A couple of posts (#11 Cheechako, #14 Stumble) here make me think that folks haven't seen the good older dacrons so they don't recognize them when they see (or hear?) the fabric
-- older dacron had a lot more thread and a lot less plastic. If you read the Sailmaker's Apprentice
on sail materials there is a discussion of this. One of the softest sailcloths out there, new, today is North Sails Oceanus a very heavy cloth made for tallships -- it looks just like natural fiber cotton duck but it is dacron and wears wonderfully long.
It is less costly to fabricate dacron the modern way with lots of plastic--and it performs well but not for as many seasons. Again, consumers paying more for less. Ask cruising sailmaker
Carol Hasse of Port Townsend Sails how long good cruising sails will last and she'll tell you that a good set of cruising sails can last 30 years. Even the sails made today (by her) have long lives which indicates to me that some of the new sailcloths are of similar quality/construction to the older dacrons, too.
Our sails are all old, some we've replaced, some we keep using.
The previous owner to us had all the sails inspected, cleaned, and repaired by a reputable sail loft in 2003. They sat unused from 2003 until we bought the boat in late 2006 and relaunched the boat in 2009.
The various sails in the inventory date from 1970 through 1982 and were used alot during that timeframe. They hadn't been used outside the mild winds of San Diego
harbor from 1984-1996 and had not been used after 1996 at all. We thought we were going to have to replace them but the previous owner said "no, wait on that until you see how they perform." We waited and were glad we did. They had and have a lot of (upwind) life in them. When we bought the boat, he handed over all his files and receipts and I noted that he'd paid over $6K in cleaning
and sail repairs
in 2003--and never used them after. This was for mainsail
, foresail, staysail, yankee jib
, regular jib
, genoa, balloon-footed jib, fisherman, gollywobbler cleaning
. Aside from a couple rust stains, they looked like new when we opened up the bags.
Since 2009, we've sailed less than 2000 nm/year. All cloth is strong. We've managed to damage a bit here or there with spreader chafe and blew out a jib clew in a slog to windward during a stiff breeze (diagnosis was uv damaged stitching around the hand-pressed ring). I do the repairs as needed.
The sails have performed wonderfully except the stitching on the foresail's external bolt rope
has UV damage to the point that I hand-restitch a 6ft or so section every once in a while. I didn't like the cut of the mainsail
, so did my own hack job recutting the foot and quite by accident
now have a much better performing sail (that's what happens when you have old sails, you're not afraid to experiment
on them). I also tightened up all the seams on the staysail to move the draft
a bit forward. The cloth is strong, so I figured WTH and did it. Another sailor might just take it in to the sailmaker for the same work.
Finally, in Newport Beach
at Minney's we came across an old, mostly hand-sewn boomed (main or mizzen) sail that looked to be in absolutely great shape and close to the size and cut of our mainsail. We dragged it into a reputable sailmaker for inspection
and estimate for recutting and putting in reef points where we wanted them. It was a treat -- the sailmaker took a look in the bag and before ever removing the sail cited which sailmaker had built the sail (he could tell by the style and quality of the hand stitching), the sails that guy had made, the races won, yadayda... and when he saw the number on the sail he cited the boat it had come off of, said the sail had never been used, ever, and that he'd inspected the sail inventory of that boat himself as part of a pre-Transpac inspection
and another pre-race inspection. He said the sail was built in the 60's, it might stretch out more than good sailcloth of the 70's or later but we should expect anywhere from a season to many seasons with this sail. We did buy the sail and have the mods done to it. Cost...about 10% of what a new mainsail by Hasse or another good cruising sailmaker would be...about 40% of what a bottom of the line new high plastic, low thread Asian-made sail would have been. By design, the sail is not as flat as our other mainsail and we've only used it downwind so far so the jury is still out on it's upwind performance.
And that brings me to the comments above about whether the sail is baggy. It's all relative. Some sails are cut with a lot of curve, shape, belly while others are pretty flat. All depends on the winds they're expected to be used in. That new-to-us mainsail was expected to be used in mostly tradewinds ocean racing
(decades ago) and has more shape because of it. The old mainsail that I re-cut was already pretty flat (it was a SoCal light winds mainsail) and I made it even flatter with my mods to the foot. Very different performance from each of these sails.
If an area of a sail has UV damage to the extent that the fabric is weak, a large patch may be in order. If the entire sail is that way -- maybe a new sail is needed. I've enjoyed working on/repairing our sails because it allows me to learn how to do things myself. I also am glad there are plenty of good sailmakers out there that we can hire if I decide I don't want to take on a big repair or mod-job myself. I hope other sailors here will also enjoy taking on some repairs themselves, too!
Fair winds. Brenda