The Do-it-Yourself Sail Track Cleaner


Racers demand lightning-fast hoists. Cruisers tire of the effort required to grind a heavy main up a sticky track. Roller furler foils that have been left vacan’t over the winter can always do with a quick clean and lube before hoisting the genoa. But how can we accomplish this with minimal effort, without climbing the mast? Although it seems like the most common of tasks, the local chandlery doesn’t carry what we need, and its slim pickings on the internet. Even calls to sailmakers and lube vendors yielded sparse information. Oddly, patents abound, but few products.

In the March 2018 issue of Practical Sailor, we review the few over-the-counter track cleaning tools, but with a bit of effort you can also make your own.

The simplest DIY cleaning tool is a two-foot section of luff tape or prefabricated bolt rope. Place a grommet in each end, close to the tape but not so close that it can bind in the groove (3/16-inch clearance).

The Do-it-Yourself Sail Track Cleaner

The diameter can be increased for more effective scrubbing by gluing fabric to the outside of the bolt rope (see photo above). We liked terry cloth for this, but Sunbrella slides better. Adhere with polyurethane caulk. Alternatively, the cloth can also be sewn in place.

The Do-it-Yourself Sail Track Cleaner

Our DIY direct insertion cleaner (see photo above) is a bit fiddly to build and use, but it avoids having to remove sail slugs and open the mast gate.

Step-by-Step instructions

1.Cut a piece of Sunbrella (old and floppy is best) 10 by 8 inches. Fold this along the 10-inch length and use polyurethane caulk to glue the edges together with a 1.25-inch overlap. The finished dimension is 10 by 4 inches.

2.Make two carriers from 1/8-inch thick aluminum or plastic 12 inches long. Drill holes in the ends for shackles and five more -inch holes for clamping with 3/16 x -inch pan head screws.

3.Clamp the Sunbrella strip between the carrier strips using the three center holes

4.Cut 2 strips of polyester sail cloth 1.5-inch x 8-inch. Punch two -inch holes on the center line, near the center, 1.25 inches apart.

5.Clamp the sailcloth strips in the carrier using the end clamping holes (not the shackle holes). Do not double the cloth, use only one hole at this time, and leave the nuts loose.

The Do-it-Yourself Sail Track Cleaner

In Use

To use, remove the clamping bolts on the sailcloth strips, but do not remove them from the carriers. Double the strips and insert them into the groove as far as they will go. Continue by inserting all of the Sunbrella into the groove, doubling it like and accordion into the groove, prodding it with a kitchen fork (see photo above).


The Do-it-Yourself Sail Track Cleaner


Once all of the Sunbrella is in the groove, pull the sailcloth strips tight with the carrier strips held tight against the mast. This will form a knot of cloth that cannot pull out of the groove. Realign the punched holes in the sail cloth with the carrier strip holes and insert clamping bolts. It is now ready to be hauled up and down the mast.

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at