Ask a Sailmaker: As a sail wears out, are the sail controls still effective?

We've partnered with Melges and the experts at Quantum Sails Zenda to answer your most commonly asked questions and provide tips and tricks for getting the most out of your sails. Check out these pointers to keep your sails performing at their best.

Q: As a sail wears out, are the sail controls still effective?

This is a great follow-up question from our topic last month - how sail shape changes over time. As a brief recap, all sails will stretch over time, but certain materials are more stretch resistant than others.  As the sail stretches, it will also move away from its designed optimal shape, and the draft moves slightly, causing decreases in performance. When the changes become significant enough that you can no longer adjust for them with your controls such as outhaul, cunningham, and boom vang, etc. it’s time to consider new sail options. Taking what we know about changing sail shape and learning to account for it in your sail control adjustments can make a huge difference.

When the sail is brand new, it will be the most responsive to your control lines. The draft is in the proper place, and as conditions change, you will be able to power-up and de-power your sail accordingly by deepening, flattening, and twisting the sail. As the sail ages and slowly stretches, the draft in the sail will deepen and oftentimes, move further aft. Therefore, it will take more work with other controls to flatten and depower the sail. You will also find that even at what might be considered your “base” conditions, you may have to put quite a bit of tension on cunningham, to bring the draft forward, and find the right combination of other controls to bring the sail back to its designed performance shape. Play around with these different controls and use one of our Quantum Sails trim and tuning guides as a place to start. Figure out what combination of settings feel the best for your particular boat and crew across all different conditions. 

The more hours of usage that are put on a sail, the more it will stretch, until you reach a point where it is visibly “bagged out”. At this point, you’ll likely find that you can’t manipulate the draft into the proper position for the conditions. Generally this will also mean that you have plenty of power in lighter air since the sail is deeper, but it will become nearly impossible to depower the sail in heavier air. An inability to flatten the sail makes the boat harder to steer, and you’ll find yourself struggling to point with other boats. Unfortunately when the control lines are maxed out, and the sail is still not set-up and trimmed correctly, it will not perform as well as it originally did. Take photos of your sails trimmed well, sailing upwind when they are brand new, and take photos periodically after so many hours have been put on them. You will see the draft in the sail, and can watch it incrementally change over time. 

Get in touch with a Quantum expert with any questions or submit your question here for a chance to be featured in next month’s Ask a Sailmaker segment.  

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