The State of the Main: A Look at Sail Materials and Sailmaking Methods

Sails are a fascinating engineering statement, and when all is said and done, whats sought after is the lightest material possible that will neither stretch nor tear as it withstands the ravages of wind-induced pressure, vessel righting moment, and harassment from sunlight, chafe, atmospheric deposition, and other deteriorating effects. Practical Sailor toured sailmaking facilities and talked to several pros in the know to find out what sail materials are best suited for cruising, racing, and passagemaking. While cotton cloth lies well astern as a sail material, Dacron-which has been powering boats for five decades-has yet to be relegated to the junk pile. However, those willing to pay more to optimize performance have a wide range of just-out-of-the-lab, high-modulus material options to choose from, including high-modulus materials like Kevlar, Spectra, carbon, Vectran, North Sailss Cuben Fiber that are strung into high-end sails in much the same way that carbon fiber is used in a hull skin.

Where Credit Is Due: September 2013

Alpenglow I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to (and recommendation of) the folks at Alpenglow Lights (www.alpenglowlights.com). We have many of their fixtures and have contacted the company on numerous occasions for new sales, upgrades, and technical questions. Without fail, they have exceeded our expectations, from offering to perform upgrades at minimal cost, to telling us secret workarounds that enabled us to use locally sourced parts and supplies to re-invigorate their excellent lighting units.

‘Sprit Kit

Recently PS tested an OEM product that increased the light-air performance on one of our test platforms—a trailerable San Juan 23—and eased sailhandling in...

The Cruising Sailor’s Drivetrain

When a cruising sailor starts thinking about exploring fjords and glaciers, he starts putting a little more thought into his boat’s diesel engine and drivetrain components. High-latitude cruising sailor Andy O’Grady writes about several parts that has served him well in extreme conditions: the Kiwiprop, the Manecraft dripless prop shaft seal, the PRM150 transmission, and the K&N reusable air filter.

Mailport: anchoring etiquette, stern-tied boats, and wind generators

I really appreciated the article Anchoring in Crowded Harbors (see Practical Sailor, June 2019). The difficult and critical part is always estimating distances, and the guides you gave (two-to-three mast heights, using fractions of a nautical mile, etc.) can be difficult to do accurately in a crowded harbor with the sun setting, with some of that information available only at the helm, and multiple boats moving to anchor. As a bow hunter, I am…

Mailport: September 2010

Letters to Practical Sailor from our readers. September 2010's topics include barnacles, teak finish, knots for a bosun chair and LEDs.

Mailport: September 2013

In response to Whats in the Practical Sailor Toolbag? (PS, January 2012): How about a list of tools that a live-aboard cruiser should carry? Given storage, power, and workspace limitations, many of the suggested tools are not feasible and may require alternatives. For instance, I carry a major Dremel toolkit, and it cuts the very occasional holes I need for switch installation, etc., plus helps me with sanding and minor refinishing work. I use my Dewalt 18-volt right-angle drill probably twice a month for repairs and upgrades. I also use my cordless screwdriver several times per year, especially when removing and reinstalling my headliner while chasing wires. Most others are tools that don't require electricity, but there are many.

Holt Allen Best Buy in Furling Leads

Options abound, but Holt Allen has the best price, while Garhauer's and Schaefer's seem the most durable.

Riding the ‘A’-train

Prices, advice vary greatly when it comes to asymmetrical sails.

Overheating Ropes

We have a love-hate relationship with nylon rope. When it comes to absorbing shock, it offers the best available combination of strength, elasticity, and economy. On the downside, it is sensitive to UV, abrasion when wet, has a low working load limit, and is weakened over time by internal wear.

The Ins and Outs of Aftermarket Bowsprits for Light-air Sails

A salty Kiwi named Ross Norgrove once said that the most important tool for the owner of a wooden yawl adorned with a bowsprit is a sharp ax. To some degree, his witty comment holds true for contemporary sailors contemplating a mini-bowsprit.