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Ask a Sailmaker: How Does Sail Shape Change Over Time?

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. As summer sailing ramps up, check out these pointers to keep your sails performing at their best. Have another question you'd like to ask a sailmaker? Submit questions here for a chance to be featured in next month's segment. 

Q: How does sail shape change over time?

Let’s talk about stretch! When a sail is built, designers carefully place the load and draft in just the right place for optimal performance. Especially with our one-design sails, countless hours of sail testing go into creating a better performing, faster sail to launch you off the starting line. Over time, all sails will stretch, no matter the material they’re made of. Dacron sails are most vulnerable to stretch, while membrane sails are more stretch resistant. As the sail stretches, the sail will also move away from it’s designed optimal shape, and the draft moves slightly, causing decreases in performance. A sail will remain a triangle for a very long time, but it’s performance life is much shorter. Here are two common problems sailors tend to experience as their sails age and the explanation behind them.

Problem: Deep draft. Full sail. Can't point very high.
The sail depth becomes fuller and more rounded. The draft moves aft. You're no longer able to point as high as when the sail was new. The boat becomes harder to steer, heels more, and responsiveness is slowed. It is also harder to flatten and depower the sail - often you might find yourself maxed out on control lines and the sail is still too full. For racing boats, the inability to hold a lane or position close to other boats can really destroy a tactical game plan. 

Problem: Reduced entry. Sail is hard to steer.
As sails age, their entry is reduced due to a variety of factors. Stretch, as well as over-tensioning the halyard can reduce entry. Reduced entry will make the sail harder to trim, less efficient, and steering more difficult.

Experiencing these problems during a race can be especially frustrating. If you’ve ever struggled to point off the starting line with a set of older, bagged out sails, while your competitors pinch you out with newer sails, you’ve experienced firsthand how important having the proper sail shape is. 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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