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.