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Old 26-03-2008, 15:03   #1
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Colors and Sails

This question has been gnawing at me since I saw my first sailboat race on Lake Tahoe 30 years ago. Now that I sail, I cannot contain myself any longer.

Spinakers are gorgeous with their radial pattern of vivid colors. Why are not regular sails colored? Why are there no blue, or yellow, or whatever colored sails? I have seen a few tanbark sails -- but that is it. We have a visible spectrum. Why do sails only come in white or, very rarely, tan bark??

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Old 26-03-2008, 15:13   #2
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Why do sails only come in white
White does reflect more UV so it does aid longevity. It's also very traditonal. I have seen decrative heads on sails and those can look very attractive. Add a few strips at the very top.
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Old 26-03-2008, 15:14   #3
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I think it's to do with UV light (and "stuff" ) - white material lasts longer.

Why are spinnakers different? Maybe cos' not having constant use means UV is not such a concern?

Tan? I think a hangover from some Traditional Boats - why were they tan and not white? dunno!

Ha! Beat me to it - by 1 minute!
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Old 26-03-2008, 15:23   #4
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When I raced Hobies, all the serious racers had white sails for two reasons. Sails with a consistent white color made it easier to see their shape. Also, sails with more than one color stretched at different rates which could ruin the sail shape...white panels seemed to stretch the least. I don't know if that applies today perhaps because of new materials technology, but it did 25 years ago with multi-colored Dacron sails.

You should see the colors of some of the maxi racer sails. The colors are not intentional, they are just different because of all the exotic materials used today other than Dacron. I have seen, gold, black, silver, clear and a bunch of non-white colors. These sails are also incredibly loud when they luff because they are so stiff. Stowing them takes a team of people and trailers shoreside to store them in.



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Old 26-03-2008, 15:58   #5
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Actually white does not reflect UV. In fact, once you get into the UV spectrum, colours are almost quite the opposite. While Black is the absorbtion of all colours, Black is also the best reflector of UV. The darker the colour, the better it is at reflecting UV. But the hotter it becomes because it absorbs more InfraRed. Colours will fade however. So I suppose white is best at looking good for longer.
But the colour isn't what gives sail cloth it's UV proofing. That is often a result of the material used or a protection applied either during or after manufacture of the cloth.
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Old 26-03-2008, 16:14   #6
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Thank you Mr Wheels, it's only 7 am (local time) and I have learnt something new today already.

I had always understood that white was the best reflector and worst radiator of the whole spectrum (from IR to UV) while black was the worst reflector and best radiator. So white took forever to heat up and forever to cool down while black was the opposite.

Is it correct then that black and white behave quite differently at the UV end compared to the IR end of the spectrum?
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Old 26-03-2008, 16:47   #7
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Old 26-03-2008, 16:49   #8
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I think because it is economical to offer white and white. Easy to stock control and so on.

How pretty it would be with lots of colored sails.. and it could be considered a safety feature for offshore. You'd get seen with a bright orange sail!
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Old 26-03-2008, 18:29   #9
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Frankly, this is not adding up. People have personal tastes in every consumer product imaginable. Markets always, and I mean always, cater to people's wants -- not needs mind you, but wants. And suddenly when it comes to sails everyone has white cause it is economical or traditional? I could see those reasons maybe influencing sailors from a one or two countries, like maybe French or English sailors liking white -- but nearly an entire planet of sailors enamoured with white for sails? Something does not fit.

I think this is a conspiracy.
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Old 26-03-2008, 19:02   #10
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Take a look at a shirt you have washed after say 10 times it is fadded. This could be one reason the color would only hold for some time before it started to fade. What would be the price for dyeing a sail.
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Old 26-03-2008, 19:23   #11
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My mainsail started out white, but now it's various colors of white, green, beige, mildew and dirt.
Do I get a prize?

Steve B.
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Old 27-03-2008, 16:38   #12
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Spinakers are gorgeous with their radial pattern of vivid colors. Why are not regular sails colored? Why are there no blue, or yellow, or whatever colored sails? I have seen a few tanbark sails -- but that is it. We have a visible spectrum. Why do sails only come in white or, very rarely, tan bark??
That's a great question!

My understanding is that, at the time, the rip-stop nylon was rather uncommon in white as the fabric was used for other purposes (hot air ballooning mostly and some for camping). The white in the rest of sails was a much heavier weight (comparatively) Dacron or canvas. So the initial spinnakers were colored, eye catching and more photogenic. Later you could get white but there was no advantage. So colors have stuck.

True ... who knows? But it sounds plausible.

Tan = kevlar; Black = carbon (often) clear = mylar. All of them = $$$

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Old 27-03-2008, 18:31   #13
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Simple economics.

Adding color adds cost to the sailcloth manufacturing cost. There are already lots of variables that define each weight/style of cloth. Yarn size (denier), warp vs. fill yarn ratios, yarn twist, crimp, temper, coating vs. impregnated yarns, etc. Any sailmaker worth their salt will overlay all these variables with the requirements of the boat, rig, sailing conditions, owner requirements, budget, etc. Now throw in color choices. The sailmaker has to deal with inventory, matching dye lots (I’ve seen huge variation in “matching colors” of spinnaker cloth and tanbark), matching reinforcing patch colors (which usually use cloth of different yarn orientation), etc. Adding

-You can get a great variety of color choice for Dacron, up to about 4.5 ounce (that’s ounces per sailmakers yard). The reason is that the cloth is low quality and made for higher volume. Think sunfish at something like 175,000 sold.
-Spinnaker cloth has plenty of color choices. I don’t know the history of how it came to be, but I do know that spinnaker cloth relatively cheap. The heavier weight the spinnaker cloth, the more cost, and the fewer color choices.
-Why can you get Sunbrella and other similar material in so many colors? Because the market for it is huge – far more is used outside the marine industry for awning and the like.
High modulus materials are not white, but color choice is not offered. They are that particular color because that is the natural color, or there is a chemical added to improve UV, or…
From a sailors’ perspective, I agree that it could be nice to have color variations in sails. As a former sailmaker, I would have gone insane adding color choice into the mix. All that said, you absolutely can get sails of any color you can imagine. You must buy the dye lot of the required material – typically about 10,000 yards.
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Old 28-03-2008, 02:14   #14
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Simple economics.
Adding color adds cost to the sailcloth manufacturing cost.
That would seem to be an arugment for opposite. That is, if the costs were that much more, spinnakers would be white or what ever the undyed color is.
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Old 28-03-2008, 14:39   #15
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As I mentioned, spinnaker cloth is less cost (significantly so) to manufacture then heavier Dacron cloth. Dying spinnaker cloth adds cost, but the overall is still low. In terms of inventory carrying cost, we always had lots of spinnaker cloths in stock and in many colors. Yet the value of our Dacron inventory, in white only, was way higher.
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