sufficiently, but if you will not be sailing for several days, here is a better way to thoroughly dry your sails.
On a very clam day early in the morning or late in the evening, hoist or unfurl your sails, allowing them to hang in place. The air circulating around the sails will quickly dry the sails. Once dry, refold the mainsail on the boom and refurl or refold your genoa for storage. Too much breeze can damage your sails; therefore select the calmest day and best time of that day.
Fold your Sails Carefully
The next important way to help keep your sails in good order is to fold them carefully for storage. Rolling your sails is the best way to prevent wrinkles and sharp bends in the fibers of the sailcloth. However, storing a sausage sail is a bit difficult. At the end of the season, take extra time to prepare your sails for storage. Correct folding will take the work of 2 people- one person kneeling along the leech of the sail, and another along the luff.
First, remove all mainsail battens from their batten pockets. Begin the folds, or flakes, along the foot, both on mainsails and genoas. Stretch the foot of the sail until all wrinkles disappear. Move toward the head of the sail with each fold. While facing the center of the sail, place one knee on the foot of the sail and the other approximately 14 to 18 inches from the foot. This will vary with the size of the sail and the size you desire for the finished package.
Using your hand closest to the head of the sail, grab the leech (or luff) at a point approximately the same distance as your intended fold. Lift the material and pull it toward the foot of the sail placing it on top of the first fold and stretching it away from the center to remove any wrinkles.
Move your kneeling position toward the center of the sail, trying not to kneel on the fold areas, to prepare for the next fold. Place one knee along the foot of the sail and the order to hold the folded
portion from sliding. With each successive fold your kneeling position will move forward toward the center as the sail material gets narrower with each fold. Gently lay each fold on top of the previous folds without creasing the material. Sails with plastic windows need special attentions. Plan your folds so plastic windows lie flat in the center of a fold. Do not allow the plastic windows to be positioned along the middle of a crease. In cold weather, the plastic will become stiff and possibly brittle. It is likely to split when unfolding in the spring. On each plastic window, sprinkle a small amount of talcum powder to prevent the plastic window from sticking to the sail while folded. Continue this same folding procedure until the entire sail is flaked.
Finish by returning to the original positions at the tack and clew. Fold the flaked sail toward the center to create a bricklike shape.
Jibs and Genoas
Jibs and genoas are folded in the same manner with one exception. When the entire sail is spread out and before flaking has begun, place the head of the sail on top of the tack. This will quickly reduce the size of the sail by one half. Then continue with the flaking process. The person folding at the luff side of the sail can remain in place while the person folding the leech moves toward the center of the sail with each fold. The advantage is that you will have both the head and tack exposed when it is time to install the sail in the spring. Simply attach the halyard to the head and attach the tack to the deck fitting on the bow. All jib hanks will be exposed and ready for attachment to the forestay. If the sail is being fed into a roller-furling slot, the bolt rope will be ready and accessible.
Get Your Sails Washed
The end of the sailing season is a good time to get your sails washed before storing them. There are many ways to properly wash your sails. In the past I have tried washing my own sails. This has been quite an operation. Several times I have sneaked into the local Junior High School (where I taught) to use the shower room area to wash my sails. The shower room floor was a great place to spread them out for scrubbing with a soft brush.
When it was time to rinse my sails, I turned on all of the showerheads and let the water fly. The built-in floor drains were a definite advantage, but I made sure I found a location where the drain water would not be harmful to the environment. To dry my sails I used the school flagpole, until the school janitor caught me!
Now, I have found a much easier solution. Mind you, I sail primarily on the freshwater Great Lakes where the Quantum® service manager Joe Richter recommends having my Dacron cruising sails washed every two years. Let me tell you, taking my sails to a professional for washing is much easier than sneaking into the Junior High.
Quantum’s Service Departments specialize in different levels of sail washing. Joe Richter explains Quantum’s three levels of sail washing:
This consists of soaking sails overnight in a diluted solution of soap and special bleach. The solutions are sufficient to clean and treat the sails, but not so strong as to damage any sail fabrics. After the overnight soak, and clear water rinse, the sails are suspended and drip-dried until thoroughly dry.
This wash level is reserved primarily for racing laminates and nylon sail (such as spinnakers). In this wash level, a weaker solution is used and the sails are dipped in the wash bin for about an hour, rinsed and thoroughly dried.
With the intensive wash, wash professionals are able to remove a very large percentage of mildew, even on sails that have not been washed for a couple of seasons. In this level, a more concentrated solution is used, and depending on the severity of the surface grime and topical mildew, the sails may be left in the wash bin for extended periods of time. Sometimes sails are left in the wash bin for periods up to 24 hours, then rinsed and dried. This intensive cleaning process can take some severely mildewed sails and make them look as good as new (almost), with no harm done to woven or laminate fabrics. This process is very convenient, practical, and the results are outstanding. Sail washing is priced on a per pound (of sail) basis according to Joe Richter, making it quite economical.
Sail Bags and Pesky Rodents
The size of the sail bag used for storage should be large enough to allow easy entry of the folded sail (the brick). The goal is to avoid sharp folds. The bottom of the bag should have mesh to allow for the flow of air and to reduce the chance of condensation. It is also a good idea to place the full sail bag on a sheet of plastic to protect against dirt and moisture from the surface below.
Mice and squirrels love to make nests in shredded sail materials. One small rodent can destroy an entire sail in short time. Therefore, place a plastic vegetable storage bag (like used in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator) in the sail bag with a few mothballs inside. Another method to keep rodents out of your sail bags is to store them suspended in their bags from a rafter or overhead hook.
Although you may find the living room floor meets the ideal conditions of clean, dry, smooth, and moderate temperature, your first mate may not agree. Therefore search for a place to store sails where these conditions can be met (be reasonable). Your Quantum® service technician might also have some suggestions or an onsite storage location.
When is it time to Replace Sails?
A racing sailor can answer this question without hesitation explains Ed Reynolds, a world-class racer and partner in the Quantum Sail Design Group. “It’s time to replace your sails whenever you are passed by a boat that your were able to beat last season.” For cruising sailors, the question is more difficult. Many look at their sails that have flown for several years and say, “They look fine to me. The boat is moving, isn’t it?”
Cruising and racing sails are constructed differently, with different shapes for different conditions and goals. If you are a cruising sailor and find your boat heeling excessively when a puff hits the sails, check your know meter. If you are not accelerating rapidly in these puffs of wind, or if you seem to be reefing your sails earlier, or more frequently, your sail shape is no longer efficient.
When the draft (deepest part of your sail) moves aft, through stretching caused by age and use, you will find that you cannot point as high as previously. Misshapen sails shapes will create increased and excessive heeling without a noticeable increase in boat speed. It is now time to check out the new laminated cruising sails materials from Quantum, and add them to your Christmas list.
About the Author: Jack Klang is a Cruising Consultant for Quantum Sail Design Group. He has shared his vast experience with thousands of sailors through his seminars, a syndicated newspaper column, magazine feature articles, television and movie appearances. He is the author of “Cruising with Quantum” a series of how-to articles covering all aspects of sailboat cruising as well as an instructional video. Jack is recognized as one of the country’s five best sailing speakers, appearing at boat shows across the country. For the past five decades, Jack has sailed the Great Lakes, Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. He earned his first Coast Guard captain’s license at age 18 and has logged over 30,000 miles under sail as a cruiser, ASA instructor, charter captain and delivery skipper. www.captainjacksailing.com