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As we know, maintaining our boats is not an easy job. We sailors know very well that sail rigging requires special care to avoid that damage or wear may negatively affect our sailing efficiency and our finances.  

An efficient set of sails can make a big difference in the success of our summer cruise and even more in improving our race performances.

Sails are quite complex “machines” and the wear and tear of materials, as well as shape loosening over time, play a vital role. Forces at work such as loads per sqm are very high while materials are subjected to fatigue loads and this is why it is very important to keep sails as efficient as possible.

It is true that sails must be taken care of before, during and after sailing. In this article, however, I am going to talk about what must be done before sailing. These are precautions that should be adopted when fitting out the boat and the equipment in order to reduce the risk of sail wear and tear and consequent damage. Soon I will write about sail proper use and stowage for the season.

So, let’s inspect the boat and set it out. But before, be sure you have on board a small sail care kit tailored to suit your needs.

A boat tool kit should succeed in achieving the unlikely: to get the ship owner out of the mess in case of damage and, at the same time, to be reduced in dimensions and weight. This of course is not possible, but I’ll talk about that in a future article. Today we’ll focus on some items useful to extend the life of your sails.

Some rolls of electrical tape, two-inch wide, gummy and elastic. Extremely versatile. It fits and adheres to many different materials. Quite water-resistant if applied on a dry and clean surface.

A roll of grey-tape: The well-known very thin tape, high grip and adherence. Easy to shape, it provides a high grip even when wet. It does not stretch or deform unlike the electrical tape. It can even be used for a quick fix on a Dacron sail.

Dacron adhesive tape: at your trusted sailmaker or on the Net, is usually available in strips or panels. Absolutely necessary for small and quick repairs. To prevent a scratch from becoming a laceration.

Nylon adhesive tape: used to repair a spinnaker or a gennaker.

Sailmaker’s needle and hand palm in case of Dacron adhesive tape failure. Polyester hand sewing thread, better if waxed. Some manual skill and precision are necessary, however hand sewing guarantees a little longer durability – especially on white sails – than repairs using adhesive materials.

Push-batten: namely a flat rod, about 30cm long used to place and remove mainsail or jib battens without “tormenting” batten pocket Velcros or loosing your patience!

Sail tape: A 2m-long strong band having an eyelet sewn at one of its extremities. Mainly used to tie sails.

Some pieces of uncovered Spectra: stronger than steel and yet easy to tie and cut. Once tied in eyelets and secured it can very well replace a shackle or a snap-hook.

A small bottle of acetone: the best stain remover and degreaser. Very useful also to remove moisture and salt from a sail before fixing it, in case weather conditions make it difficult to dry it in some other way. Always pay the utmost attention: acetone is an aggressive and inflammable chemical agent.

Bosun’s chair; the lifting seat to reach the masthead. This is a particularly sensitive point. You must be trained to use a bosun’s chair, and also some physical fitness is required. I know these words may cause some irony and pitying smiles. However, only the boat owner or a qualified professional are allowed to use it.

Well, the repair tool kit is complete: now let’s step aboard and make a tour of the boat for a check from bow to stern and back, carefully and systematically.

The pulpit area: make sure no sharp projections are present such as heads of bolts or screws, eyebolts, broken pieces of metal. Just a small piece of tape is what is needed to prevent possible damage.

Furling headsail drum and foil: pay attention to the groove. Check the fider. Make sure the drum direction of rotation is compatible with the genoa anti-UV cover.

Lifeline terminals to the pulpit: don’t be shy about using as much tape as necessary to wrap split pins, turnbuckles to tension lifelines and any kind of projections and metal fragments.

Standing or deck fitting: normally the bow is equipped with a series of bitts, eyebolts, sheaves, windlass, etc. A complete check is necessary.

Lifelines and stanchions: check stanchion covers. Are lifelines clean? Are there steel cord stubs hanging out of them? Prevent the genoa get entangled in the stanchion covers by making use of very useful plastic wheels.

Mast front side: a real battlefield for your genoa! First of all navigation and deck lights, then the radar or radar reflector and also the spinnaker drum: your genoa will hit them every time the boat tacks. Make sure the equipment won’t show spiky ends.

Shrouds and spreaders:  the shroud-spreader socket should be covered with a leather sheath. The same for the turnbuckles between chain plates and shrouds. Rememeber that the mainsail, when running free leg, may clash the spreaders and the shrouds, so check both foreward and sternward.

Halyards: as it is easy to predict, at sea unused halyards will slap sails and equipment. Make sure halyards are securely fastened to the mast step and lightly tensioned.

Mainsail luff: hoops or head ropes should easily slide inside the groove. Clean and lubricate the groove at least once a year. In case the boat is provided with an in-mast-furling-mainsail, check the proper working of the system. Make sure no slivers or metal edges may damage the mailsail while sliding.

Sails are rarely placed astern, however, to be sure, check and cover split pins, stubs, etc.

Last but not least let’s have a look at sheets and ropes in general. Make sure they are in good conditions and the outer covers are not worn, or even worse, torn. If you doubt weather a rope has to be replaced or not, probably you have got it right ad the rope has come to the end of its lifetime. Another damaging effect is when the ropes become stiff due to the salt: I wash them on a 60°C machine wash with plenty of softener.

These are useful tips to keep in mind before sailing. Soon I will write about how to handle sails during and after sailing.

Some easy rules or better good sense tips that can avoid annoying and expensive troubles.

See you at sea. Fair wind to everybody!

Renzo Crovo