August 26, 2016-All About Mainsails
I made our first new mainsail in 1993.
1993, Home-made, Kevlar mainsail
I wasn’t a sail maker and I didn’t have clue about what I was doing, but I did it anyway.
I went to the library and checked out some books on sail shape. Library? Books? Yeah, I actually went to the Seattle Public Library in downtown Seattle and got some hard cover books. Can you believe that? Amazing! How yesterday! Then I wrote a Lotus 123 spread sheet to calculate the dimensions of each panel, there were 52 of them, based on the shapes I learned about in those books. That spreadsheet, wow, it was something (it got lost when a floppy disc failed years ago). With a design in hand I bought a Sailrite machine and a bunch of Kevlar and started sewing. I did it on the floor of the CYC yacht club. It took 80 hours. The sail turned out pretty good. It was dumb luck.
It caused a bit of a stir around Seattle; lots of people knew I was making it and when we showed up on the course with it there were quite a few eyeballs scoping it out. I don’t know if they were impressed or not, nobody said much about it, but they paid attention, I can tell you that.
There was a lot that was experimental about that sail, from the particular Kevlar and polyester laminates I used, to the graphite tapered round battens I made which had a habit of exploding without warning, to the Lotus 123 graph I used to model and view the sail shape before I started cutting cloth. There were other problems which required endless repairs over the years but the basic sail shape was good. I have now come to believe it was very good although I didn’t know it at the time. It had a large roach and flat and smooth in midsections where it needed to be flat and smooth. The draft was about right, and there was plenty of twist aloft. The shape was a success. It was fast out of the box and we won a lot of races with it.
Thirteen years later, in 2006, that mainsail was shot. That is a pretty long run for a racing sail but most of the time during those years it didn’t see much use; we were cruising and the Dacron cruising sails were hoisted, not the Kevlar racing sails. Still, after 13 years, it was toast. It had patches on top of patches. I had neither the time nor place to make a new one but both Judy and I had jobs and were making good money, so we decided to buy a replacement.
We got the replacement, our second new mainsail, from Shenzen, China.
2006 Main from CSF
There was a place there which our friend Jim Fernie told us about called China Sail Factory. China Sail Factory (CSF) made sails for sail lofts all around the world for a good price. The main they quoted was cheap enough so I ordered the sail, sent in the measurements and wire transferred the money. Some guy in New Zealand I never met or knew designed it. The sail arrived in Singapore soon afterward, as scheduled, but what a disappointment! The fabric and construction was beautiful but when we put it up I was horrified. The shape was bad. The sail was too deep aloft and the body wasn’t fair. Every seam looked like a ridge. The draft was all wrong. I didn’t see how we could win races with that sail but I was stuck with it. When you buy a sail over the Internet, from some factory in China, you don’t have much recourse if you don’t like it. Sail shapes are too subjective anyhow; they could just say it was fine, or fault my measurements. A recut was needed and again, I didn’t have the time or place to do it. I couldn’t do it. So we sent the sail to a friend in Perth with specific instructions for what we wanted and when it came back it was better. Not good, but better.
We used that sail, actually we had no choice, and in time we forgot about the shortcomings. Maybe the sail even got better as we used it. We also found that with skillful trimming we could make the shape acceptable. And we did win with it too. We were dominant in King’s Cup in 2006, and we used it all over the Asian region. Years later, in Colombia in 2014, it was still reasonably good and in 2016, 10 years after we bought it, we were still using it in Mexico and still winning races. In fact it seemed that the older it got the better it looked.
But 2016: that was the end of Mainsail #2.
At the finish line of the second race of the Banderas Bay Regatta that year our China-made Kevlar main totally disintegrated. There was a hole in the middle of it big enough to walk through.
We put up the Dacron cruising main and finished the regatta but we needed another new mainsail if we were going to keep racing.
So, what to do for a third new mainsail?
We went back to China Sail Factory, for price mainly, but I also thought I could have more control over the design, and I had some ideas about what I wanted. We had several email discussions with the designers in Shenzen, the CSF designers, and in the end they agreed to my ideas and they built the sail I wanted. You can see it here on the right.
Old and New Sails from China Sail Factory
It's not perfect, but it's better. It is a much flatter sail than the last one, more like the 1993 sail, but a little less roach. That reduced roach was an accident; I wanted more roach but I failed to communicate it properly. Anyhow, we didn’t get the extra roach. Otherwise the sail is beautiful. It has the same flatness and smoothness, more so even than my 1993 sail. Oh, we have some minor issues with the top, and we’ve only had it up once, but all in all it is probably the best mainsail we have ever had for this boat.
It is interesting to compare the photos of these three sails. Even an untrained eye can see the differences. We are really interested in seeing how we perform with this newest sail. In 1993, with the one I made back then, we had the best racing season ever with Wings. What will we have in 2017?
Fred & Judy, SV wings, La Cruz Huancaxtle