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Old 08-10-2012, 15:50   #1
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How old is too old for sails ?

Im looking at a boat that has the original sails which are 24 years old. Owner says they have been very lightly used but im afraid the thread and canvas has degraded over time. They look fine cosmetically . Any thoughts ?
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Old 08-10-2012, 16:28   #2
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

If your not a racer, older sails should be OK. If you check stitching, batten pockets, grommets, etc, and they look good, take them to a sail loft and see if they will do an inspection. Off season they will probably look at them for you, and give you an honest evaluation. They potentially charge you, or may not, in the hopes of you using them in the future for repairs or new sails, and if they do rigging, to get you for a customer.
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Old 08-10-2012, 16:39   #3
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

Like the old saying, it's not the years it's the mileage.

If the seller is telling the truth then the sails could be fine. However not just the usage but also UV exposure can be a major aging factor. I would carefully examine the stitching. Check carefully areas that might be exposed to the sum while the sail is on the mast even with the cover on.
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Old 08-10-2012, 16:47   #4
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

I'm sitting here trying to think about how many suits of sails I've shredded or otherwise worn out in the last 24 years. That would be about three lifetimes for my sails.

The only way to determine the strength of old fabric is to rip it.

The problem with most older sails is that they'll no longer hold their original shape. This can transform a decent-sailing boat into a tender boat with lousy pointing ability.

My recommendation is that you find out how much a new suit of sails would cost, and then add that to whatever price the owner is hoping to get for his boat. You might also want to investigate whether the boat still has its original rigging. If the boat still has its OEM sails, I wouldn't think the sheets and halyards are going to be worth hanging on to either.
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Old 08-10-2012, 17:24   #5
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

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Originally Posted by LostAtSea2011 View Post
Im looking at a boat that has the original sails which are 24 years old. Owner says they have been very lightly used but im afraid the thread and canvas has degraded over time. They look fine cosmetically . Any thoughts ?

While my sails are 11 years old and are in good shape (they have been to the shop), they only get used 1/2 the year and only on the weekends mostly then.

But for you, you need to plan on buying new sails when figuring in the price/cost of buying that boat!
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Old 08-10-2012, 17:40   #6
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

Many claims are made of "rebuilt engines and lightly used sails". Yo need to looka t each one for : threads worn or coming out. dirt from rubbing, salt corrosion on fittings etc. If the sail sets well and has lived it's life in the vee berth... I would think it might be useable.... but not sure how the plastic degrades really... alot of plastic (sail cloth is plastic right?) degrades on it's own over time... getting brittle and stiff.

It's a great question for this forum really.... does Dacron sailcloth degrade due to time only?
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Old 08-10-2012, 21:31   #7
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

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Many claims are made of "rebuilt engines and lightly used sails". Yo need to looka t each one for : threads worn or coming out. dirt from rubbing, salt corrosion on fittings etc. If the sail sets well and has lived it's life in the vee berth... I would think it might be useable.... but not sure how the plastic degrades really... alot of plastic (sail cloth is plastic right?) degrades on it's own over time... getting brittle and stiff.

It's a great question for this forum really.... does Dacron sailcloth degrade due to time only?
I was thinking the same thing....It looks ok but i would think over time it would lose some of its strength . Its a good negotiating tool anyway.
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Old 08-10-2012, 22:54   #8
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

Lost, do you have a sail loft or used sail vendor within an hour's ride? Go visit, ask them for a show-n-tell.

Conventional dacron sails are calendared with a resin when they are new, a plastic coating is impregnated into them to help hold the shape and prevent the cloth from stretching out. Once that resin has worn off, the sails start losing shape. That's like a V8 engine with one or two cylinders misfiring. It still works--just not well.

Then the sails start to stretch and degrade faster. They lose shape. A sail is just like a wing, the 3-dimensional shape is important. Will it still move the boat? Oh, for sure. Move it properly? Not tear in high wind? Ah, well....even 24 years in storage on a shelf would stress the fiber of the cloth if it was folded--as opposed to rolled.

White dacron tends to be pretty stable. Colored cloth degrades even on the shelf, as the chemicals in the dye attack the fibers. Look at the stitching, can you see holes? Or do the threads fill it nicely, with no loose fibers on the threads?

And if you rub the sail on your cheek and it doesn't chafe? Forget it, bedsheets should be soft, sails are shot by the time they feel like coarse hotel bedsheets, muhc less smooth ones.

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Old 08-10-2012, 23:26   #9
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

Has the draft position (deepest, most indented place in the curve of the sail) moved aft much? Do the sails look baggy when the boat is sailing in a decent breeze?

If you can get pictures from under and behind the sail while the boat is underway, you could show those to a sailmaker and probably get a very quick first opinion about the sails. Of course that only covers whether the sails have retained their shape, and not whether maybe the threads have been weakened and so forth.
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Old 08-10-2012, 23:51   #10
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

Take the main and a working jib to a local sailmaker and get his opinion.
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Old 09-10-2012, 07:35   #11
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

If they are shading the cockpit and you still get a sunburn...too old.
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Old 09-10-2012, 08:00   #12
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

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If they are shading the cockpit and you still get a sunburn...too old.
Nah, bit of tape and glue they will be fine

It's not only the age but how far has sail fabrics come on over the last 24 years.

If you can fit it in the budget then buying a new set now means you get the use out of them. Buy them in 5 years time when you decide to change the boat and the next owner benefits.

I have just ordered a new Genoa because the lightly used existing one looks like a tarts bed sheet and it really has only been lightly used. However, I am considering having it cut down with new corners and keeping it as a smaller spare when its really windy rather than risk the new one.

The other option of course is second hand, we picked up a superb North Genoa off e bay, doubt it has been used more than 6 times.

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Old 09-10-2012, 09:22   #13
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

When I bought my boat (1974 model) it had the original sails! The log books read that it had been used for about 150 hrs...the sails were still holding wrinkles and were stiff...I have never changed them as they work the way they are suppossed to...if it aint broke...
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Old 09-10-2012, 09:59   #14
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Re: How old is too old for sails ?

yep, negotiating tool for sure. But heck, if they look great... use them. They may fit your needs fine. The only "new but old" sails I've had have been stays sails and storm sails.... pretty heavy cloth.... they seemed pretty stiff and had some fairly permanent wrinkles.... kind of a nature of the beast though.....
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