Some time ago I wrote a piece on reefing from the cockpit and promised to follow it up once we’d decided whether we would stick with it. For those of you who expected something, well, timely, I apologise, but I like to take my time to make up my mind!
Basically, when we had Pèlerin built we had a choice of either leaving all of the reefing at the mast (as we were used to) or leading all the lines aft. Apart from a few short jaunts, I’d not had a lot of experience with single line reefing, but I hadn’t been impressed; however, others claimed to like it, and the idea of reefing from the safety of the cockpit held a strong appeal.
Having now sailed many thousands of miles with single line reefing I feel better qualified to decide whether it was the right choice for us, and indeed whether I’d recommend it for you.
Your experiences with single line reefing seem to be similar to ours. We have never owned a boat with it but have sailed on many and I always feel like it is okay but I never quite get the shape that I want. To me, the most annoying thing beyond what you have described is pulling the reef out with all of the friction.
I am curious as to whether you have ever tried 2 line reefing led back to the cockpit? It would seem to me that this would eliminate a lot of the friction issues and be similar to reefing at the mast for larger boats but done from the cockpit. Obviously, this would lead to a lot of line in the cockpit. We reef at the mast and probably won’t change that but I get nervous when doing it in crowded places or places with lots of pot buoys when my wife or another good helmsman is not with me.
That’s a good point you raise, and one that I should have covered. Shaking out a reef can be painfully slow with a poorly sorted out system. What we do:
Open the clutches of the reefing lines that are not in use.
Go up to the mast and pull plenty of slack through on those lines.
Ease the mainsheet and kicking strap (vang) and then open the clutch on the reef in use.
Use the electric winch to raise the sail, watching carefully for any jams.
Once the reef is out, sheet in, kicker on and trim any slack/tension out of the reefing lines.
The thinking behind this is there is no problem with the winch pulling out one reef, where three would present too much friction and might lead to damage to the sail or gear. In fact the winch will do it with all three, but it simply doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.
I have run a two line reefing system, on my second cruising boat (a UFO 34). It had some good points that you’ve identified such as less friction, but there was a lot of extra gear required (clutches, turning blocks etc) and also a lot of line. So much so that we could effectively only use two sets of reefing lines, which meant that when the time came for the third reef, we had to use a pre-rigged ‘mouse’ (sometimes called a messenger) to reeve the redundant first reef lines through the third reef cringles. It was time consuming and hard work to get the first lines out of the cringles of the first reef with the second reef in, I can tell you.
And if we were racing, it was generally a case of saving time by standing on the boom to reeve the third reef leach cringle – and I’m way too old for those sort of capers.
Interesting thoughts on the two line system. You have confirmed my suspicion that it might be too much “stuff” and I do like having a 3rd reef. Having to reeve a reefline while underway is a non-starter for me. This was the way that many of the larger traditional boats I have been aboard are rigged and trying to get a 3/4″ piece of line through the cringle on a flogging 2,000+ ft^2 sail is truly terrifying and dangerous. I have become convinced that the “fisherman’s reef” is more than just laziness.
Thank you for some new ideas to make the Ovni’s cockpit reefing system more friction and trouble free and when I get back to Let’s Go! I will see what can be done. Having sailed this boat for as long as it has been, I cannot imaging not being able to reef from the cockpit. Because you do not have to move from under the dodger, one does not hesitate to reef and you can do so in an instant. Safely. Halyards and reefing lines are all marked so that the blocks do not get pulled down to the boom. Tension is kept on the main halyard by leading out of the clutch and then 90 degrees while reef number one is taken in on the electric winch simultaneously. The slack on reef line two and three is pulled in right away. Then, the next reef. Yes, once in awhile something does not go correctly and you are required to go forward and see what has pinched but I find these situations have been rare. Yes, you do need to be vigilant and frequently I am making sure all is going okay with a narrow beam flashlight that I stick out through a crack in the dodger’s window. I was warned, and it has proven correct, that the electric winch is the biggest problem. You can do a lot of damage to your blocks (being pulled down to the boom or over each other) before you realize what is going on. I now tend to use the electric winch initially and do the final tension manually. On the third reef I use two lines, one for the tack and one for the clew. A single line is too long. To summarize, the safety, speed and lack of hesitation to reef that comes from in cockpit reefing is a trade off worth making.
You knew I would comment, didn’t you?
All the best,
Good to hear your experiences. We have swapped our lines around in the clutches so that only the third reef is on the starboard side of the cockpit, which is where we also have the main halyard, mainsheet and the electric winch – those are really the only line controls I’m happy using with it. With the way we have it rigged now we have very little risk of damaging anything with the electric winch – I totally agree they need to be handled with care.
Our third reef line is really long – we have a trysail sized third reef, but apart from stowage I’ve never found it a bother. In any case, we have run out of clutches, as we have a spare genoa halyard.
All in all I’m pretty happy with the system now, but I still find myself getting out of the cockpit from time to time. I still like reefing at the mast, though, as once you’ve mastered the basics it’s so quick and easy. Sometimes I find myself having to mentally talk through putting a reef in still with single line reefing – but maybe that’s just old age creeping up on me….
We love our safe cockpit single line reefing system EXCEPT for one thing, it is a tremendous bother to shake the reefs out due to friction.
We too have changed all the original blocks for Lewmar Ball Bearing units, all lines are marked etc., so we know exactly when the reefs are in ,a must for sailing at night as we do only two up.
So if any one knows has any suggestions as to the reduction of friction when shaking out the reef it will be most welcome.
Agreed – and anyone out there who has tried this with a system that hasn’t been sorted out (as yours and ours have) should try it sometime. They’d soon understand why you see so many yachts going around in windy conditions with a full main and a scrap of genoa.
You can see how we get around it in my comment above. But if anyone has a better idea, then let’s hear it!
I’d be interested to know what size/type of line you use for reefing line?
we have 12mm braided Dacron/polyester, which is comfortable to handle, has a durable sheath (for the clutches) and has worn well – no chafe or damage at all.
We too have 12mm.I should have mentioned that reefs 1 and 2 are single line, our 3rd reef is 2 line.We have considered changing everything to 2 line but that would have meant 2 more lines and clutches in the cockpit,so
repositioned the Winches and clutches, changed turn blocks for ball bearing type and increased their diameters etc., all to minimise friction / resistance so that pulling a reef in is easily and quickly managed by my slightly built wife,but short of going back to the mast and worse still pulling the “string” out by hand we have not found a method to overcome this, hence on our new Borreal we will definitely have the system that
is shown on Morgan’s Cloud…….However does anyone have anything good to say about “In Boom” systems
I don’t find overhauling the lines is quite so daunting when you’re easing a reef out – and generally only do it for two and three inn any case. But it does defeat the object of reefing from the cockpit!
As far as in-home reefing is concerned, all of the systems I’ve looked at have seemed fiddly, and with some less than robust ancillaries. I’ve also heard that getting the position of the boom/vang etc. is critical to get the sail working properly.
One thing I do know is that with a conventionally hoisted sail, it’s possible to get a really good reef in and keep the boat driving if the sail maker has done his job properly, at all times. It’s a simple bombproof system. And that would be my No1 consideration, beyond anything else whatsoever, every time.
We have in-boom reefing from Leisure Furl manufactured here in NZ. Because this is the home market, in-boom reefing is actually very common. Most new big boats seem to be so fitted, and perhaps a third of the production boats now have the system here (they bring them in without a boom). Southern Spars that built many of the America’s Cup and the Volvo Race masts which is owned by North Sails, have recently launched their own in-boom system. It is definitely mainstream here – most super yachts completed here are fitting it and with their masts being so tall, I surmise the designers wouldn’t specify it if it wasn’t completely reliable.
My slightly built wife does most of our reefing from behind the dodger, no sweat, not bother, no jams. This means she also decides when we reef (I always put up more sail then she likes), but it also means she is well practiced when it comes to shortening or removing sail if anything happens to me.
I couldn’t be happier with the sail and the boom combination (we got our boom and sail from the sailmaker), but I have to stress that we haven’t taken our boat offshore yet (Beneteau 473). One of our cruising friends has twice extensively voyaged from NZ around SE Asia and the Philippines, with one “close” typhoon experience in the mix, and wouldn’t have any other system. His wife does their reefing too and she is 70!
To Colin’s points about sail shape and control, with eight full battens and a reef at each one, our mainsail sets perfectly provided you mark the sail so the battens are positioned under the mandrel at each reef. Having the boom horizontal is important, but simply a matter of marking the topping lift position at the jammer.
For more detailed comment see my post under John’s earlier article “Your mainsail is your friend” 17th Nov 2014.
Hope this helps, Rob
thanks very much for the eloquent and informative comment.
I’ve noticed far more in boom systems around here on big boats (currently in the Virgin Islands) and I accept they are coming of age. For what it’s worth, I remember the same controversy over roller furling headsails, and I’m sure that’s an argument that’s surely been decided.
But at the smaller boat level I’m still a little sceptical, having seen some of the offerings in Europe – I admit I haven’t any experience of products from elsewhere. Some of the fixtures and fittings just don’t look robust enough to me. And personally I’m very happy with the latest evolution of hoisted, fully-battend mainsails, and most likely wouldn’t change anyway.
But comments such as yours really add to the debate, and help to develop the dialogue – real world experience is what Attainable Adventure is all about, so thanks very much for putting the case. We all need our prejudices challenged, otherwise we’re all doomed to bury our heads in the sand and I’d vigorously oppose that.
Thanks Colin, I always enjoy your great articles and posts.
May I suggest one other tip for your list to make any reefing just work better: “Hove-to”. How much effort, friction and stress goes away when your boat is comfortably lying to the sea with minimal way on, or slowly drifting downwind, with the mainsail set loose (vang and main sheet off) to shelter in the lee of the mast and backed jib. If the reefing/furling line is under real tension, the sail is filling somewhere because we are still sailing, or worse still – I am stupidly motoring ahead to hold the bow into the wind and sea, increasing the apparent wind!
I’m taking that you mean heaving to to put in a reef. That’s an old trick that we used to demonstrate to crews when teaching them sailing. It worked fine with many of the older designs, but a lot of the more modern boats didn’t like it and would turn beam on. One thing I learned from it was how fully battened sails would keep driving. We had two Sadler 32’s, one with a ‘soft’ main, and one with a fully battened main. The one with the soft sail hove to well, and was very docile, but it was a job getting the one with the fully battened main to stop sailing!
Colin – I’m a bit confused. I thought that you were deciding whether to keep the cockpit-based reefing, etc. system or moving (back?) to a mast-based system, which you state that you prefer. Instead, it seems that you made two apriori assumptions: first, you will continue to reef, hoist, etc. from the cockpit, and second, that you will use single line reefing. This has greatly complicated your boat and introduced huge amounts of chafe through all the blocks, line stops, etc. Then I find that you also have an electric winch. You complain that changing to mast-based operations would be very expensive, but I can only imagine what all your new blocks, consultation with sailmakers, electric winches, etc. cost.
I must have missed something as I thought you were going to explain the reasoning behind the choice of reefing system. Is it to ensure that you don’t leave the cockpit? The tradeoff seems to be greatly increased friction, chafe, complication and expense. Please help me understand your choice. Thank you.
you’re confused! Sometimes I feel that way, too.
The basic answer to your question is that’s what the boat came with. The choice was whether to change to ‘at the mast’. The only thing we specified different from standard was the electric winch.
At the time we were also looking at the boat in the longer term, and considering what our (already) bad backs would take in say, ten years time. So yes, the option to reef from the cockpit was attractive, viewed from that perspective. A fall on deck in bad weather would do neither of us any good.
And although we had anticipated making minor changes to the reefing system, we didn’t expect it to take as much trial and error and expense to make it really work well. I like it now, but if I had the chance to start again from scratch I’d probably go for the simplicity of reefing at the mast.
But having got this far, and worked most of the glitches out of the system, we’ll stick with it. Who knows but as time goes by we’ll appreciate it more and more. Everything with boats is a compromise, anyway.
My preference is for three leach-only reefing lines brought back to the cockpit and tack horn at the mast. This is the simplest and most reliable mainsail reefing system. The main halyard is
Chris Daly, your message seems truncated, but line handling at the mast is my preference, as well. Of course, I have a pilothouse and there’s no easy way to bring lines from the mast tabernacle aft to the outside helm, but even so, I would rather spend money on a couple of padeyes for tethers and a couple of “granny bars” than on a horde of blocks and extra lengths of line to get properly aft. I do like the shock cord through the axle idea, however, and I fully concur with the idea of minimal lazyjacks and a proper sail cover as being more suited to off-soundings voyaging. That said, if I had an aft cockpit setup, there are some excellent refinements Colin has listed here. A particularly good one I’ve seen elsewhere is the marking of the reef lines to indicate the proper point to apply the clutch. I would just suggest using sparkly nail polish rather than what looks like ballpoint pen!
The main halyard is lowered while the reefing lines are pulled in. Idealy the 3 reefing lines would be on 3 adjacent clutches so they can be more easily hauled in together. A quick dash up to the mast to connect the reefing tack to the horn, then back to the cockpit to winch on the clew and halyard and it’s all done. Very little can go wrong if tension is maintained on the reefing lines while the halyard is lowered. I consider a brief dash from the cockpit to the mast a small price to pay to achieve such a simple and effective system. The same procedure of pulling in the 3 reefing lines can be used when flaking the main, which helps control the leach of the sail. I tried a boom bag and reverted to a conventional sail cover and lazy jacks. Sure, it takes a little more effort at the end of a long sail, but I could not tolerate the boom bag flapping in the wind and interfering with the operation and visibility of the mainsail.
Hi Chris, Marc
so much depends on the configuration of the boat, but I’d have to say that I either like everything at the mast (bar the kicker, maybe) or everything led aft. I’ve sailed boats that were ‘in-between’ but it didn’t work for me. But, as I’ve said, everything is a compromise, and it’s often dictated by what you inherit – and everyone has their own preferences, and long may it be so.
Good granny bars are a real must if you’re at the mast – and I’m glad we all agree that simple lazyjacks and sail covers are the best option for passage making.
And I love the nail polish idea – wait till Lou sees it, because she’ll know where it has come from!
Best wishes to you both
Thanks, Colin. A good point about the dubiousness of a “mixed” system of line control. As a near-sighted sailor (yet who eats his carrots), I’m always interested in simple ideas to preserve night vision but which also allow working the boat at 3 AM. Starlight alone will faintly glitter on sparkly nail polish, and I have figured out how to wire tiny red LEDs to a motion detector to briefly shine on companionway steps. There are also various luminescent tapes or plastic strips that are used to guide people out of darkened theatres that can work on a boat to indicate directions (or edges of things, or where to put one hand for the boat). I write this because part of the issue of going forward to the mast is related to a fear of tripping or, once a headlamp is on, of needing 20 minutes to regain full night vision. Very dim lighting, or glow in the dark boarders/paint daubs can allow 3 AM reefing on moonless nights to be done with very little visual input.
I assume you know about these but in case you don’t, headlamps with red and other colored lights in them are now easy to find. I use an LL Bean model that I was given which turns on red first and you have to push and hold it for a while to get white. It isn’t perfect but it does help in dealing with the readjustment issues.
Oh, yes, I do know this, and am lusting after a Petzl headlamp as we speak. But I find that the more passive sorts of lighting work better for me. That said, I have an old army surplus signal flashlight with both red and purple filters, plus a red Alpenglow for chart reading. Still, the diffuse red for 15 second gadget on the companionway suits me. I have to come up with something similar for lockers.
It is good to hear from someone with real experience of in boom systems.
My concern is how one gets shape in the “bunt ” of the sail as it is wound around the mandrel, is there anyway or necessity to have some form of outhaul.
I am not a sail / spar maker, so this is just my layman’s view of things. The modern in-boom systems are designed to work with fully battened mainsails. The tack and clew are lashed to the front and back of the internal mandrel which looks like a spinnaker pole that rotates inside the outer boom enclosure. Our previous outhaul and three reefing lines were replaced by one furling line, much like with a jib furler .
With the furling line loose and full hoist, the mainsail shape is as full as the battens will allow (set by batten stiffness). By tightening the furler, the mandrel rotates which pulls the battens under the mandrel. We always use the power-winch since you can’t over tighten the furling line (unless you forget to release the halyard jammer). Then, to lie flat against the mandrel the batten straitens, which in turn flattens the mainsail along the foot. This works at every reefing point (eight in total), so you have a perfectly set sail at each batten (reef), since the battens are always exactly the right length. I have never seen a stress line much less a “bunt”.
If and when John puts in place his new posting policy, I could post some photos to illustrate my points – if that would be helpful (and for Colin to see how robust the engineering really is now).
Nice article. And it is nice not only for its content, but also as an excellent description of trial and error trouble-shooting a system and then taking the next step and improving it. All too often we assume some system or item, because it has been sold to us, is “figured out” and we pay little or no attention to our subtle nagging doubts, irritations, and misgivings.
For me, there are at least a couple of essentials on Alchemy’s reefing system:
1. That it has to, in regular sailing conditions, be able to be accomplished single handed. We sail just the 2 of us offshore and waking the off watch is best kept for ir-regular occasions. Reefs should be easy so that they can be common occurrences accomplished alone.
2. That the reef can be done fairly quickly: from decision to locked in maybe 2-3 minutes with another minute or 2 for fine tuning. (I have never timed it so that is a guess.)
3. That the sail shape is impeccable. We like to sail well, but also, poorly shaped sails are an invitation to damage.
4. Finally, and most importantly, that the execution be done safely.
Essential equipment from my point of view include the slippery blocks you mentioned, but also slippery mainsail track. Going up or coming down, if the sail is connected to the mast with Antal or Harken, the work is way easier, especially with fully battened mains.
Numbers 1,2, and 4 above contribute to our loving our 2-line system for reefing from the cockpit.
My best, Dick Stevenson, l/v Alchemy
very well put – I agree with all you say and the points you make.
I’m a huge fan of fully battened mains mounted on tracks – to me they’re the easiest and best mainsails ever.
And two line systems have their advantages, definitely, and who knows but had that been an option we might have considered it. But as I’ve mentioned above, we’ve now got this set-up working, albeit with the odd glitch occasionally, so we’ll stick with it.
One simple point I’d add to your list (and I know you’ve thought of this): Reef early – it makes everything you do so much easier.
Great piece on reeding Colin!
We have evolved twin 2 line reefing from our J42 cockpit, which works in synch with our cockpit control of our sail pack lazyjacks. I added 2 more clutches to total 4 on each side under the dodger.
We use the jack line lift to tension the sail bag fully vertical just clearing the boom when anchored. This provides enough foil to stop 80% of our tendency to dance in the breeze. To hoist we unzip from the cockpit, walk forward to unsnap the halyard from its strop, return aft and fully retract the jacks to the mast, and hoist sail crossed to the electric port primary. We sail with the jacks retracted to the mast until time to reef or douse. I have always reset the jacks prior to reefing, and do have issues with jammed blocks hidden in the bag. BIG EPIPHANY! We will certainly plan to reef leaving the jacks retracted so the bag does not block our sight line, and then tension the jacks after the sail is set to bag up the bunt.
All from the cockpit.
We used the cockpit twin double reef setup for 6 weeks 1200 m from Marion to Bras D’or and back last summer, deploying often on the fierce Eastern Shore. Linda happily tuck in the second reef as we watched the hailstorm approach. We have also sorted out the bagged on deck Storm Trysail so it plays nice with the retracting jack system.
good to hear your ideas, and they obviously work for you, which is what matters. Every boat has its own challenges.
I often think that boat builders don’t consider their buyers. Most cruising boats I know are sailed by a couple, not a large crew for the most part, and that’s why over sized winches and well thought out reefing systems are important.
We lead our lazyjacks forward to the mast on long passages, and have simple cleats there to make them off. Anything to reduce chafe is a good idea.
I’ve never found a system I’ve been happy with other than a simple tack horn and leech reef lines led to a convenient winch. One thought I have is modifying that simple arrangement so it can be managed from either side of the boom, allowing whoever is reefing to do so from the windward side. Perhaps that would alleviate some of the hesitation of going to the mast to reef.
One thing I seldom hear mentioned in discussions of reefing is how critical the placement of luff reef cringles in relation to the slides and battens is. We’ve seen some mainsails that will never be easily reefed.
Allowing lazy jacks to retract is not only a great idea but eliminates the possibility of a sail cover that allows some sunlight to pass through the hole where the lazy jack goes through. We’ve seen several Dutchman equipped mains that had UV damage on account of this.
I sailed many tens of thousands of miles with my last boat with simple tack horn and leach line reefing, and it was super efficient. The only thing we did was have a stronger tack horn made after we bent the original after changing to Spectra halyards.
And I agree with your comment about sailmakers putting the cringes in the wrong places. I saw a new main delivered from one of the biggest ‘names’ where the cringes were way out of synch, and the local sailmaker had to do quiet a bit of work moving them and the reinforcement.
And UV doesn’t forgive does it? Another reason why we went for a new mainsail cover.
What you’re describing with poorly placed cringles and reef points is a nightmare. There’s no way to fix that neatly. My designer and I have a conversation about slide/car spacing and reef placement on every mainsail we build. We then share a detailed drawing with the client and explain the rationale behind what we’ve come up with.
A while back I read an article by Webb Chiles where he complained about his reef placement and a few other details on the mainsail. I hate to say this but people should not trust their sailmaker blindly. Most of the time the client is far removed from the designer and relies on a salesman to have collected enough information to know what’s really required. Some time ago Practical Sailor did a survey to see how people liked their sailmaker. Generally people were happier with smaller independent lofts than brand names. Globalization has leveled the playing field and with the exception of some very high end racing applications, the franchises don’t have any resources that a good independent loft doesn’t have.
While we’ve done many cruising sails, I still prefer to have a conversation about the design before any cloth is cut. I don’t know how many other sailmakers use that approach, but it’s a lot easier to modify a sail design in the computer than after a sail is cut.
Yet again I agree with all you say. I think it’s one thing getting a new boat with ‘factory’ sails – the builder of the sails usually has someone to answer to (the yard). But for replacement and renewal I’d prefer to go for the personal service and exchange of input with a smaller loft – obviously one with a good reputation for aftercare helps, too.
When we were having our boat built I went to a number of sailmakers with my wishes. These, at that time included 4 reefs in the main. At the London Boat Show I was talking to one of the big boys, and in response to my questions about 4 reefs and batten spacing, the guy patted me on the shoulder and said; ‘Don’t worry – we know what we’re doing’. I left instantly. The minute someone tells me not to worry, I start to worry.
Instead we went with Tarot Sails of Les Sables D’Olonne, who listened to my ideas and then persuaded me to go down the 3 larger reefs route, something we’ve never regretted. The main still looks great and sets beautifully, and, I might add has made me a big fan of Hydranet.
So my advice would be:
1. Be well briefed
2. Got to a sailmaker who listens to you
3. And understands cloth
4. Listen to their advice
That should get you what you need – not just what you want.
I agree with the majority of what you wrote. However I have seen some horrendous delivery sails that came with some high end boats. I’ve seen sailplans developed before the rig was up on the boat and deck hardware installed. Even on a boat that both of us admire quite a bit, the lovely Boreal, the JF’s have made some decisions that I question. However if I bought a Boreal, I’d simply ask for a credit and build my own inventory. I think the approach for the Adventure 40 is actually best. Sell the boat sans sails and have the buyer decide between 2 or 3 well vetted sailmakers.
HydraNet Radial used to be the logical go-to standard for extended cruising but I think we have some better options now, particularly with HPV and a more recently developed laminate for larger yachts made with a fiber called Tetraneema. Of course staying with a woven has significant advantages over laminates unless the owner/captain is adept with repairs.
Hi Colin, A very interesting post, thank you. Over the years I have used a few different systems of reefing, but only one single line system that didn’t work at all and kind of put me off the idea. Your experiences confirm my bias against them, though it sounds like you now have a workable system, even if you are now somewhat reliant on an electric winch to help overcome the friction in the system. How hard is it to shake out a reef manually?
A 60 footer I skippered had a two line system with everything led to the cockpit. Reefing worked well, except for the poor visibility and crowding under the dodger. Shaking out a reef needed someone forward to overhaul the pendants. We had the manpower to do this, but if shorthanded it would have meant a “dash” forward. And “dashes forward” are a pretty easy way to slip and injure yourself or worse… Contrast this to the system on a ex british steel global challenge yacht. Everything at the mast, Reefs where pretty quick to put in and shake out, even shorthanded across the Tasman (3 onboard). Another 62 footer I skipper occasionally has the reefing at the mast. It’s hard work, being a big boat with a heavy dacron main, but it works well with one person.
I often find Shaking a reef more awkward than reefing. Often the boat is underpowered and wallowing. The main boom is trying to slat in the leftover swell, and the slack pendants are snatching as the sail catches the wind.
I like my Boombags, I like having my main ready in an instant, and also covered most of the time, and I like the way in a blow it is quickly stowed and zipped away, without folds of sail escaping, and not having a damp and mouldy sail cover to stow someplace. But I will agree that visibility is worse. I like a small section of traditional cover for the first meter aft from the luff so I can get to (and see) the luff area without any drama’s, but the leach can sometimes cause problems. I have seen a few boats with rings sewn into the sail to help gather the sail neatly. maybe something to try?
Thanks very much for raising the question of size in regard to reefing systems.
In fact, our electric winch is virtually redundant for reefing, as reefs one and two (the ones we use most frequently) are on the port side and handled by a manual winch. Hoisting the sail after shaking out a reef the electric winch is useful (for the lazy) but not really necessary.
But size does matter – I’d guess that in general terms single line reefing is only practical terms up to about 50ft LOA. With a really well designed system, and top quality everything you might go a little bit further. Anyone who doubts this should try it, and also look at the state of the reefing lines after some solid use.
Reefing at the mast, the scale goes up again, in my experience. And as Rob suggests above, there is certainly a move towards in boom reefing systems on big yachts (say 70-80ft+), which may reflect a further scale implication.
The one change we made, that has made more difference than anything else in reducing friction is to replace the reef lines with smaller diameter uncovered spectra such as Amsteel Blue. We only have a cover on the short section where the reef line will jam in the clutches when the reef is pulled in. Some people are afraid that the uncovered spectra will slip on the winches but that has not been our experience. We just wrap more turns on the drum and our Barient self-tailing winches work very well. They do slip in the clutches under very high loads hence the cover on that section. Though it is probably partly due to the smaller diameter (we use 1/4″ Amsteel Blue).
The other advantage is that the smaller diameter lines stow better and take up less space in the cockpit. An especially big difference for the very long third reef line. Has anyone tried this?
one of the things we had planned to do with our halyards (at least) when we built the boat was to use smaller diameter Spectra with sheathing to build them up so that they wouldn’t slip in the clutches – and somehow it never happened.
But it’s a great idea, and it’s good to hear of your real world experience – my only concern would be cost? There’s a huge price differential between standard Dacron and a high modulus fibre, and there’s a lot of line involved.
While some of the higher tech fibers are a bit dear, you will find some economical Vectran blends. I know we offer 10 and 11mm Vectran blend halyards for well under $2usd/ foot. The stretch numbers are much better than yacht braid and the price point isn’t that much more.
LFS Marine & Outdoor has 600ft spools of Amsteel Blue 1/4″ for 476$US. At 0.80$ a foot, that is actually cheaper than many equivalent 7/16″ Dacron double braid!
You would still need to factor in the cost of a cover, shipping the spool, and for many people, 600′ would leave some leftover material which effectively raises the true per foot cost. I am a fan of Amsteel though!
I love Amsteel too! Another great use for it is lazyjacks. The 1/8″ Amsteel is perfect for that. It’s so slippery that simple spliced loops replace the blocs most people have which eliminates chafe on the sail.
Hi Dave and Pierre-Andre
wow, how prices have changed – and for the better. The hybrid Vectran halyards sound ideal, and I like the idea of using Amsteel (or similar) for lazyjacks, and I think I’ll make some. We don’t use any blocks anyway, and have replaced most working shackles on board with Spectra strops, which is not just good in terms of strength/weight. but where they touch aluminium stainless shackles chip paint and rattle on the deck like a drum when you’re below.
What fantastic materials these are.
Thanks to both of you for the contributions.
Funny, I was at my local chandlery yesterday and the owner brought out a length of Amsteel for use as stays, etc. I prefer the use of such miracle line as UV-protected halyards with Dacron tails/covers, personally, because of the desirable lack of stretch. I may have to consider them (or Dymeema) for reef lines where the weight and bulk is more of a hassle than the ultimate breaking strength.
Hi Colin and Pierre-André,
As you know we reef at the mast, none the less, changing over to low stretch reefing pennants and going down two sizes (9/16 to 7/16) was a break through. Not only does everything run much more easily, the other huge advantage is that there is almost no stretch in the system so that the .leach cringle does not pump up and down on every wave as it did with Dacron, the result being that we now have no chafe at all.
One thought. Is Spectra/Dynema the best option? I’m no expert on exotic rope materials, but my understanding is that one of the big drawbacks with Spectra (other than how slippery it is) is that it creeps.
Sorry for the late reply, but I just noticed your comment today and I want to thank you for a great idea! I have a reefing lines leading aft, non-single line setup but I still think it will benefit greatly from your idea. I am in the process of putting in a permanent 3rd reef line (rather than swapping two lines around). The existing reef lines are 10mm Dyneema/poly cover. I have realised that I could achieve the same strength with 5mm Dynex dux which I already use a lot on the boat. Very similar to Amsteel, but I think just a little stronger? Another added benefit of this system is that the covered areas will be excellent markers of the correct tension when the reef is pulled tight.
Thanks for the tips. We’re always looking to improve our Allures’ single-line reefing system. I especially like the idea of ditching the boom bag. Can you provide just little more detail about how you attach the lazy jacks to the top of the boom?
Two comments: 1) like Pierre-Andre, we use 1/8″ Amsteel for our lazy jacks, with eye splices and no blocks. We’re very pleased with this setup; 2) we followed John’s suggestion and replaced the reefing lines with downsized Endura braid. We noticed a dramatic reduction in friction while reefing and shaking, with no more binding on clumps of sailcloth at the leach.
I enjoyed meeting you, Lou, and Pelerin in Les Saintes. We recently benefitted from your article about a frustrating passage in the lee of the islands. Sailing virtually the same route in reverse, we elected to sail down the windward sides of St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Grenada, standing 5 miles offshore. We enjoyed a relaxing passage. Thank you!
it sounds like we’ll have to source some Amsteel to make new lazyjacks when we reach the US – ours are old, in any case.
Sailing down the windward shores of the islands makes a lot of sense if the wind isn’t too strong. It also means that it’s easier to visit some of the more windward islands, too. And as you note, sailing up the leeward coast of some of the bigger islands can be an exercise in frustration!
It was great to meet you, too, and we both hope your voyage continues to go well.
Colin, you can ignore my previous question about how your lazy jacks attach to the boom. The photo says it all!
Colin and David,
I love my HydraNet Radial,sails, but what do you do about repair? Nothing sticks to it, making field repairs, especially in dicey conditions, a,real challenge.
Dick Stevenson, l/v Alchemy
I have found that good quality adhesive backed sail cloth—often used for numbers or chafe patches—sticks fine to HydraNet, and most anything else. There does seem to be quite a lot of variability in the quality of the adhesive so it pays to consult a good local sailmaker. We got ours from our friend Richard. We have also found that the adhesive backed sail repair tape sold at marine stores is near useless.
The sails on ‘Bagheera’ are also made of HydraNet Radial, and I love that cloth and would need a very convincing story to change materials in the future!
I have experimented with sticky back cloth as well, and indeed, most is near useless. There are a fwe exceptions, but they cannot be used on high load area’s. I have a few meters of HN cloth on board, and you can apply that with spray-on glue. I have a spraycan from 3M that has worked very well on Hydranet repairs of clients (I used to work for a sailloft). They would return a ‘repaired at sea’ sail to me for a professional repair, and there was very little I could improve except for the aesthetic part.
Having said that, my sails are 30.000 sailing miles ‘old’ now and have not been in need of repair yet, and judging by the condition of the sails, they are not halfway their life yet (fingers crossed).
Before attempting a repair on any sail, it’s essential that the sail be clean, dry, and preferably free of salt before applying the insignia cloth or “stickyback” as some like to call it. I carry 54″ wide rolls onboard so I can cut out pieces to whatever size I need.
I also like to have a quarter sheet of plywood to stake out the sail on with some awls and pins. Here’s the steps you can take to effect a long lasting repair on a typical working sail:
1. Get the sail on a flat surface, preferably a small sheet of scrap plywood or a floorboard.
2. Use pins or awls to hold it in place.
3. Wipe off with fresh water (warm helps) and dry.
4. Optional – Some alcohol can be used as a cleaning solvent
5. Trim off any frayed edges or pulled threads
6. Apply repair material from center towards edges. On a working sail, I’ll usually have multiple layers (larger on top). Don’t use too many layers. Typical insignia cloth is about 3oz.
7. Patch both sides, time and material allowing.
8. Help the adhesives to really set up by heating the sail. This can be done by simply laying it out in the sun or using a hair dryer or heat gun on low setting at safe distance.
9. If you won’t be near a sail loft any time soon you can throw some stitches in to give the repair some added durability. I find myself doing this on any headsail leech repairs unless it’s my own boat where I don’t have to every worry about headsail flutter.
If anyone would like a detailed article on sail repair, drop me an email or visit the website and on the quote request form, just leave your name and email and a note that you want a copy of “Stitch in Time”.
Thanks for the tutorial on sail repair. This is very similar to what we have done in the past, but I always learn something. I would add to your list that my very last ditch repair strategy is to use 5200. This, I realize, would likely lead to my sailmaker, Chris Wentz, never speaking to me ever again, but if I can limp to port I am happy. I will definitely download your full article on sail repair and thank you for sharing it so generously.
I was unable to make insignia cloth stick to HydraNet radial. Even to the extent that the lightly loaded streaming telltales on the main had to be sewn on. Have you been successful at getting a good stick to HydraNet? I was hoping that age would make the material a bit more accepting.
My best, Dick Stevenson, l/v Alchemy
Thanks for the kind words. I don’t have any experience making temporary onboard repairs to HydraNet Radial as I don’t use it on my own boat and we don’t see a lot of it on the west coast of the US. I suggest taking Erik’s advice as he’s been living with Hydranet Radial for years. Personally I’m a much bigger fan of more recently developed cloth that doesn’t suffer from the inherent creep that drives many of us in the industry batty. If you look at Erik’s sails, you can see he took some additional time consuming steps during the building process that help alleviate some of these issues. The primary advantage of HydraNet Radial is longevity, not shape retention. I need both so the next boat will use a cloth called HPV (a crosscut woven making extensive use of Vectran in the fill) or a recently developed radial laminate that’s made with Tetraneema. Tetraneema is similar to Dyneema and Spectra and in laminated form, it doesn’t suffer from creep the way it does in woven applications. While I appreciate the ease of repair of a woven product, I’m 110% confident in our radial laminates and load path sails.
Your sailmaker should be able to assist in putting together an excellent repair kit. As for the use of 5200, that’s perfectly acceptable. I’ve used it myself for repairs to sails and inflatable dinghies. It’s going to be a mess but usually when I resort to it, the sail is near end of life so I’m not too concerned about having to re-do it later.
Dick, this discussion led me to talk to Brian Chapman of UK Sailmakers here in Toronto. I was underinformed about Hydranet and he explained its attributes, and then talked me out of it! He said a “reef early and often” strategy on our “Alchemy”, which is only similar to yours in LOA, I believe, wouldn’t really benefit from Hydra Net’s attributes, and it’s easier to repair Dacron in far-flung places. He suggested a more typical 9 oz Dacron for an ocean-going main, with the customary “blue water finish” of extra webbing, triple stitching, etc.
Interestingly, to me, he suggested we defer all plans until my mast is up in the spring so he could see the old main (which is still good, but a little light for offshore and with inappropriate reef points) in action. I was impressed with this proposal, as of course it’s very sensible when cutting a new main for a custom boat, but it’s not one a lot of sailmakers of my experience propose. Hope this doesn’t take us off track, but I hadn’t heard of Tides Marine and of course, the reefing process is compromised from any position if the slugs bind in the track because they aren’t up to the job.
Another reason your sailmaker is deferring until spring is he simply cannot design a main properly without measuring the rig in a reasonable state of tune. He can’t possibly know mast rake and bend characteristics without the rig up. He also needs to know the offsets for tack pin, reef hooks, and the outhaul car pin height if applicable.
That said, sailmaking practices in Toronto among some lofts are puzzling. We are very active in the Toronto market and my rep Michael Judd tells me that some sailmakers there build over the winter without a proper rig measure, then end up having to do modifications and re-cuts in the spring. He surmises that’s the reason sails in Toronto cost more than sails in BC where rigs can be measured year round. I know we’ve lost business there because we wouldn’t build because the rig was stored for winter. With the exceptions of tightly controlled one design sails, a rig measure is essential. Even a common boat like a C&C will have many variations.
I don’t know anything about your boat, but the premium Dacron products like Marblehead and Fiber104 are excellent proven materials and cost a great deal less than Radial HydraNet. For us, a deciding factor of when not to recommend a premium Dacron, is cloth weight. When you get into larger boats that require 11 or 12 oz plus cloth and twin ply leeches, the weight is a significant factor. We will usually suggest lighter alternatives which of course come at a higher cost.
The Tides Marine Strong Track is excellent and I’ve recommended and used it since the mid 1990’s. It’s much more trouble free than Harken and other systems which have more things to go wrong.
Dave, thanks for the thumbs up on the Tides Marine product when compared to the Harken (and similar types). As for the sailmaker needing to see the rig in nominal action, i.e. in place, stays and shrouds tuned and loaded up in a representative breeze…let me be clear that *I* know that is the standard operating procedure, but that this is suggested so rarely (presumably on the basis that a bad job in winter requiring remediation and costs for a loft is better than no job in the winter at all. Weight is less of a consideration to us than is durability given our SA/D numbers and determination to be happy making 4 knots in all conditions…it’s a motor sailer I think of as a sailer-motor that we need to suit up.
As for your comment about C&C rigs being on the dimensionally wobbly side, I couldn’t agree more. My older boat is a C&C design, and I have recycled either new or new-ish Dacron sails from a variety of similarly rigged C&C boats (with the occasional six-inch shortfall in the hoist) or had “Close Enough” composite sails headed for the dumpster after 25 races recut to serve my less exacting needs for five years or so. The variation, in other words, I like to feel I’ve turned into an advantage. Recutting a race sail with plenty of cruising life left in it for $200 has worked for me, because cruisers don’t cruise to a box rule.
Thanks for the heads on spray adhesives. Can you tell me the 3M #? I have seen “77”, “80”, and “90” in their site. Glad to hear the sails last so well. That supports my research. We have 2 years and they look and feel new still. We are very pleased.
Thanks, Dick Stevenson, l/v Alchemy
further reassurance – our Hydranet sails are now in their eighth season, have had minimal repair at annual maintenance and still look very good (to me!).
They were overbuilt at our request, and we’ve never regretted that.
I’m intrigued by Dave’s enthusiasm for the new materials, though, and am looking forward to seeing some sails in use.
Will you be in Patagonia any time soon? There are some HPV equipped boats in the charter trade using HPV. One of our customers with an Oyster is headed that way as well but first it’s off to the South Pacific for him. We’re doing a set for a Deerfoot 61 that will be putting a lot of miles on in a short period of time, including a trip around Cape Horn. That boat will be leaving NZ in our spring.
Marc, That all sounds like good thinking to me re sails and construction. As to Tides, I have friends who have been quite happy with Tides StrongTrack. My only caveat is, by my observation, the slipperiness is not as great as Antal mainsail slides where I have far more experience. I mention this because I have yet to get field reports of reefing/dousing the main down-wind in a full gale with the Tides equipment. With the Antal, I have done this on a number of occasions and consider that capacity to be a big addition to my safety on the vessel: one I did in no way anticipate when I got this equipment on the boat when purchased.
My best, Dick Stevenson, Alchemy
I’ve used Tides on some pretty good sized sails in heavy air without issue. My impression is that Tides delivers 90 or more percent of the friction reduction that Antal offers at about a third of the price. I don’t have any data to support that friction reduction assessment but in over 20 years I’ve yet to have a client express any discontent with the Tides system.
I haven’t used the system on boats over 60′ though.
Dave, Does your experience (or client’s) with the Tides equipment include their using the track slipperiness to allow downwind reefing? To what wind level? As to the simpleness of the Tides equipment, it is hard for me to image a much simpler and robust design than my Antal track and slides. In 15+ years there has been no trouble and I think Harken has solved their ball bearings falling out issue. Not sure about others, but I suspect you have way more experience and would appreciate hearing reports of experiences that I might watch out for.
Thanks, Dick Stevenson
I fully agree that the Antal system is excellent. We have no problems to report with it.
No problems reefing Strong Track equipped boats downwind including in a gale. I’m sure once you reach a certain size main with swept back spreaders, it can require some extra effort. I haven’t experienced it though and my customers all love their Strong Track systems.
Harken’s Battcar system has improved but is not trouble free from what we’ve seen. Another beef with Harken is the cost for replacement parts is in the stratosphere. We know of some Harken systems that have been scrapped for that very reason. If someone feels their boat is too large to work with Strong Track, I’d go with Antal.
I have installed a Tides system on a mast in as little as 10 minutes. Hard to beat in terms of ease of installation.
One thing I’ve seen in this industry is that a lot of people like to recommend the more expensive and labor intensive solutions. A rigger or sailmaker makes far money selling Antal than he does selling Strong Track.
Dave. Appreciate the comments and it is great to hear that Tides does so well at such a substantial savings. Especially with the installation so easy. I also like to see pressure put on the big boys to be realistic in their designs and competitive in their pricing.
Thanks, Dick Stevenson, Alchemy
Dick and Dave: this is as you can imagine a very beneficial exchange of experience and ideas. Given my squared-off spreaders and tendency to get sail down a little early, and I actually like a touch of friction in my sail track because it means I can sort the folds (I work at the mast base on both my boats by preference) without having to worry that the weight of the sail will bring itself down too fast with just a couple of wraps around the halyard winch.
However, I would ask if either of you gentlemen have ever used or considered a main downhaul line made of Dyneema or Spectra and run to the headboard with which to bring down a reluctant main? When solo sailing, I have on occasion rigged a light-line downhaul and deck-mounted block on my hanked-on foresails, which allows me to go head-to-wind and douse the jib cleanly after freeing the halyard. Unnecessary complexity for the main, or prudent practice? Thanks…what a great site.
I’ve used the downhauls on headsails but never had a reason to do so on a mainsail. On boats without a track system, I find myself going aloft regularly to clean and lubricate the track.
You mentioned that you like a bit of friction to allow time to flake the sail as it comes down. With Strong Track the sail comes down like a bloody shade so you have to have someone tending the halyard if you want time to flake it neatly. It’s a bit startling for people the first time they drop the sail. I have had some comments about it from clients to that effect. There simply isn’t much friction with the polished stainless slides against the low friction plastic.
Dave, if it’s that slippery, and yet not as slippery as the Antal or Harken system, I’m not sure how desirable any more slipperiness would be! I suppose if you (to go back to the point of the original post) incorporate a number of cheek and turning blocks to get the halyards back to the cockpit, the absolute minimum of friction would be desirable, but if one works at the mast, it’s a less compelling value proposition, I would think. I’m certainly familiar with Delrin: I have 1/2″ “washers” of it as bearings for my transom-hung rudder.
Sorry re the delayed response. I have been off the grid for a bit.
Interesting question re downhaul on the main. I have used them to good effect on a headsail back when, but do not believe I have heard or seen them on a main. That likely says something right there.
You are quite right that, with slippery track of some sort, the main comes down like a brick requiring (at least on Alchemy) that Ginger handle the halyard while I flake. (Or drop it fast into the lazyjacks and neaten later.) What most mains suffer from is not so much friction as hang-ups. Friction (just slowing the descent) might help, for the purpose you suggest (flaking) but hang-ups are the issue. My experience is that (without slippery track) the main comes down in uncontrollable jumps that made flaking it hard to manage. A downhaul would just make the jumps easier to initiate, but would still go from hangup to hangup.
So, I would suggest, that a main downhaul would add complication and likely would not produce the results you wish for.
My best, Dick
Thanks for your views, Dick. Sometimes I have ideas I am not personally committed to, but like to “float” in front of more experienced mariners to see if they have any practical application or ring any bells. This is how I ended up with “toerail preventers” on my IOR boat (these aren’t a good idea on anything but a tall, skinny main and I wouldn’t use them on my cutter rig, where “boom end to the bow and back” is the proven method). This is also how I rediscovered the barber hauler and the “Zeppelin bend”: I thought I was being clever and seamanlike until a little research revealed I was just reinventing the mousetrap! Regarding the main downhaul, I suspect you are right in that it falls into the “more trouble than it’s worth” category, and that well-placed lazy jacks are the answer. The speed at which the main should come down is more a function of halyard “braking” than slippery track, I think, and if you experiment, you find the speed at which the main will flake itself in a dependable fashion. Because I work at the mast, I prefer my wife to either do this herself (not difficult for her on the 33 footer; somewhat tougher on the 41-footer), or to steer head to wind while I do it. I prefer to control the drop myself, usually, in case of the dreaded hang-up, which I find resolve with a sharp tug upward…usually! Thanks as always for the comments.
You mentioned a 3M adhesive spray for HN cloth. I could find many options on the 3M site. Could you give me the spray number that you have had success with? Dick
Dick, I have some people racing a Mumm 36 (a relatively rare ’90s raceboat) from the slip beside me, and I saw a can of this in their sail repair kit. I’ve seen it on other boats, too: http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/Adhesives/Tapes/Products/~/3M-Hi-Strength-90-Spray-Adhesive?N=5396314+3294310564&rt=rud
Marc, Thanks for that info. Cheers, Dick
Since there has been a lot of discussion on Hydranet sail cloth here, I thought I should mention North’s Radian Dacron. I won’t go into why I went with North, suffice to say I have a good relationship with the North guys in Cape Town. I also believe that the radian cloth is a great compromise between price and longevity, combining the durability of woven Dacron with a warp oriented radial panel design which should hold shape to an older age than conventional crosscut. I think there is a lot of BS on sailcloths by the major sailmakers, but in this case the technology made sense to me. Early days but so far I am very pleased with the sails.
To the reefing debate I would only add that for the “bullhorn” tack attachment I think it is far preferable to use short strops on pad eyes on the mast with snap-shackles, obviously with appropriate mainsail reef point webbing/eye arrangement. It’s a lot easier attaching like this with a huge bundle of luff and with bat cars you obviously need the different lengths. I have a variety of length strops for the three reefs, but also to enable an easier clip in need if the sail has come down less neatly.
I agree with you about “BS on sailcloths by the major sailmakers.” But quite frankly I feel North is leading the charge.
Unlike Bainbridge, Challenge, Contender, and Dimension Polyant you won’t find detailed test reports and specifications for cloth that is produced for North. So you can’t even make a meaningful comparison between a cloth being sold by North and a cloth being sold by any other sailmaker.
As a consumer, doesn’t that bother you just a bit? I know you’re likely good friends with the chaps at North, and I don’t doubt their competency as sailmakers one iota. But as a South African, you could buy a sail from Jannie Reuvers or another fine sailmaker and make an informed decision about the material choices because you could make an intelligent comparison by reviewing the performance charts.
You mentioned Radian as an alternative to HydraNet Radial. It’s just a woven polyester as opposed to a woven with Dyneema. For real cruising, it would probably have a third or fourth of the service life of HydraNet Radial.
I won’t even get into dispelling the myth of the molded sail they’ve been propagating for years.
Hi Dave, I hear you and I definitely don’t want to fight the North cause here. I am however very happy with the product. I bought the boat (rig less) in Aus and the mast and sails were shipped in from South Africa (Southern Spars and North). Everything fitted perfectly on the boat, quality is excellent and the price was good. I am sure Jannie makes excellent sails too, but I had a relationship with North from my racing days over there. Yes I would prefer to compare specs, but I do believe that North has good quality control and I believe them when they say that Radian has a very good tight weave for a warp oriented fabric. My online research also didn’t find any unhappy Radian users and the product has been out there for a while. Certainly the cloth looks and feels good.
I am sure you are right about Hydranet lasting longer from a sail shape point of view (dyneema vs polyester), but it is a more expensive material and I’m not sure that it will last longer than Dacron from a durability point of view. I am however quite sure that you know a lot more than I do about sails so will defer to your opinion on that.
from my own experience and that of others I’ve spoken to Hydranet is more durable than Dacron.
Dave may well be right (see his previous comments) that there are better sailcloth products on the market, and I’m looking forward to seeing them in action, and hearing about their longevity.
But after many thousands of miles and ocean cruising abuse our Hydranet sails are I’m amazing shape, and at their annual check-up have had hardly a stitch put in them. I’d go with Hydranet again.
I would add my endorsement for Hydranet. Great stuff that has served us very well.
I also think that the whole debate about the longevity of Dacron against Hydranet depends on the user and their expectations. If one is willing to use sails until they are bagged out old rags, then Dacron may be a good choice, but for people like me, and I suspect you, with a racing background that simply can’t stand poor sail shape and the poor boat speed that results, then Hydranet and more expensive fabrics like it, are a good deal because the keep their shape longer.
Colin and John
Thanks for the advice which I’m sure is well worth following (as always). I definitely have way too much racing in me to bear the sight of poor sail shape, so I hope the radian lasts a while. Next time I’m buying a new sail I will certainly seriously consider Hydranet.
You mention North having good quality control. These days sailmaking is a highly globalized business. A handful of lofts build the vast majority of sails sold. North’s loft in Sri Lanka, which likely built your sails is a mature operation so I don’t question that assertion. However I’d submit that any of the industry leading production lofts that produce for big brand names and independents like us have excellent quality control. I’ve had over a 1000 sails produced by a single production loft and we’ve had one sail arrive that should have never left the loft. Naturally there have been some smaller errors as any human endeavor is not immune from error. But I can say with absolute certainty that North is not the only manufacturer with reliable quality control measures in place.
Both Colin and John selected independent sailmakers for their sails. Independent lofts don’t have limitations placed on them the way franchise lofts so. The best material and best production loft for any job can be selected. The big brand names lofts have their advantages too. For instance if you own a Melges and want to win the next major one design regatta, I’d certainly suggest looking at the sailmakers who are leading that class and see if they can supply sails and some high level talent for that regatta.
As for user reports about the cloth, I can tell you the vast majority of recreational sailors aren’t able t0 objectively evaluate cloth performance. I can load a photo into our Smar Azure software and the computer can perform a detailed analysis of flying shape. The only way for me to really know how the cloth is performing in real life is to periodically duplicate the photo in similar conditions and analyze the shape.
Personally I’m not keen on radial Dacron sails. For the majority of applications (notably not distance cruising) where radial Dacron is used, we could use a superior performing laminate for around the same cost as the radial Dacron. One design classes that prohibit the use of sails with mylar or exotic fibres are the one application that I’m keen on using a radial Dacron. Dimension Polyant offers some excellent performing Dacron for those applications.
This is your business and I’m sure you know it very well. However I have been a racing sailor my whole life at an international level with some success, so I feel entitled to my own opinion on some of this stuff. I accept most of your points but I would contend:-
I don’t know if my sails were built in Sri Lanka, but I do know that Labour is relatively inexpensive in South Africa and North Cape Town have a large loft with many sailmakers. Presumably they at least finish the sails there. Regardless, North Cape Town and any other Cape Town based sailmaker is producing sails for the local market. In the extreme winds that are often sailed in down there the sailmakers have learnt to build them strong.
Whilst we may not be able to quantitavely measure sail shape, us “recreational sailors” can still look at a sail and determine whether the shape still looks reasonably good or not. Also, I would wager that cruising sailors spend at least 80% of the time sailing downwind where perfect sail shape is not critical.
I have heard stories of bad batches of sail cloth and sails that have suffered from them. Independent sailmakers may well be the way to go, but I’m sure you will agree that there are good ones and bad ones so the buyer should choose carefully. I would also be interested in your opinion on the large Asian based sailmakers who sell direct (shan’t mention names here).
If you’re a racing sailor with success at the international level, that puts you into a whole different category than the majority of recreational sailors. I’ve had people present me with sails that have horrid shape, totally blown out, and they think the sails are fine and “just need a few stitches here and there.”
Excellent point you brought up about bad batches of sailcloth. That’s one of the reasons why responsible production lofts do pre-acceptance testing.
As for the large Asian lofts that sell direct, there’s a number of reasons a discerning customer would avoid them. They represent the largest buyers of the manufacturer rejected cloth (seconds) and often under-build the sails. 2.5mm polyester luff cord in a spinnaker for a 15 metre yacht? Hey that’s one way to save some money. Minuscule corner patches? Those will work too. Sail design is another area in which those lofts fall short. You can teach a monkey to run sail design software but there’s a huge difference between running the software and actually designing a good sail. But that market segment seems happy with a flat white triangle and the forms used to collect data for design wouldn’t provide enough information for a real designer to work from. Most of what they do seems formula driven. Instead of properly determining sheeting angles to insure a headsail will sheet properly, they just pick a clew height and hope for the best.
Have single line for the first two and double for the third. Find the double third works much better and allows a great flat main with no effort.
Have a Dutchman instead of lazyjacks. Find this helpful as pulling the topping lift tightens it as well as the Dutchman giving good folds without needing to go forward.
Let off vang.
Tighten topping lift.
Ease halyard while pulling in all reef lines.
Clutch reef lines.
Find if I have the end of the boom up high while the reef is tighten I get good clew tension and a flat sail. If I don’t let boom rise line hangs up at tack and I get a lousy shape.
Still think single isn’t as good as double. Occasionally still need to go forward to work the line through the block on the tack if it hangs up on the sail. You need to be compulsive about not letting anyone put any twist in the lines if you expect it to work.
Don’t like anything with a mandrill. They can bend or jam or the sail can “walk” on it. With in boom if the halyard goes you have a whole lot of sail unsecured on deck in a hurry.
We had our main built so it can be reefed from the mast (have horns) or cockpit. For short money think this is a good idea for a cruising boat.