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Old 26-09-2011, 22:01   #1
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Sails vs Diesel

I've read that a set of sails will get you about 20,000 miles and the replacement cost was about 5,000 dollars. It was in Hal Roth's book "How to Sail Around the World Alone." It comes out to 25 cents per mile.

Is traveling under sail the most cost effective way to travel by sea as well as the best? Is motoring cheaper?
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Old 26-09-2011, 22:05   #2
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Re: sails vs. diesel

I can make my own sails, and the lack of an inboard gives lots more internal space. Sometimes it is simply the amount of initial money available.
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Old 26-09-2011, 22:23   #3
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Re: sails vs. diesel

With sailboats you still have to bring an engine, for all practical purposes. The nice thing about having both is that you have a choice depending on the situation.
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Old 26-09-2011, 22:35   #4
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I know from the limited amount of time that I've spent on sailboats that the silence under sail is priceless, and I know that having more than one way to get where you're going is great.

Knowing how to handle a sewing machine is important for cost effectiveness I suppose.
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Old 27-09-2011, 00:41   #5
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Re: sails vs. diesel

problem with having a diesel on your sailboat is you seem to spend a heck of a lot of time and money maintaining that engine and all that it requires. i once had a slip where i could dock the boat under sail .. never having to start the motor .. it was a great experience.
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Old 27-09-2011, 01:07   #6
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Re: sails vs. diesel

Our sails are the original suite, now 8 1/2 years old. We are the third owners of this boat; the first 2 absentee owners having barely used the boat at all. During the past 6 years we have sailed/motor sailed/motored over 26,000 NM. The sails are still fine. The in-mast furling mainsail has developed a slight bag, but we are cruisers not racers. That slight bag is not enough to warrant buying new sails just yet. We have replaced the UV shield on the genoa once, and completely restitched it at least 3 times and minor restitching twice.

We inspect the sails at least twice annually and always give them a thorough once-over before any long passage. This has helped us find loose stitching on seams a couple of times. A simple repair at any sail loft or even by another cruiser with the right machine and thread. Be diligent about staying on top of minor repairs and the sails last much longer than the 20,000 NM number often quoted. The fabric of our sails is still very strong even after all the miles we have subjected them to.

BTW, our boat is a 16-meter (approx 53-ft) ketch. We have been so impressed with the original sails that when it is time to replace the sails we will likely purchase from the same manufacturer. For the same fabric and built the same way as what we now have, the cost to replace genoa, main and mizzen sails would be approximately 10,000 euro or about $14,000. That is per a quote we obtained in 2009 just so we would have an idea of what to expect when the time arrives for this substantial purchase.

BTW, some of the cruisers we know are purists and insist on always sailing -- absolutely refuse to use their engines except for entering or exiting harbors or marinas. My husband and I are of a different school of thought. Anytime wind and sea conditions are such that the sails start flogging and slapping, then the engine comes on, even if just to motor sail. Sometimes just the added power of the engine at minimal revs is enough to keep the sails filled. All that flogging and slapping destroys the fiber of the sailcloth and damages the stitching, causing the sails to have a much shorter life. A new Yanmar engine like we have would cost 10k. New sails would cost 14k. Replacing that engine when it eventually wears out will be less expensive than replacing those sails. YMMV.

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Old 27-09-2011, 10:49   #7
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Re: Sails vs Diesel

My boat has gone around the world and still has its orginal main. Thirty five years old. But it is just a backup now but still working. I guess you need to figure out how fast do you want to go.
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Old 27-09-2011, 10:58   #8
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Re: Sails vs Diesel

Good points, Judy. We bought the sailboat to sail, and have sails and techniques to get even our steel crate doing 4 knots in 8 knots apparent. The engine is for calms and moving in tight places. Making a point of sailing when possible and flaking when not extends the life of well-built sails, as does fixing minor damage early and being religious about packing them away properly and keeping the sun off them when not actually deployed.
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Old 27-09-2011, 11:25   #9
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Re: Sails vs Diesel

I have both! A sailboat that motors well at hull speed (7-8 kt - slack tide). I do prefer sailing but if the wind is too light I'll motor w/o equivocation.

Having an efficient, clean, well running drive train makes a big difference in sailboats when it comes to long distance traveling or docking.

At one time I even considered a power boat (for the space) with and raisable arch setup, that I could attach a spinnaker or a kite for down wind reaching. But it seems I spend most of my time going against the wind or on a reach. So efficient motoring or sailing has been the best choice for me. Although, the wooman would prefer the powerboat.
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Old 27-09-2011, 12:24   #10
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Re: Sails vs Diesel

Let's assume that the $5,000 sails take you 20,000 miles.

Compare a diesel burning 1 gph @ 6 kts and $4.00 per gallon price. That gets you over 3,000 gallons of fuel and $13,000 in fuel cost. Almost 3 times the sail number and you haven't done dollar one worth of maintenance and/or repair on that engine.

Sail when you can.
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Old 27-09-2011, 12:56   #11
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Re: Sails vs Diesel

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Originally Posted by Sunspot Baby View Post
Let's assume that the $5,000 sails take you 20,000 miles.

Compare a diesel burning 1 gph @ 6 kts and $4.00 per gallon price. That gets you over 3,000 gallons of fuel and $13,000 in fuel cost. Almost 3 times the sail number and you haven't done dollar one worth of maintenance and/or repair on that engine.

Sail when you can.
That is an interesting ratio.

I calculated with my boat, taking in account the local price of fuel ($1.40/litre for a total of $15,900) and new sails ($7000) ended up with a value closer to 2:1 but still sail is cheaper.

To accurately caclulate it you have to consider maintenance on both sides. Sail repairs and new lines and hardware vs. engine maintenance. I expect the maintenance ratio is even more favourable for sails (probably in the range of 5:1).

The thing about sails is that once you have made the capital expense of buying them, you no longer have to pay except for maintenance. With fuel, typically you will pay more and more over the course of 20,000 miles so the ultimate ratio will increase.

One also needs to determine when the sail is no longer serivicable. Better quality sails should last longer but again, one persons serviceable sail is another persons rag. That could change the number of miles from a few thousand to tens of thousands.

As the saying goes: "The wind is free, but everything else costs money"
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Old 27-09-2011, 13:17   #12
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Re: Sails vs Diesel

I think a lot of the short engine hours before needing a new engine on sailboats goes with those who almost refuse to run their engines! These are the boats where the engine only makes it to 2000 hours! Meanwhile charter sailboats seem to have engines at 6000+ hours running just fine. I consider my 10 year old Yanmar with 650 hours on it as barely used and unless I have a cooling failure that it will still be running long after I'm not!

I personally don't have an issue to running my engine when the need comes. I don't like the noise though and the other day was motor sailing at 4 knots with the engine purring along (yes I ran it hard once in a while to blow it out).

My 10 year sails are still moving my boat along well.

The bottom line though is that when I decided to get into boating I decided to learn to sail because I figured I couldn't afford the fuel to travel the way I hope to.
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Old 27-09-2011, 13:28   #13
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Re: Sails vs Diesel

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Originally Posted by Don Lucas View Post
I consider my 10 year old Yanmar with 650 hours on it as barely used and unless I have a cooling failure that it will still be running long after I'm not!
My engine is 29 years old and has about 750 hours. And 100 of those were put on this summer (I obviously motor more than the PO). The nice thing about sailboats is even when you use the engine, it doesn't cost much. We motored a good portion of 450Nm this summer (say 300) and it cost just about $200. Many power boats can't even get out of the harbour for $200 (he said gloatingly)...but i digress...
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Old 27-09-2011, 13:57   #14
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Re: Sails vs Diesel

You costing isn't comprehensive.

You need to include the cost of rigging and maintenance to the cost of the sails. Remember with a motor sailor, or a sailing aux, your basically maintaining two engines, a diesel, and a sail.

Also, I'd suggest that a power boat provides more interior space compared to a similar length sail boat. Thus you can use a shorter power boat for the same interior space, with the smaller windless, lower docking charges, etc. Finally, there is the cost of capital to buy the sales, rigging and longer boat in the first place.

It's a difficult set of numbers to compare.
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Old 27-09-2011, 14:21   #15
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Re: Sails vs Diesel

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Originally Posted by ViribusUnitis View Post
You costing isn't comprehensive.
...Also, I'd suggest that a power boat provides more interior space compared to a similar length sail boat. Thus you can use a shorter power boat for the same interior space, with the smaller windless, lower docking charges, etc.
Your points are correct but at a risk of setting up a power boat vs sailboat battle, which I don't think was the intent, we have to look at more than the LOA if we are making comparisons.

For example, a new 40ft production sailboat probably sells for about $400,000. If I am not mistaken, a 40ft power boat would be closer to a million.

That sailboat could go a maximum of 7kt. The power boat could likely go 40kt

There are other comparisons that one could make...

But anyway, I think the original intent was to compare travelling under sail or under power in a sailboat. At least, that is the way I read it (despite my earlier jab at power boats in a previous post ).

We are all one big happy (or at least self-satified) boating family.
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