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Old 20-05-2007, 20:49   #1
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Sail Repair Techniques/Recommendations?


I am pretty new to sailing in general, but am trying to learn as much as possible re: a variety of sail topics, so I apologize if some of my questions are amateur.

My question is regarding sail repair. Last weekend, my boyfriend and I were sailing his San Juan 24 out on the lake where he keeps it. We had awesome winds, and for quite some time averaged about 7 knots.

We did a hard tack at one point and one of the battens tore right out of the pocket it was in. Upon inspection afterward, it appeared that the batten broke in half at some point and the new rough "ends" managed to tear the pocket right at about the middle point. The pocket also detatched from the sail and was flapping all about.

We went to West Marine to pick up special thread, but they didn't have any. We ended up using regular thread, and just hauled my sewing machine up on the boat, making sure to double enforce the stitches since it was regular thread, which actually worked beautifully. Plus it was a definite conversation starter to have the sewing machine out there on the dock!

What type/brand of thread would typically be the best to use for sail repairs though? We may at some point decide to redo it correctly, so just looking for ideas. Also would any of these threads work with a sewing machine? Hand stitching some of the bigger areas might prove to be more time consuming that I'd like it to be...

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Old 20-05-2007, 23:33   #2
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Good for you! I paid $100 to have a set of batten pockets repaired before I tried sewing them myself.

For sail repair supplies, I have to purchase mail-order. For thread you will want to use a UV protected thread that will match the material your sail is made of. For a dacron (i.e. polyester) sail, you want a dacron thread, etc... The ordinary thread you used will not last long in the sunshine, but will certainly last long enough to get in proper supplies.

You will also want a much heavier thread than usually used on clothing for any structural repair. I use an old all metal singer machine to do canvas work. It can handle V-69 weight thread easily (which would be heavy enough for your 24 footer), V-92 weight thread with a little trouble and nothing larger.

When using this heavy duty thread, I have to crank up the upper thread tension. I have also found it necessary to max-out the presser foot adjustment.

Here is the link to the last place I purchased sail cloth and thread from:

Sunbrella, Marine Canvas, Fabrics, Hardware and Supplies - Sailmaker's Supply

You can also try defender:

Discount Marine and Boat Supplies - Inflatable Sales - Defender

Good luck!

Our Pictures and Sailing Movies:
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Old 21-05-2007, 01:08   #3
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Congratulations on getting your sewing machine to work on the sail! You typically need to use a walking-foot type machine to be able to trasport slippery sailcloth reliably. For thread, you need to use polyester (dacron) V138 weight (which probably won't work as well in your machine), don't use nylon or cotton as they will deteriorate very quickly. There is also a thread called Tenara, very expensive but has a "lifetime guarantee" for whatever thats worth. Also, when sewing sails, you must use zig-zag stitching or they will rip like a zipper along straight stitching. You can check for sail repair supplies, but they are quite expensive and can probably fid the same items elsewhere for less.
In theory, Practice and Theory are the same. In practice, they are not.
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Old 21-05-2007, 05:15   #4
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I use sailmakers supply
Thread and Needles
and sailrite
Sailrite Sells Sail and Marine Supplies for DIY

There is some special requirements for sail thread. You should be able to use any home sewing machine for sewing medium weight dacron sail cloth and canvas provided that your take care to keep the machine cleaned, well oiled, sharp needle and make sure that the cloth does not bind. In other words don't trust the presser foot to move the cloth. I'm using a light weight singer now. There is a thread discussing the various virtues of different brands of machines that is pretty informative.
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Old 21-05-2007, 08:53   #5
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The issue with using normal thread is it resistance to Ultraviolet light, a very large component of sunlight. The UV will breakdown the fibers and the thread will just disintengrate. The V- rated threads generally indicate their resistance to UV breakdown. It is also indicative of the threads diameter. The higher the number, the thicker the thread. I don't think V138 will fit in the needles available for normal sewing machines. My wife tells me that V92 was the thickest she could get to work in her normal sewing machine. She uses V92 when doing most of her work on sails and canvas. She says for pockets V92 is great. She is very impressed that you could get the sail under the foot/arm. She says you could reinforce the pocket with the heavier thread by hand sewing if you needed to. You don't need a palm as sail cloth in small numbers of layers is not too difficult to penetrate.

When she tried to use the Tenara thread, she said it was very fiddlie. It seems to be sensitive to the tensioning an thread handling within the machine. It is significantly more expensive than the Dacron (V-) thread if you are planning on extended sailing in the tropics, it may be warrented. But, for cruising, V92 is going to hold up very well.

She gets a lot of her supplies from Sailrite. They are a first rate organization. VERY knowledgeable and VERY helpful to both the beginer and the accomplished. I think their major benefit is they have pretty much everything for the sailmaker or canvas workers need in one convient catalog/shop. Somethings are more expensive, somethings are not. But, if you want to find it fast that would be the place I'd start.
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Old 21-05-2007, 08:53   #6
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My wife and I bought a sailrite machine years ago and have done many projects on our sails and canvas. The firdt job we tackled was changing the sacrificial cover on our jib of our 34' catamaran. THen canvas rebuilds and repairs. My wife loves to look thu her new sailrite catalog whenever it comes
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Old 21-05-2007, 09:09   #7
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Someone told me my wife was on the cover of the sailrite catalog? You wouldn't happen to have the new catalog, would you?

No, we don't have any financial interest in Sailrite, just satisfied customers.

Keith & Eva Young
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Old 21-05-2007, 16:40   #8
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Re: Sail repairs

Wow! Thank you for all of the information. I'll definitely check out some of the websites and companies mentioned. I did use a zig zag stitch on it, but I know at some point soon I'll have to redo it. This should at least hold up until I can order something - we just didn't want to go batten-less. And yes, it wasn't easy getting the sail under the foot/arm, but we managed.

Thanks again for all of the great info!
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Old 21-05-2007, 17:42   #9
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I do all my own sail repair on my Dragonfly 1000 trimaran (out of financial necessity as well as "fun"). I do have somewhat of an advantage over the average sailor, having my own sewing machine (a hotrodded Pfaff mechanical) as well as a wife who is a very accomplished seamstress, I am also a Certified Bernina Sewing Machine Technician.

The advice posted in the previous posts is right on. Use at least v69 thread, 92 is better. Above all, don't mess around with a dull needle. Use a 110/18 or larger needle, and change it often. Also change it the first time it makes ANY kind of sound like it hit something. A high magnification lens can be a big help if you want to check the tip. If it gets bent even slightly, chuck it.

I have rebuilt my drifter and jib a couple of times as well as doing spinnaker repairs. The last time I replaced several panels in my drifter (don't ask why) I used a friends new house before it was completed. His living room/dining room was almost big enough to stretch out my drifter without any folds (44' luff). While I couldn't put any pins into his brand new hardwood floor, I used paint buckets for weights to keep the sail in place. I put the sewing machine on a folded terrycloth towel and moved the machine along as I sewed. It worked great!

Steve B.
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Old 21-05-2007, 19:53   #10
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A few months ago, I finally broke down and purchased a Sailrite sewing machine. I visited the Sailrite store here in Fort Lauderdale and talked with the manager, Eric Grant. He demonstrated the machine and all the attachments, and now I am doing canvas projects on Exit Only.

For complete and total novices, Sailrite produces videos on how to use their machine and to do different projects. Eric Grant makes the videos.

The Sailrite sewing machine is totally awesome. I have seen it sew through eight layers of fabric. Very strong machine.

When I sailed around the world, I never had a seam fail, a broken batten, or a batten pocket problem in eleven years of sailing. My mainsail eventually rotted - the dacron gave up the ghost, but the seams survived even though 10 Oz sailcloth was rotten. My headsails survived, although they did get stretched out of shape over the years. I didn't have a sewing machine with me during the circumnavigation. I did carry contact cement and sailcloth to take care of emergency repairs. The only sail repair that was necessary was using sticky dacron tape that I used for chafe patches.

If you want to have a sailmaking adventure, Sailrite will cut sailcloth to your sailplan, and you can sew up your own sails. In my opinion, this is not for the faint of heart, but it is possible to do if you have a bullet proof sewing machine like the Sailrite sewing machine.

Dave -Sailing Vessel Exit Only
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