I’m an offshore sailor so cheap he squeaks. Once, at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, I was in a bathroom with a pay toilet that cost a dime—naturally, I threw up into a sink instead. Yes, I squeeze a penny so hard that Abe Lincoln cries. And, thus, I hate buying anything, especially sails.
Here’s the good news—modern Dacron sails can last a long time with proper care IF you are a cruiser. If you are a racer, however, the truth is slightly more complicated. You will constantly be approached by conmen sailmakers saying, “Lookit, pal, your expensive racing vessel is slow as poop! That means either you are an idiot and don’t know how to sail—or your rags need replacing. Which is it?”
Have you ever known a racing idiot who will admit to being an idiot? I didn’t think so! Yacht racers are just waterborne cash-cows to keep ‘the men who sew’ in thimbles and thread.
The problem with sailmakers is that they’re everywhere—disguised as normal human beings. While it is true that I consider myself a liberal and have compassion for most conmen and thieves, I draw the line with any man who knows what a walking foot is.
Seriously! If approached by anyone from North, just run screaming into the sea. That’s what I automatically do and it works!
The trouble is that—if you start to listen to a sailmaker drone on—they consider you a mark and attempt to sell you a ‘hi-tech’ sail versus their normal crappola one.
What’s a high tech sail? One that costs twice as much and lasts half as long. What is a super high tech sail with a small ‘i’ in front of its name? Well, those cost four times as much and last less than a quarter of the lifespan of a typical vanilla rag.
How much does a new suit of sails cost? Well, that depends on gullibility, ego, and bank balance. Yes, more than one racing yachtsmen has had to give up his mistress in a hopeless attempt to be first at the weather mark.
Sailmakers don’t confine themselves to sails, of course—they market expensive ‘stack pack’ sail covers as well because: 1) they cost a lot, 2) people like the convenience, and 3) the sailmakers know their lazy-ass customers will never zip them!
It’s a total win-win for the sailmaker—a new profit center, and one that accelerates the demise of their main cash cow. Yippee!
Of course, not all sailors want to avoid sewing machine jockeys. In that case, I recommend fully battened mainsails (as those are eternally in need of repair).
I used to buy Lee Sails from Hong Kong but they are now strictly ‘one use’ rags—with cloth as robust as cheap toilet paper. (If I sound bitter, that’s because I am.)
The French, of course, are so busy and broke from attempting to buy anchors that don’t drag, that they have no euros left over for sailcovers. (Evidently it is chic in Nice to have sun-damaged sails spilling off your boom onto your cabin top—even sail ties are out-of-fashion in trendy Martinique.)
Speaking of such, the more expensive sailcovers become, the more often they are stolen—by Brits and Yankees, mostly.
Okay—time to be serious!
Chafe is a major factor, especially for circumnavigators who spend most of their time off the wind. Thus we keep the aft edges of our spreaders smooth and clean.
We just purchased a new Ullman mizzen sail in South Africa (a lovely, lovely sail) and used in on the 5,500 mile nonstop run from Cape Town. Once in the Caribbean, we took it down and Carolyn sewed patches in all the dirty places (those areas that show signs of chafe).
On long passages (more than, say, 2,000 nautical miles) we often take down (or relax) our topping lifts and lazy jacks to prevent any minimize chafe.
Many cruisers use too much halyard tension in light air. To put it another way, those vertical wrinkles aren’t fast in gentle conditions.
Don’t forget to relax almost all your halyard tension if you are not going to use your headsail for a while—stretching and deforming your Genoa and staysail while not in use is silly, right?
Reefing is another factor. The main difference between a coastal sailor and an offshore passage maker is that the latter always has the correct amount of sail up.
What is the correct amount? Well, usually less than you think.
I write this from Colon, Panama. Immediately after our canal transit, we will cross the Pacific once again. My publically stated goal is to have the safest, strongest, most reliable boat out there—and then load it up far less than the fool sailing next to me.
I want to ‘finesse’ my vessel across oceans, not bash through them.
Part of the problem is that so many newbies think that their boats are like automobiles and designed not to break. They are not. Cars have gas pedals. You’d never drive a car with a stuck gas pedal, would you? I wouldn’t. And that’s why I’d never go to sea in a vessel I couldn’t easily reef in 45 knots of wind on a dark night.
Recently a guy on a Hallberg Rassey 52 invited me aboard for sundowners and showed me seven pieces of broken gear in an attempt to convince me his boat (my dream boat) was shoddily made. Of course, all I saw were seven perfect examples that the man didn’t have a clue how to sail or what offshore seamanship was all about.
There is nothing on a boat some idiot can’t break given half a chance.
How long should a modern well-made Dacron sail last in hard-but-careful use? Ten years? 50,000 ocean miles? Yeah, I get both out of my sails. Then again, I reef early and well. I have even asked to have the words ‘He was perfecting his mainsail reefing system right up to the end…’ engraved on my headstone.
Editor’s note: Fatty and Carolyn Goodland are nursing their rags in mid-Pacific as we go to press. Their new book, Cruising Boat Basics, is available through amazon.com worldwide.
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander and his wife Carolyn are currently on their fourth circumnavigation. Fatty is the author of numerous marine books. Visit: fattygoodlander.com for details.