Sail Cloth for the Average
sail cloth was made
from flax,hemp or cotton
While cotton sailcloth is still available, most modern sails are made
using modern synthetic materials.
These range from cheap and cheerful nylon and
polyester to the expensive hi-tec carbon
Choosing a Sail Cloth
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anyone thinking of making their own sail, especially if it is a small
sail and they are new to the process, they can easily and cheaply try
out their ideas and make mock-up sails from the cheapest of materials.
Polly tarp is a cheap, cheerful and relatively easy material to test
out your ideas on.
My first attempt at sail making was a polly-tarp sprit sail for a
dinghy and it survived for a whole season before it began to fray and
degrade due to UV light.
Nylon, while it is cheap, light and strong, is normally only
used for spinnakers and cruising chutes because it does tend
to stretch and is susceptible to UV degradation.
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by far the most commonly used material for leisure boating sails are
the various types of
Polyethylene terephthalate, commonly known as
Dacron is the most
popular type of sail cloth for the average leisure boater due
to its durability at a reasonable price.
Polyester sail cloth fabrics are sold under various trade names such as
Terylene, Tetoron, Trevira, Diolen as well as Dacron.
The woven sail cloth is usually treated with a resin filler, which
stiffens the cloth helps reduce stretch and makes it less porous.
this stiffness and slipperiness does making it difficult
For small sails, a cloth with a minimal amount of resin filler will be
softer, more easy to work on and easier to handle when hoisted.
Polyesters can be either Woven fabrics or Laminated fabrics.
fabrics have been developed to retain their shape for longer but they
are considerably more expensive than the woven variety and the process
of sail making is more complicated.
Laminated fabrics are strong, light and will retain their shape for
much longer, but at a price.
Laminates as the name suggests are made by gluing together numerous
layers of scrim, extruded plastic and woven 'taffeta', all of which
to be paid for.
The other 'price' is the care you must take when handling them.
They tend to be stiff and susceptible to damage from flogging, chaff
and careless folding.
They also require a great deal of expertise when building the
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Weights, Weaves and Fillers
Weight is the usual method of
There seem to be several ways in which this weight is measured.
It can be the weight in ounces per square yard or ounces per linear
yard in which case it will depend on the standard with of the weave.
Or it can be in kilograms and meters.
So at best it is only an indication of the strength and thickness a
There are two methods for weaving sailcloth, either balanced or
In balanced cloth,
the warp (the lengthwise yarns) and the fill (the
crosswise yarns) are of the same weight.
With unbalanced cloth one of the yarns will be heavier to provide
greater strength in one direction.
Most modern sail cloth has the heavier yarn in the fill (across the
Most new sailcloth also has a 'filler' between the yarns.
These fillers help to reduce stretch by bridging the gaps between the
The cloth is treated with a 'resin' then passed through rollers so
the heat and pressure sets the filler between the fibres.
The fillers are also what make the sail cloth feel stiff and crinkly
Unfortunately these fillers will, over time and with rough handling,
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Caring for Your Sails
well made Dacron sail should last for years and years if it is looked
Over time it will stretch and become a bit baggy but while it
loose its efficiency, it will still be useable.
The two main causes of wear are flogging which damages the filler and
UV light which damages the yarns.
Keep both to a minimum.
Make stowing you sails part of the tying up/anchoring process,
something you do before taking off your sailing gear and relaxing with
that coffee, or something stronger.
It only takes a few minutes to flake and cover a mainsail and while you
are doing it check for and make note of any damage that should be
repaired before hoisting it again.
If you have roller furling headsails make sure that the UV strip is
covering the sailcloth.
It's all down to basic seamanship, look after your boat and her gear
and she will look after you.
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