Features September 2010 Issue

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

As sailmaking goes high-tech, are pricey membrane mainsails really the best choice?

Sails are a fascinating engineering statement, and when all is said and done, what’s 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 Sails’s Cuben Fiber that are strung into high-end sails in much the same way that carbon fiber is used in a hull skin.

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