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Fixing sails part 1

» Posted on 29 Oct 2013

Sail repair.

When using our sails, we are often faced with a dilemma: should we ignore a tear, which appeared on the sail, and keep on sailing (with a possible enlarged tear in the future) or should we spend an hour or two on a makeshift patch. A large repair usually requires a visit to a sailmaker’s shop. A small repair, maybe not very spectacular and maybe visible from afar, but when done carefully, will allow for a long lifespan of the sail when sailing in not too strong winds.

If you decide to repair a sail on your own, you will need several sizes of needles, a thicker nylon 6 thread (houseline – preferably waxed, because in many cases, it automatically holds the thread tension in the seam), a sailmaker’s palm and scissors. Often times, pieces of Dacron, which you can buy at any sailmaker’s shop, are also needed.

The basic principle that should be followed during the repair is that the patch should not wrinkle the sail fabric around the worn area. The rest depends on how much time is spent on tedious sinking of the needle into the fabric. The more pricks, the more effective repair, which will withstand stronger gusts of wind. How many pricks are needed? Machine stitches on the sail are a reference point – there, a needle hits the fabric every few millimetres, and this dense network formed by an apparently thin thread upholds very large areas of the sails, allowing for their use.

The same goes for ripped seams. Whether they connect the sail gores, or attach the hems (corners, leech belts, pockets) – in any case, ignoring a small frayed area can result in a major repair of the sail at a sailmaker’s shop. Few people would want to manually sew a 3 metre seam, the more so that it could have been avoided.

From experience I know that hardly anyone succeeds in stitching large rips at home, because it is difficult to maintain the proper orientation of ripped or torn surfaces relative to each other. The result of such home repair will be a “whole” sail, but with a broken profile around the new stitching. Therefore, my advise is not to underestimate small tears, because it results in costs on repairing the sail or sailing with a deformed sail which was fix at home.

I am going to list elements of the sail, which get damaged most often, as well as quick ways to repair them:

1. Torn stitching on the corners.

Simply stitch it manually or using a home sewing machine.

2. Batten pockets.

One of the elements of the sail most vulnerable to damage. Partially unravelled places must be filled in, not allowing for further unravelling. Torn fabric as a result of chafing or broken battens should be fixed by sewing a patch there. Width of the patch should be the same as the width of the batten pocket. Simply sew the patch on the old seam where the pocket is sewn to the sail.

3. Edges of the sail.

If the mainsail edges are inserted in the boom and mast sail tracks without the use of slides, the areas in the beginning and end of the edges are the most vulnerable to damage.

 

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On the boom, it would not hurt if we put on a band made of rope or tape through the eyelet in the clew, which will grasp the boom. It acts as protection, which does not allow the bolt rope to break away from the sail when the bolt rope on the clew tears in the strongest place, i.e. right on the corner. If the bolt rope breaks away from the sail, a visit to a sailmaker’s shop will be required. Currently, on new mainsails we can very often see slides (stainless steel and plastic) attached on the clew, which seamlessly fulfil the task of the bolt rope at this point.

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Once the foot of the mainsail is free, the clew can be attached to the boom, for example like this:

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and

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4. Eyelets.

If we see that eyelets “come out” from the corner or the support, we do not have many options. In the short run, we can secure the eyelet, sewing it using nylon 6 tape or even a thicker thread. In amateur conditions, this should secure the eyelet from falling out of the sail for a short time. Ultimately the sail must be taken in for repair.

5. Seams connecting gores.

You can easily and cheaply secure small rips yourself, while larger ones should be taken to a sailmaker’s shop, where they can be secured relatively cheaply but much more preferably for the efficiency and lifespan of the sail.

 

Spinnakers and gennakers – specific sails made from a specific fabric. In case of these sails, all the problems described above are multiplied. The reason for this is much less thickness and strength of the fabric from which a spinnaker (gennaker) is made, i.e. nylon. A small rip can (under favourable circumstances!) tear a sail in half. Independent repair of small rips in seams can result in tedious filling in of the seam by hand, stitching on the home sewing machine or taping with a piece of self-adhesive Dacron (available at any sailmaker’s shop and in most sailing shops).

For larger rips, it is most preferred for the efficiency and lifespan of the sail to have it repaired at a sailmaker’s shop. With this type of sail it is much easier to make a mistake in connecting the torn edges on large sections. Often times, one edge of the fabric get dragged over and when connecting both edges back together we must lose the extra length on the larger part. We cannot allow this extra length to collect in one place, as this will result in a thicker section, which will cause the formation of radiating wrinkles and, consequently, chafing of these wrinkles and subsequent repairs.

What seams should be used for repairs?

The fundamental issue which determines their efficiency is not their appearance, but their quality. Their quality is reflected in as uniform tension of the thread (houseline) over its entire length as possible. Furthermore, it is preferable if they are arranged in a zigzag, like machine stitches. This consequently provides more points of connection between the two pieces of fabric on the given length, as opposed to a straight stitch.

 

Andrzej Kiełsznia