Conversations with Your Sailmaker: How to Get the Most out of Your Relationship

From sail service, to new sails, racecourse advice, and exchanging stories and tips about favorite cruising destinations - building a relationship with your sailmaker brings value to how you enjoy your time on the water. After all, we're here to help you meet your goals and confidently set off on your next adventure. Below, Quantum Annapolis' Dave Flynn gives some thought into how to make the most out of the relationship between sailor and sailmaker.

We thought this would be a good time to talk about getting the most out of one of the potential key players in your sailing experience, your sailmaker. You may be in search of a national championship or just want to not embarrass yourself in a weeknight race. No matter. They help provide the right tools whatever your goals. They are also an important source of expertise and are typically passionate and knowledgeable. I always found it annoying, but the mid seventies Hood ad featuring a sailmaker in a sail bag (coming with your new sail) actually has a lot of truth to it. So how do you talk to your sailmaker to get the most out of your relationship?

One Design Racing

This group of sailors actually has it pretty easy. In established one design classes sailmakers with a significant body of work have done their best to distill and simplify the whole process of making a boat go fast. There are tuning guides with every detail of setup; rake, mast bend, jib lead position, rig tension for conditions, etc. all clearly spelled out. Find out who the class guru is (the person who has been spending time sailing in the class and developing those tuning guides).

  • Ask to go over tuning and trim systems for your boat.

  • Ask to compare to competitors' setups.

  • Ask for the latest designs. Some sailmakers do special design iterations for top competitors that may not be available to you. Don’t let that happen.

  • Ask to compare competitors' sail designs (shapes) and construction options (if any).

  • Ask if they will do a sail check and make sure your boat is set up correctly and if the sails fit as designed. It will also be a chance to see first hand how a pro trims so you can get a visual reference of how things should look. At the very least, ask to have them take a look at your rig tune at the dock and confirm that you have the proper “base” setup.

  • Ask about coaching. There is not a lot of profit especially in smaller one design sails. I know, they are still stupidly expensive. Your sailmaker cannot afford (if they want to make a living) to sail with you all the time. Consider hiring them. This is probably one of the best investments you can make if you want to get better fast. Think about sharing the cost with others in your fleet. A two or three boat session is even better.

Handicap Racing

This gets complicated. There are a lot of variables and moving parts. First you need to describe just what kind of racing you have in mind. Sail selection, construction options, and prioritizing (which sails come first) against your budget need to be discussed relative to your goals. Are these pure racing sails or are you trying to use them for day sailing and cruising as well?

  • Have a realistic budget to share with your sailmaker. In sailboat racing it's not about how much boat you can afford, it's about how much boat you can afford to campaign at a level that meets your goals.

  • There are a bewildering array of construction options, sizing considerations, etc. Ask to have them go over the options and talk about the tradeoffs. Remember, there is no free lunch.

  • Talk about the handicap rules you are sailing under. There might be penalties or credits for different sail types, sizing, materials.

  • Ask to have them evaluate your existing inventory. This may mean pulling out in the loft, or even better, going for a sail.

  • Make sure they are going to look at your boat.  At some point an on board first hand look will be a requirement. A handicap boat needs to be measured and evaluated. How is the rig setup? Rake? Mast bend? Systems to trim sails? Make sure that this is all part of the package.

  • Ask about a sail check. Even if it's just a quick spin to make sure everything fits and works. 

  • Check in after races to discuss specific issues. I had trouble pointing in light air. Struggled to control heel upwind. Get the most out of your discussion with photographs. A picture is truly worth a thousand words. A proper photo from mid-foot up to head accompanied by a note on wind strength can help diagnose the problem or at least confirm that you are doing it right. If you can get a friend or a drone and get a shot from directly behind the boat that can be extremely helpful.


This group is one of the most fun to work with and learn about because each cruiser can vary drastically in the way they sail their boat - from day cruising, to overnight cruising, coastal cruising, and bluewater cruising. Some sail with family, some with friends, some solo.

  • Just like racers - go over tuning and trim systems for your boat. Many cruisers rarely tune their rig, but it can make a huge difference to learn the basics and make sure you have a good base setting at the beginning of the season. If your trim settings are accurate you can get away with "setting it and forgetting it".

  • Have your sails inspected annually. Annual inspections and minor seasonal repairs will help your sails last longer and prevent catastrophic failure on the water.

  • Ask about options for shorthanded sailing. Many cruisers sail shorthanded or with crew that have mixed levels of ability and experience. We see this all the time and can help you optimize your boat setup, sail handling systems, and sails to mitigate any potential problems on the water.

  • Have your inventory evaluated and optimized. Maybe you're ready to upgrade from just a mainsail and furling genoa - code zeros or AWA sails are an excellent (and super fun) option for many cruisers. Our experts can recommend the right code or AWA sail for you based on the size of your boat, type of boat, type of cruising you're doing, and conditions you typically sail in.

  • Ask about local knowledge. Considering a new overnight destination? Headed to a new anchorage? Ask your sailmaker if they have information on marinas in the area. What about any unusual navigation or shallow spots that are poorly marked? Maybe they even have a favorite restaurant nearby. Sailmakers love to talk sailing, so inevitably, we have a rolodex of local sailing and boating knowledge from personal experiences, and stories from friends and customers.

See note above on the value of coaching. As my old friend Bill Gladstone (director of North U and my original partner in Flynn/Stone Sailing Services back in the day) once said: “There is no place like your own boat.”


This article was originally published on SpinSheet.

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