Our sails are the engines of our boats and deserve to be treated with respect. Properly cared for, Dacron sails will last a long, long time. I’m still using the original sails on my Matilda 20, Ternabout.
The UV rays from sunlight are the enemy of Dacron. We can’t keep them protected from UV while we’re using them, but they should be protected at all other times. If you trailer-sail your boat, you will be used to removing the sails from the boat after each use. Carefully fold them and store them in an appropriate sized sail bag. I store them below if they are dry when I put them in the sail bag. However, if the were wet when put away, I hang the sail bag with its sail from a hook so it can air dry.
Those of us who keep our boats in a slip or on a mooring often leave the sails in place. For these instances, good jib bags and sail covers are necessary to protect the sails. A mainsail cover covers the mainsail, wrapping around the mast and closes under the boom. Various sizes of mainsail covers are available to match the length of the boom.
Jib or headsail bags are used to protect hanked-on headsails. The sail remains attached to the stem while the (un-hanked) sail itself is stuffed into the bag. The sail’s halyard is attached to a loop on the top of the bag and is used to raise the bag, and sail, off of the deck.
Jib bags and sail covers allow you to keep the sails on the boat and ready for use while protecting the sail from UV damage.
If you install headsail furling gear on your boat, be sure to have the sail properly set up. If you are converting a hanked-on sail for furling you will have to have a sailmaker install the required size bolt rope. While he has the sail, have him sew on a protective Sunbrella UV strip on the leech of the sail. This strip will act as a sail cover when the sail is furled. A properly installed UV strip should show no exposed Dacron sailcloth when the sail is furled.
Many marine stores stock standard sizes of bags and covers. These are almost universally Pacific Blue Sunbrella. If you would like different colors or less expensive options, you are in luck.
Harken Canvas (www.harkencanvas.com) offers a selection of stock colors and sizes. They will also quote custom colors if you want something special. Check Ebay (www.motors.ebay.com), there are several suppliers who regularly sell there and have a variety of sizes and colors available at attractive prices.
If you have a sewing machine and someone who knows how to use it, you can also make your own. SailRite (www.sailrite.com/) offers everything you need for the project, from thread and cloth to complete kits. They also have videos on their website to give you a feel for the project. And if you get the kit and decide it’s too much for you, you can always send it back and have them sew it up for you (at an extra charge).
At some point, you will probably want to clean your sails. I heard of everything from soaking them in a swimming pool to stuffing them in an industrial washing machine.
Personally, I never use anything but water and a mild detergent. Bleach can be hard on Dacron so I don’t use it. 3M makes a product for sail cleaning, 3M MULTI-PURPOSE SAIL/CANVAS SOAP. Starbrite also makes a sail cleaner, Starbrite Star Brite Sail & Canvas Cleaner.
In any case, use warm water and your choice of cleaner, then let the sail air dry before storing.
Occasionally, your sail might need patching or repair work. Most locations near the water will have a sailmaker near by. Take your sail in for an estimate before committing to the repair work. Another option is to use a service such as Sail Care (www.sailcare.com). I have had several of my sails serviced by these folks and it has extended the life of those sails. In addition to repair work, they also offer cleaning and reconditioning services. To quote from their website:
The LaMauney reconditioning process begins with our inspection of each sail.
Sails are measured, inspected for needed repairs, and the cloth checked for deterioration from the sun. Then the sails are carefully cleaned followed by the re-resining process of impregnating the cloth with resins and setting these resins with controlled heat.
In addition, a fungicidal agent is added to inhibit mildew growth, another is added for water repellency, and a third agent provides ultraviolet protection. All this is part of the LaMauney Process.
The sails are once again inspected and then packaged for shipping.
Your sail will be clean, free of most wrinkles, and the cloth will have a new stiffness. The existing shape of the sail will be maintained since the LaMauney Process is designed to control the bias stretch of the cloth. The smoothness of the cloth combined with the re-resining will enable your sail to take on its best shape.
I can personally vouch for how well this process works.
You could also attempt the repair work yourself. In that case, find a good book on sail making and repair at your local library or marine store. Search online for repair information. Many home sewing machines are okay for most sail repairs, if adjusted properly. Sewing through multiple layers of sailcloth as well as things like headboards will be more difficult.
For situations like these, you may need to hand sew using sailmakers needles and a sailmakers palm. This leather device fits on your hand and has a palm socket used to push the needle through the thick layers of cloth. Many marine stores carry a sail repair kit that contains a palm, several needles and some waxed thread.
Speaking of thread, it is important to use the proper thread when repairing sails. The thread needs to be UV resistant or it won’t last very long. V-69 polyester thread is considered a very good choice and can be purchased from SailRite as well as other d sail making suppliers.
Good sails can be expensive and are critical to the operation of any sailboat. Proper care can extend the life of those sails for many years, even decades. So clean ‘em and protect them and they’ll take care of you.