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Old 07-09-2014, 10:35   #1
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Secondhand Sails

Hey everyone, *

I would like to proceed with the purchase of a second set of sails for my boat, but new sails would be far too costly. Also I would like a small storm jib with hanks, and a "drifter" (light wind sail).

Logically, there is always a reason for selling used sails. Maybe they have been replaced for aesthetic reasons (too dirty), they might be damaged or perhaps the current owner just feels they start lacking performance.

1. Aesthetic reasons *
If it's a sail that's being sold simply because it doesn't look brand-new anymore, it is of course just up to you to decide whether you want to be seen sailing with such a sail

2 Damage *
For convencience sake, I'll just assume that most of the damage is the result of a failure in the fabric or stitching. Since we are talking about sails with a certain age I won't consider damage caused by chafe. Both cloth and thread suffer from the influence of UV. I assume this determines, in combination with the quality of the material itself, how much life is left in the sail. How is this generally rated / tested? What are telltale signs one should pay attention to? At what point is a sail too far gone to still consider carrying as a backup?

3 Sail Performance *
Here I just assume the sail in question is starting to lose its shape. I suppose this is more important for a racer than for a cruiser. Someone who is more focused on speed will therefore retire his/her sails much faster than somebody who doesn't care when he gets to his destination. Is there a point in the life of a sail where it just becomes "unusable"? Barely any performance, much heel, ...? How can this be (easily) assessed? Or is the average sail decayed before this item arrives? *

Logically, all three aspects (and perhaps others) will be at play when looking at used sails. In order not to make the discussion too complicated, however, seemed easiest to discuss and judge the three aspects separately. *

The dimensions or possible source of the sails that I would buy are not the subject of the discussion. The aim of this discussion is to get a an overview of the pitfalls of buying second hand sails and to be able to go shopping well informed .

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Old 07-09-2014, 10:54   #2
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Re: Secondhand sails

Bought a couple from e bay. Been pleasantly surprised as was my sail maker when he saw how little I had paid for them. Also sold the old sails we were given when we bought our Moody. The genoa was for a 36ft yacht and no way would it have fitted without serious surgery.

I tend to look for sails that are advertised in very good condition. Our 80% jib which is a spare get us home sail if we blow the genoa out came off something like a Dragon 22. Its mint condition and probably been used 6 times. But owners who sail race boats seem to have a budget that allows them to change way before you or I would consider worn out.

Both sails we bought were changed from hanks to roller reefing for about 80 with the local sail maker.

Don't overlook sail makers either. Our Cruising chute came from Lucas sails at half price as the buyer having paid a deposit failed to collect it. We were stuck with his colour scheme but the price made it worth while.

Early spring seems the best time to buy in the UK, and late spring to sell. There are specialist second hand sail companies, but they will want the maximum they can get for each sail so prefer the e bay or sail makers route instead.

This claims to never have been used which is quite possible for a UK storm jib.

Is it worth 100, probably and if I needed one I would bid on it. Is it worth 200, hmm not at this time of year when everyone is thinking of putting boats away for the winter and buyers are in short supply. December is another good month btw as everyone is thinking about Xmas not buying sails, so anything advertised is unlikely to have many bidders as money is short.

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Old 07-09-2014, 11:06   #3
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Re: Secondhand sails

Have bought a number of sails off ebay and haven't been disappointed. Pay careful attention to the photos for signs of abuse and lots of use. Obvious staining at the spreaders, wear at the cringles, more than one or two patches, etc. Most sellers are honest and will represent the sail as what it is. If they say the sail is new or has had little use, that's usually the case. Special purpose sails like spinnakers and working jibs will often have very light use. Competitive sailors will sell a nearly new sail just to buy the newest and latest whiz bang laminated sail.
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'Ae'a Pearson 35
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Old 07-09-2014, 11:25   #4
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Re: Secondhand sails

Sails are just sails.

I have used s/h sails and new sails and did not notice any difference except the ticket. Not that long ago we sailed our N Atlantic loop on white sails that were the -ex kit when we got our boat. That's another 6k+ miles on sails that are some 20+ years young now.

I'd rather have a well made and strong old sail than a new and poorly built one. Any sailor can tell when a sail is nearing its end and replace this one with another.

I'd rather have a new and well made sail than any other sail. But at times my budget is simply not quite there yet.

So, to me, old sails are fine and I will always buy a good s/h sail at the right price.

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Old 07-09-2014, 11:36   #5
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Secondhand Sails

As already said, both by you and replies. Racers but performance parts and replace them often. Working boats and Cruisers just need them to be reliable.

It's just like cars costs tons of money and their parts are made one at a time to the owners spec. Our day drivers just need to get us there and back safely and reliably.

I'd rather have a nice set of old working sails that high prices light weight sails any day. Something that won't tear because of accidental jibing or wear through after a single vacation trip.

I also like a lot of reefs in my sails, so I can bring it down a notch at a time. Not just full or half sail. 3 reefs in my main, 2 in my foresail, and 1 reef in my boomed stay sail.
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Old 07-09-2014, 12:33   #6
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Re: Secondhand Sails

It's nice to see that you're looking to learn more about sails, & what makes them viable vs. non. As well as some of the why behind these things.
The answers to the questions which you're asking, however, aren't easy ones to answer via text. Your best bet is to find a kind, well experienced member (of said unfairly maligned group, racers) and have them look at perspective sails with you. That, someone who's done a LOT of sailing, and or is/has been a sailmaker.

The obvious defects don't need mentioning. But as to judging condition & how much life a sail has left in it requires experience gained by time trimming & looking at many different sails, for a good number of hours (likely numbering in the hundreds, or thousands).

As to performance, some of it can be easily assessed shoreside, by an experienced eye. But other aspects can be a good bit tougher to determine without taking the sail out on the water.
Albeit, to some degree, things like draft position & whether or not a sail's blown out can be judged by hoisting a sail & sheeting it in while tied to the dock. But even this isn't fool proof, as with sails designed for moderate to heavy air, some kinds of defects in them, or how truly stretched out they are wont show up until they're hoisted & tested when the breeze is up. Which, generally speaking, you can't do while in your slip, or tied to an end tie.

Also, judging much of what you're asking is infinitely more complex now than it was 10 or 20 years ago, because there are a HUGE number of types of laminates & sail cloths out there now compared to then (plus more new ones every week). And you might wind up running across some of them which are perfectly viable (sails), but that are made of a kind of sail cloth/laminate was only made for say 3 years, 15 years ago.

If you can, it'd be best to work with places which sell 2nd hand sails which allow you to return them after you do a detailed inspection of the sail if you don't like them. And also if/when you find a sail/sails which are good candidates to your eye, then have your sailmaker do a detailed inspection of them for you. Preferably with you there at the time, so that he/she can point out the good & bad points of each sail.

Also, any sailmaker worth the title will also be able to tell you if sail X, while being "too big" for your boat, would make a great candidate for you if it's cut down in size. That, and some can even tell you if sail Y, while being a bit baggy/blown out, might make a good candidate for a nip & tuck (facelift). As despite it's being baggy, if a few of the seams are opened up, & resewn differently (like taking in trousers at the waist), the sail would serve you well, & be worth the cost of it's purchase, in addition to it's modification.

Also, don't dismiss the performance aspect so casually. As say, take a pre-loved main for example. It's cloth, stitching, & hardware may be in good shape, however, it may be one of those which is blown out & the draft has migrated a bit further aft than your rig's controls can correct for. And if this is the case, flying such a sail can cause:
- excessive heeling, like by an additional 5-10 degrees, unnecessarily
- said heeling & other lost performance factors could easily cost you a knot or more of speed.
- excessive weather helm, including enough to cause your rudder to cavitate, lose it's bite on the water & have you involuntarily rounding up or even inadvertently tacking.
- needing to reef early to avoid the any or all of the above, & this subsequent loss in power can make you much more prone to pitching/hobby horsing. Or even cause issues beating off of a lee shore.
And there's more, but I gather you get what I'm saying. I'm not trying to be rude, it's just that there are a LOT of sailors out there who have ZERO idea with regards to what I stated above. And purposefully desire to stay in the dark about such things.

If you have specific questions, feel free to run them by me, & I'll do my best to answer them. And good luck on finding what your looking for too.

The Uncommon Thing, The Hard Thing, The Important Thing (in Life): Making Promises to Yourself, And Keeping Them.
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Old 07-09-2014, 13:55   #7
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Re: Secondhand sails

Originally Posted by roverhi View Post
Most sellers are honest and will represent the sail as what it is. If they say the sail is new or has had little use,
I've found the other side as most dont know what they have and just last week saw an add on e-bay where it stated "LIKE NEW" , "LITTLE USE" , and sails were very "SOFT"..
The picture also showed stains..

Know what you are looking for befor you buy.........
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Old 07-09-2014, 16:10   #8
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Re: Secondhand Sails

Orchidous, you won't get any better advice that what Uncivilized posted. Read his post carefully and follow the dotted line!


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s/v Insatiable back in MBTBC marina, waiting for next eye jobs to be done
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