Why Good Sails Also Matter to Cruisers

A well-designed sail made with high-quality fabric and properly sized for your boat will make even the most casual of sunset cruises a lot more fun.


We hear this all the time: “I’m not a racer. I like to sail my boat with my family on the weekends. The sails we have are just fine for that.” But what if your weekend destination lies to weather and the breeze pipes up a bit?

An older sail that has stretched out or that isn’t cut to be used partially furled can make sailing a lot harder than it needs to be. Tacking is uncomfortable, the boat can’t point, and it heels over.

On the other hand, a good set of sails made of quality fabric of any grade can bring new life to your boat, making the boat a lot easier to handle and a lot more fun to sail.

First of all, let’s define what we mean by “good.”

A “good” sail isn’t necessarily a high-performance racing sail. At a minimum, a “good” sail is made with the highest quality materials and construction techniques, designed for anticipated usage, and sized correctly for your boat. The ultimate measure of what makes a good sail is shape and shape life, which is length of time that a sail will maintain its original design shape. In order to have good sail shape, all other aspects being equal, you have to minimize stretch. Bottom line, too much stretch, poor sail shape.

Your boat will sail better upwind

No matter what the brochure advertises, doesn’t it always seem like the way home is upwind? Many cruising boats have already made significant sacrifices to upwind performance in the name of comfort and usability with a limited draft, high center of gravity, and wide sheeting angle. Why make sailing upwind even more difficult with inefficient sail shape?

Gary Troxel had always used the stock sails that came with his Beneteau 423 Tiki Blue. Primarily a cruising boat, Troxel plans to sail the Pacific Cup race from San Francisco to Hawaii for the fifth time this summer. For a long time he thought his 140% jib was too small to maximize boat speed. Instead, working with Will Paxton of Quantum Pacific, he got a new 125% jib optimized for PHRF sailing.

“I found out after getting this new sail that the boat goes just as fast and points better to weather because the sail shape is so good and it’s much more efficient. It’s low-stretch and high-performance, but smaller and much easier to handle,” says Troxel. “And it’s better for cruising, too, because it’s so much easier to tack and gybe. It’s on a furler with Sunbrella material on outside leech to protect the sail.”

Your handling systems will work better

There are few cruising boats that don’t at least use a headsail furling system, with one sail to “do it all.” The headsail has to be big and powerful in light air, but flat and small in heavy air. If you’re going to partially furl, stretch is the enemy compromising sail shape and performance.

What about your in-mast or in-boom furling system? Have you ever had it jam up leaving the sail bunched and creased and making it impossible to roll in or out? Sail stretch is likely to blame: Sails must remain flat and smooth or they won’t roll up properly inside the small cavity of the mast or boom.

And when it comes to furling and unfurling the sail, it’s a lot harder to do when the sail is stretched out.

You’ll have better control of your boat

Sailing is most enjoyable when the boat is in control, and control is all about balance. When the breeze is up, sails with poor shape make staying in control a lot harder than it has to be. Sails that are too full because of stretch or poor design or both can quickly overpower the boat. When the boat heels over too much it creates weather helm.

Heel and weather helm are not only slow and inefficient, but they also create a situation that’s uncomfortable for you and your passengers. Sails that stay flat and clean as the breeze builds will keep you in control and make the experience on the water that much better.

So there you have it: Good sails can make an old boat new again. Your handling systems will work better, and it will take a lot less effort to keep the boat in control even when the breeze is up. No matter the type of sailing you like to do—with friends and family or even a little friendly competition—good, flat sails fit to your boat will make a day on the water a lot more fun!

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