Not every sailor has a selection of local sailmakers to choose from. He or she must instead rely on Internet research and phone conversations to find the best sail for the best price. As most of the world’s sail production takes place in a handful of high-volume production lofts abroad (China, Sri Lanka, and Africa), U.S. sailmakers have taken on the role of sail designers—rather than sailmakers.
In our recent study of mainsails, we found that sails made abroad make excellent value, thanks in large part to computer-aided design and panel-cutting. Nevertheless, the sailor needs to be specific regarding the measurements and the details of construction, and his relationship with the sail designer/salesman is as important as ever—particularly in the event that something goes wrong.
Locally built or finished sails tend to be more expensive, but the advantage of having a sailmaker check your measurements on board and then make sure the sail fits and performs as designed is often worth the extra money. This kind of attention is also possible with offshore-built sails from major lofts, so long as the sales rep regards this as part of his job.
During the design of our main, the sailmaker spent over an hour onboard measuring the hoist, outhaul, etc, as well as answering our questions and discussing the various options available. As with any major purchase, there’s a good deal of reassurance in knowing that the person selling you the sail is the one that will be making it and is willing to join you for a sea trial to answers questions or address problems should they arise.