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Looking for a Good Cruising Sail?

Here are some tips
and guidelines when shopping for a woven Dacron cruising sail to be used in the
Caribbean.

The most important factor in making a good cruising sail is
the type of fabric that will be used. Unfortunately the customer has little
input when in comes to this decision and the customer must trust that the sail
maker will use the best fabric available for the price paid for the sail. There
are three to four cloth manufactures in the world and each produce a range of
Dacron fabrics that vary in price and performance. Ask your sail maker where
the fabric planned for your sail stacks up price and quality wise in the
manufactures range of fabric. I would only consider using the top two fabrics
price wise in the range. These fabrics generally have better quality fibers,
more of them, and will stand up to the flutter and ultra violet that breaks
down fabric.

In order for the sail to be attached to the rig, pressed
through or external rings must be attached to the sail in order for the sail to
then be connected at the head, tack and clew. These rings need a certain number
of layers or patches to “bite” into and these patches must be at a minimum size
so the base fabric of the sail does not distort under load. Ask your sail maker
if you can look at one of their sails so you can visually see the size of the
patches and the number of layers. A good way to look at patch sizes is as a
percentage of leech and luff. Look for the clew patch to be 12% of the leech,
Tack patch 10% of the luff and head patch 20% of the luff. Number of layers
will vary based on boat and sail size but at minimum there should be 7 layers
per corner.

Panels used to be joined together by putting them through a
guide that would line the seam up with the sewing machine that would then seam
the panels together. Nowadays panels should be pre-stuck with seam stick, a
double sided tape that actually in tandem with the stitching makes the seam
stronger then with just stitching alone. Seam width size and the number of rows
of stitching is critically important in keeping the sail in one piece for a
long time. Minimum seam width size for all boats over 30 feet should be

1 ¼ “ or 32mm and should have a minimum of 3 rows of
stitching.Stitching should be triple step
rather then the traditional zigzag type. Triple step is stronger, tighter and
is less likely to chafe. Like fabrics there many threads for sail makers to
choose from. Make sure at minimum a
“92” type is being used.

There are certainly other variables that make up a good sail
like fit, design, and hardware types but if guidelines listed above are
followed by the sail maker you will have the basis for a good sail!

Doug Stewart, raised in Tortola, apprenticed under Ted
Hood of Hood sails infamy in the late 70s and early 80s,
was a sail maker to countless
Americas Cup and Whitbread/Volvo groups and
is currently a designer and project manager for Quantum Sail Design Group. He
is also a co owner of Quantum sails Tortola based out of Nanny Cay Marina.

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