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How to Fold Sails

Any time your sails come off the rigging on your boat, they need to be folded and stored properly. Quantum’s Alan Woodyard explains and demonstrates the different ways to fold your sails and when to use them. 

A sail’s fabric or material is susceptible to significant damage if not packed correctly. Using the wrong type of fold or doing it incorrectly will lead to performance issues due to holes, wear, and creases, not to mention a shortened lifespan. Use this guide and the video demonstrations to ensure you are using the proper fold for your sail and executing it correctly. Of course, if you ever have questions, call your local loft. We’re happy to help you out.

UPWIND SAILS

Rolling 

One method for folding sails is actually not a fold at all but a roll. Rolling a sail is a great way to avoid creasing the fabric of the sail, which can cause the sail to become weak and deformed over time. Roll your sail from the head down to the foot, making sure to choose the angle that matches any battens so that they can be left in the sail if desired. The only real downside to rolling a sail, rather than folding/flaking it, is that the finished roll takes up more space. 

WHEN TO USE: This is always the preferred method if possible for boats under 35’ or where the size of the sail allows. 


Halved and Rolled

By folding the head of a sail down to the foot (taking the angle of any battens into account), we can roll a sail from its midpoint down to the foot while leaving the head exposed. This is a great method for a small-boat mainsail, where we can load the bolt rope or clew slug into the boom, attach the main halyard, and start the bolt rope or slides at the head of the sail into the track on the mast, all while keeping the sail mostly rolled and in-control on a windy day.

WHEN TO USE: This is a great way to roll a mainsail so that both the foot and the head are accessible while the sail remains rolled.


Flake

To flake a sail, start with the sail flat and make accordion folds of the sail into itself, eventually pulling the head down onto the flaked pile. At this point, the flaked sail can be left as is or rolled/bricked. Below are variations on flaking for different uses and sail features. Below are the main types of flakes.

WHEN TO USE: This is the standard method for stowing sails on larger racing or cruising boats. Generally, the long zippered sail bags are designed to hold flaked sails.
 

Luff Fold

By taking one full flake on the luff of the sail prior to flaking the leech side of the sail, we are able to change the angle of the luff and then flake the sail so that the luff is accordion-stacked on itself from the tack to the head. This is a great way to prepare a sail to be hoisted into a pre-feeder or foil since it avoids the loading (and potential damage) that occurs when the luff is being pulled forward to the pre-feeder as it is being hoisted.

WHEN TO USE: This is the best flaking option for a sail that needs to be ready to be hauled on deck and quickly hoisted, especially during a race.


Leech Fold

A leech fold is the best option for a sail that has leech battens installed. A leech fold works around the batten placement so that the battens can be stacked on the leech end of the flaked sail. A leech fold tends to be a much wider flake since the width of the flake is dependent upon the batten length. Once the sail is flaked with the battens in it, we’re ready to roll/brick it up and store it in a bag ready for use.

WHEN TO USE: This is the best flaking option for a sail with leech battens, which makes a standard flake not feasible.


Flaked and Bricked 

We can either leave a flaked sail as it is in a long folded shape, or we can roll/brick it so that the sail will fit into a smaller bag, storage location, or vehicle. Although many racers avoid this fold due to the added folding of the cloth, especially on larger boats, most sails at some point in their lives will need to be flaked and bricked when storage space is limited.

WHEN TO USE: This is the best option for transportation or stowing of a sail when storage space is a factor.


DOWNWIND SAILS

Packing a Spinnaker

When packed for racing, a spinnaker may look to some like a jumbled ball of nylon in a bag, but, when packed correctly, it can greatly reduce the effort on the crew when it’s time to hoist. Since we want the tack (asymmetrical) or guy (symmetrical) to come pretty far out of the bag prior to hoisting the rest of the sail, it’s best to pack this corner last, extrapolate this to the rest of the sail and it becomes clear that the order of packing should go clew, head, and then tack/guy. Depending on the type of boat, these corners may be secured with Velcro into specific webbing loops of the bag or just left loose. Either way, it can make for a much easier hoist if they are packed in the proper order.

WHEN TO USE: This is how a spinnaker should be stowed on the boat when heading out for a race or a sail where you plan to potentially hoist that sail.


Flaking an Asymmetrical Spinnaker

When flaking an asymmetrical spinnaker, we’ll bring the leech and luff of the sail together, halving the width of the loose sail. From there we will first fold the remainder of the luff up to the level of our first flake before flaking the sail just as we would any other sail. If the sail is filling with too much air in-between folds, just pull it tight from both sides; this will help squeeze out some of the air if you don’t have a third person who can help do this manually. Once the sail is flaked, roll it up and pack it into a bag.

WHEN TO USE: This is the best way to store a spinnaker; it saves space and doesn’t damage the cloth.


Flaking a Symmetrical Spinnaker

Flaking a symmetrical spinnaker starts with one person holding the head of the sail while the other person brings the two clews together. Flying the sail out to one side or the other makes it easy to fold the spinnaker in half. Then the person at the head can come down and either take the leeches of the sail or the center seam and flake the sail down, roll it, and pack it into a bag. 

WHEN TO USE: This is the most space-saving way to store this type of sail and is not damaging to the cloth.


Rolling a Symmetrical Spinnaker When Short-handed

If you’re trying to stow a small symmetrical spinnaker and you’re shorthanded, just enlist a screwdriver, piece of line, or any other anchor point as a helping hand so that you can bring the clews together and halve the sail. Once the sail is halved, start with the head of the sail and roll/fold your way down to the foot before rolling the sail from one side or the other as shown in the video.

WHEN TO USE: Use this method when you’re trying to neatly stow your spinnaker solo.

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The Discussion

Jesse Delanoy

July 27, 2018

What is the best way to fold a sail when it must be dropped at sea and folded on the deck?

Alan Woodyard

July 30, 2018

Thanks for the question, Jesse! In some weather and sea-states the best fold for a sail may be whatever makes it manageable to get the sail stowed below deck or wherever you would like to stow the sail. But if the weather and conditions allow then the ideal way to fold a sail at sea would be the same as the best way to fold that particular sail on land. Roller-furling genoas and jibs lend themselves to this quite well since the remainder of the sail is held in the foil while the foot and lower section is flaked on deck. A couple of exceptions to this scenario would be rolling sails and folding spinnakers. Although I'm sure that plenty of sails have been rolled at sea and a few spinnakers have been neatly folded/flaked at sea in most realities you're going to end up flaking the sails that you might have otherwise rolled and packing the spinnakers that you might have otherwise folded and flaked. Once you're back at the dock or when you arrive at your next port it would be a good idea to then pull these sails out and handle them as you would have if the conditions and room had allowed it at sea. Just let me know if you have any further questions at all! Alan Woodyard - Quantum Sails Gulf Coast - Loft Service Manager - Seabrook, TX - USA

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