Frank's Corner: Chapter 10 - Sail Care

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    Chapter 10 Sail Care

    Sail care: This care starts as soon as you use them. This is very important because they are the motor of your boat and very expensive to replace. Storing sails clean and dry give many years of good service. Keeping your sails clean, dry, folded, covered, and repaired is the secret.

    As you will find out when sailing, all lines (halyards, downhaul, outhaul, sheets, etc.) will get wet, therefore you want to loosen these until they dry. They expand when wet and shrink when drying, which puts strain on a sail, possibly tearing it.

    When you take sails down and store them in bags or inside the cockpit let them and associated sheets dry to prevent mildew or rot.

    To take down a sail, head into the wind so the sail falls into or on the boat, not into the water. This also gives the crew better control of a loose sail and boat. As the main sail comes down it may stick, so you want to grasp it by the luff and help it come down by gently pulling down to prevent tearing. The fore sail should also be gently pulled down by the luff if needed.

    Sails, after taking them off should be folded in layers like an accordion about 12-18" wide. This helps in storing as they take up less space and it prevents sharp folds and creases which can break down the sail fabric.

    I start at the foot and work towards the head, which works best with two people but can be done by one. Hold the tack and clew down and move up the sail about two feet and fold one foot to the sail foot, repeating this until the sail is folded. Then fold or roll from the clew to the tack. This helps when reinstalling the sail. Others like to fold the main sail to the luff then rolling or folding foot to head.

    If the main sail is left on the boat covered with a sail cover it should also be folded accordion style (flaked), using ties to hold it on the boom.

    Cleaning a sail should be done but never put a sail in a washing machine or dryer. Sails should be laid out on a clean surface and wash with a mild detergent then rinsed well. To remove tough stains, contact your local sail loft for guidance. Sails used on salt water should be hosed off frequently with fresh water. Salt crystals are abrasive and will shorten the sailís life.

    As you sail your boat, be on the look out for chafing, especially in areas where there is stitching. Stitching on Dacron sails sits on top of the sail and can deteriorate quickly. Chafing may occur when the sail rubs on a shrouds, spreaders, life lines, etc.

    It's never a good idea to let your sail luff in the wind. If the wind is too strong for the sail area, reduce by reefing the main sail, furl the head sail or take it down and put up a smaller jib.

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    If you would like to add your thoughts on this or on any sailing topics, please Email Alison at and I will post your sailing experiences on this website.

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