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Onboard Sail Repairs: Techniques to Keep Your Sails Flying

August 30, 2016

Last month, with the help of Quantum’s National Service Director Charles Saville, we listed essential supplies for an offshore repair kit. This month we take you through a few common onboard repair techniques every offshore cruiser should have in their back pocket.

Whether you're on an extended cruise or a big offshore race, we want to make sure you’re prepared when you’re offshore and the unexpected hits. To do that, we put together the three basic onboard sail repair techniques you need to fix a small problem or Band-Aid a large one enough to get you to shore. You should start by learning and practicing these techniques in a calm setting before your offshore adventures. If you take care of your sails they will keep your boat sailing smooth and give you peace of mind to enjoy the open water. Start with the following examples, and don’t hesitate to contact your local sailmaker with questions or for specific clarifications.

Sewing a patch

Sewing heavy or thick materials such as corner webbings or through multiple layers of Dacron is a basic skill that every offshore sailor needs to have. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it does need to be effective. First step is to make sure you have the right tools. This type of sewing requires a large thick needle that is strong enough to be pushed through the thick materials, which means it’s also strong enough to go through your hand. Use a Sailmaker’s Palm to protect your palm when pushing the needle through the fabric. If you’re in a pinch, look for something hard with a softer casing, like your multi-tool in a leather case. Here are two types of stitches you will use to patch a sail. Always be sure to double back and stitch the reverse stitch so you end with a solid pattern of stitches to secure the new material and maintain the integrity of the sail.

Zig Zag: Most onboard repairs to the sail body require sewing two pieces of sail cloth on either side of the sail to Band-Aid the tear. Stitch around the perimeter in a close zig zag pattern within the edge of the patch. Be sure to double back and stitch the reverse, making sure you see a solid zig zag on both sides of the sail when you’re finished. Any patch larger than roughly 5”x7”, you will want to sew from corner to corner creating a giant X through the patch.

Straight Stitch: If you’re fixing hardware or a corner you will use webbing instead of sail cloth. Once you have the fabric aligned, you will want to stitch around the perimeter of the patch with a straight stitch. Sew the length with evenly spaced stitches in a straight line. Be sure to double back and stitch the reverse stitch so you end with a solid straight line of stitches.

Note: This is for repairs made to woven sails. Laminate sail repair should use adhesives instead of sewing. Talk to your local loft for the right materials and adhesives before heading offshore. Do not sew into the body of a laminate sail, only into existing edge tapes and corners.

 

That Hurts

 

Secure the patch

Use a small piece of sticky back to hold the tear in line while you stitch the patch in place.

Place the patch

Add the patch or webbing to both sides of the sail. If you're working on a corner with webbing, pass the webbing through the grommet for extra strength.

Let the fun begin

Start your stitch in one of the corners of the patch by pulling the needle through all of the layers of the material.

check the placement

After you send the needle through the first time, make sure everything aligns and is smooth before continuing.

Start your engines

When you're happy with your alignment, start your stitch in the recommened pattern (straight or zig-zag).

Watch your hands

Make sure you're protecting your hands. Pushing through layers of material is no easy feat. Use a sailmaker's palm or something very solid with a softer covering.

Double back

To make a secure stitch, loop the thread back to the last hole you stitched to complete the row. You should see a line of stitching with no gaps.

Finish up

Continue to stitch around the perimeter of the material until the patch is secured. When you're done, stitch over the same stitch a few times to lock the thread in place.

Fix a multi layer tear

Houston we have a problem: a broad seam blows up on a mainsail or jib. For this type of emergency repair, use a few well-placed pieces of sticky back like Band-Aids to join the tear first. Place a few small pieces perpendicular across the tear on both ends and if the tear is long enough, feel free to put a few in the middle to hold in place. After your seam is Band-Aided, use a larger cover patch of sticky back to cover the entire area on both sides of the sail. This fix also works for spinnakers and should be fine with just the sticky back, but if you’re repairing a mainsail or jib, it may require light sewing depending on the duration it needs to last. If that’s the case, stitch in a close zig zag pattern across the tear and then double back in reverse. Make sure you see a solid zig zag on both sides of the sail when you’re finished.

 

Oops

 

Put the puzzle together

Use small pieces of sticky back to hold the layers in place. Place at least one on each end of the tear, and a few in the middle if needed.

Round the corners

Square corners tend to peel easier when bent and flaked, compromising the patch. Round the corners of the patch to create a more secure edge.

Line it up

Make sure your length of sticky back is long enough to cover the whole tear and line it up along the secured tear.

Check the placement

Peel back a small portion of the sticky back and stick it to the start of the tear. Make sure it lies flat without puckering or wrinkles.

Rinse and repeat

When you're happy with the alignment, slowly peel the backing from the sticky back as you run the patch along the tear. Don't forget to round the corners when you're done and repeat on the other side.

Spinnaker repairs

Repairing a spinnaker is a delicate process where patience and extra hands can be your best friend. When a kite tears, the perpendicular seams will often pucker. Start by using a marlin spike (or a pen if you’re desperate) to remove the stitching in the puckered area and make sure it lays flat. Once your seams are smooth and ready to go; make sure the surface below the kite is as dry and flat as possible. Lay out the torn area; if you are lucky to have extra hands, have this person spread the sail out away from the rip as if to stretch it flat. If you’re on your own try using double sided tape or insignia tape to lightly secure and align the repair on the deck so it won’t move. Next the job is to work with the spinnaker as if it were a puzzle, aligning the entire sail as neatly as possible. Cut sticky back into the shape needed, making sure to round all four corners. Peel back one side and the first few inches, and slowly work the repair material onto the sail; then repeat on the other side.

 

Didn't see that coming

 

Prep the seams

When a spinnaker blows, the seams will pucker making them hard to realign and a less than ideal surface for the sticky back to adhere to.

Remove the stitching

Use a marlin spike to pull the stitching out of the puckered seams to flatten them.

Clean it up

Clean the excess thread from both sides of the cloth, but be careful not to remove too much. Make sure the cloth lays flat and smooth when you're done.

Make it stick

These are often long tears and hard to manage. Use some double sided tape to secure the repair to the deck and hold it in place.

Match the edges

Make sure the edges you're repairing align without bubbles or wrinkles and lay flat. This is very important to ensure the sail keeps its shape after it's repaired.

Round the corners

Square corners tend to peel easier when bent and flaked, compromising the patch. Round the corners of the patch to create a more secure edge.

Check the placement

Peel back a small portion of the sticky back and stick it at the beginning of the repair. Make sure it lies flat without puckering or wrinkles.

Don't forget the back

When you're happy with the alignment, slowly peel the backing from the sticky back as you run the patch along the repair. Don't forget to round the corners when you're done and repeat on the other side.

Remember, any repair done offshore probably requires a proper fix when back on land. Take it to your local loft to have them look it over. A professional, in-loft repair may be needed to maintain the life of your investment. Reviewing the repair with your local loft is also a great opportunity for feedback from the onboard repair.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your local service team if you have any onboard repair questions or want to check your technique.

 

 

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