Sails are not cheap and do not last forever, but with proper care, cruising sails made of high-quality sailcloth will provide many years of service. Here are tips to help prolong the life of your sails.
The best way to maintain the strength and shape of your sails is to minimize the number of times they are left flapping. Flogging happens when the sailboat is pointed head to the wind in a strong breeze. Flogging rapidly degrades the cloth; therefore, make every effort to avoid it.
Protect from UV
Believe it or not, direct sunlight is a sail’s worst enemy as it gradually breaks down the cloth. Therefore, ensure the UV strip is on the outside when rolled for furling headsails. In addition, keep a cover over your mainsail when it is not in use.
Chafing wears through sails. Check the ends and aft edges of spreaders and stanchion tops—tape up split pins, sharp halyard exits, and protruding screw heads. Check the front of the mast as tacking drags the foresail across it. Tacking is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel, whose desired course is into the wind, turns its bow toward and through the wind so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side of the boat to the other, allowing progress in the desired direction.
Sails stretch and lose their shape if you have too much canvas up for the prevailing conditions. On the other hand, being overpowered also leads to loss of control and will slow your boat down, so reef when you know you should. Reefing reduces the area of a sail, usually by folding or rolling one edge of the canvas on itself and attaching the unused portion to a spar, as the primary measure to preserve a sailing vessel’s stability in strong winds.
Guarantee these are correctly adjusted to stop fluttering in the main and headsail leeches. Fluttering will quickly tarnish the cloth and damage the stitching. Both main and headsails are likely to have leach lines, so use them.
Halyard and outhaul tension
The proper halyard tension takes the pressure off mainsail cars and sliders, protecting the stitching. It extends a genoa’s life and enhances pointing capability. Ease halyards, outhaul, and reefs after use.
Check batten pockets at both leech and luff ends to confirm the battens are secure and examine the stitching in these areas. It is essential to check the battens, especially after an accidental gybe, as they can snap. Gybing is a sailing maneuver where the sails move from one side of the boat to the other.
Make sure your headsail foils are in good condition, with no burrs, and the foil sections are tightly bolted together and correctly aligned. This eliminates bolt rope tears and lets you hoist and lower the sail without damage.
Keep the mainsail track and cars clean and free of dust and grime to prolong their life. Lubricating with a dry lubricant, such as a silicone spray, will significantly reduce car friction and make the sail easier to hoist.
Flake the main differently every time to prevent permanent creases. Flaking is a single turn or several turns of rope in a coil, more popularly called a fake. Light creases will come out. Stow sails clean, salt-free, and dry, ready for next use. Make sure you dry the spinnaker before stowing, as darker colors bleed into lighter ones.