Everyone has their own style of sailing, priorities, and goals they’d like to achieve. Therefore, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all option. The most important part of creating a custom sail plan is having a conversation with one of our experts to better understand your boat, current sails, type of sailing, and what you’re hoping to get out of your sailing. Here we cover the five main things to consider when creating a custom sail plan. It’s important to understand the options in order to build the perfect cruising inventory for your needs.
1. SAIL MATERIAL
Before considering your sail options, it’s important to understand a bit about choices in sail materials. There are essentially two options: conventional woven sails and composite sails. Beyond price, the main difference between the two comes down to performance and longevity.
A big factor in selecting your sail cloth and construction is determining what your priorities are. Between price, longevity, durability, and performance, one or two items usually come to the forefront based on what kind of sailing you hope to do. To most cruisers, performance is less about boat speed and more about control over heel and weather helm. Poor sail shape is the main culprit responsible for performance issues; therefore, the key to building the best cruising sail lies in reducing stretch. This is where the value of composite sails, or membrane sails, comes in. Composite sails use big, straight unwoven fibers to bear the load instead of small woven fibers. Since composite sails are unwoven, there is no “crimp” as they don’t weave over and under the fiber running in the opposite direction. The result is a sail that can resist stretch as much as 500 percent more than a traditional woven sail.
Spend some time exploring the right sail material for you, your needs, and your budget. Give one of our sail consultants a call and discuss the type of sailing you do; they are well-versed in all our material and construction options and once they understand your priorities, can give you a few recommendations and explain how those choices will serve your needs.
2. THE MAINSAIL
When it comes to the mainsail, battens are a key factor. Battens are like the framework of a tent: they provide the much needed structure and support that help maintain your sail’s shape and durability. By keeping the material taut and smooth, battens preserve the open-leeched airfoil shape and prevent the sails from becoming too full when breeze increases.
Most sail handling systems accommodate some type of batten configuration. Your sail handling system and the size of your boat will dictate the batten size, type, and material. In-mast furling systems are the exception, however, because vertical oriented furling can’t have horizontal battens. In-mast furling systems are some of the easiest and most reliable systems, so, depending on your needs, it might be worth making compromises on size and shape. Vertical battens can be an option, but they come with their own set of constraints. If the never-leave-the-cockpit ease of an in-mast furling system is appealing but you don’t want to sacrifice performance, consider an in-boom system with horizontal battens, though an in-boom system requires a bit more attention, especially when lowering.
Beyond battens, there are many options that allow you to tailor the mainsail to your needs. If you frequent areas with high winds, putting in reef points will help you keep the boat under control when the full mainsail is too overpowered. There are options for finer details such as luff slides, leech lines, and extra stitching reinforcements. If you sail short-handed frequently, speak to a sail consultant for recommendations on how to tailor your sails for ease of handling.
3. THE HEADSAIL
Most sail inventories should have a minimum of two headsails: a genoa and a working jib. However, the type of sailing you do and specific needs will dictate the number of headsails. Offshore cruisers, for example, need a wider range of headsails to sail safely, while day cruisers can get away with a slimmer inventory.
Working jibs are pretty straightforward as they tend to have an LP (the shortest distance from the clew to the luff) between 85-100 percent of the distance from the headstay to the mast. These are heavy-duty sails designed for 15-18 knots and above. Working jibs are used more often than anticipated and are a great sail to have in your quiver.
When it comes to genoas, there is a wide range of options. As a general rule, handling and versatility should be the key deciders; thus, you want to choose the smallest sail that will point reasonably well in light to moderate conditions. You also need to consider the normal conditions where you live, if you want to be able to partial furl, and functional aspects like clew height. A foam luff can be a great addition to your headsail if you’d like the ability to partially reef by furling. The size of your headsail will play a large role in what sail handling system you choose. Roller furlers have become the most common due to their reliability and ease of use.
4. THE CRUISING SPINNAKER
A spinnaker is larger and has more shape than a working sail, making it better at broad angles. Today’s industry standard for cruising spinnakers is the asymmetrical spinnaker. It is designed to set the tack to a fixed point on the bow, with a distinct luff and leech. With no pole, asymmetrical spinnakers are a lot easier to operate.
Choosing the right spinnaker comes down to the apparent wind angle you want to optimize for. Most cruising sailors are looking for one spinnaker to do it all, making an all-purpose reaching sail (a mid-range A3) for apparent wind angles of 80-140 degrees the best choice. If you’re looking to optimize for broad reaches of 110-155 degrees, you’ll need to choose an all-purpose running sail (A2) and also consider a bowsprit. Assuming you won’t use the sail in heavy wind, lighter material will perform the best and keep down the weight on the boat.
Your handling system will also play a role in the type and size of kite you choose, especially if you have a preference. Top-down furlers are great for smaller kites, but they become more difficult as girth increases. Spinnaker socks are a great option for any size kite. These allow for easy douse and storage. If you’re not sure what system would be best for you, speak with a consultant for a recommendation.
5. THE CODE 0
This sail tends to be one of the most used and versatile in a cruiser’s inventory. It’s also often the most misunderstood sail. A code 0 is perfect for light air on close angles upwind, broad angles in heavier breeze, and all the angles in-between. Because the code 0’s mid-girth is anywhere from 55-75 percent, which allows it to be very deep and flat, a code 0 has the ability to take you through more wind angles than any other sail on the boat.
Code 0 sails are deployed from a furler, making them easy to handle. Depending on your boat, code 0 sails are made from either a thin plastic-like material or nylon. They also come with a UV cover so the sails can stay hoisted on the furler for days during a long trip. If you're in the market for a new one, ask about our new cruising code zeros without a torsional cable. They can sail wider angles, have better shape and are overall easier to handle.
While it’s important to do some of your own research and have a handle on different sail options, don’t forget your local loft and rep are there to guide you through the process. They can offer specific ideas to optimize your sail inventory and help you get the most out of however you choose to enjoy sailing.