Most folks have a normal boat checklist for the spring; new bottom paint, installing instruments, lubricating furling systems and winches are some of the more obvious pre-launching tasks. Many people neglect to give their sails a quick inspection before installing them on the boat for the season. The following is a quick checklist of some of the more frequent wear points on sails:
Mainsail – Check all the luff slides/slugs and attachments. If you have a bolt rope luff, check for excessive wear at the top of the bolt rope and near the reef points. Check all the batten pockets for wear, and for loose stitching near the batten pocket ends. Check all the reef midpoints for wear and missing grommets. Check the stitching on the seams, especially near the leech where the loads are greater.
Headsails – Check all the hanks on the luff of the sail. If the pistons are stiff, give them a squirt of McLube Sailkote (This is our preferred lubricant). If you have luff tape for roller furling or grooved headstay systems, check the top of the luff tape. If it is frayed, cut off the frayed end of the rope and melt with a hot knife. If you don’t have access to a hot knife you can saturate the top of the luff tape with super glue. If you have a Hood Gemini system super glue is actually the preferred method. Check the stitching carefully, look for wear or chafe where the sail rubs on the stanchions, spreader tips, and mast light when tacking. If you have roller furling, check the stitching on the UV cover. The UV cover will only protect the sail if it covers it. Also check your leech and foot line cleats for slippage.
Downwind sails – Spread the sail out and inspect the sail for small tears and loose stitching. A good technique for finding small “pin holes” actually get under the sail and look up through it, holding sections of the sail up over your head. If you can see light, you have a hole or a weakened area.
“Temporary” repairs – use “Dacron Insignia” tape or cloth as opposed to “Sail Repair tape”. It is stronger, adheres better, and is less UV sensitive. Do not use Duct tape unless you remove it immediately after getting in to the dock, the adhesive makes a mess of the sail. Remember, temporary is the key word here, and taking the time to bring your sail into your sailmaker for a more permanent repair will save you time and money in the long run. Small tears are usually very inexpensive to repair, but are guaranteed to get bigger and more expensive if they are not tended to.
Many small repairs like replacing hanks and broken slugs or cutting new battens are simple and can be done on your own, most sail lofts and marine stores sell sail hardware. A good repair kit to keep on your boat for emergency repairs should include: Two sail needles (if you only have one, it is guaranteed to break), waxed thread (dental floss works well in a pinch), extra luff slides or slugs, Dacron insignia tape or cloth (know as “sticky-back” to sailmakers), and some webbing. If you don’t have a hand sewing palm, a pair of pliers will work as a substitute. Your sail ties are probably made of nylon or polypropylene webbing that can be cut up and used as reinforcing straps in an emergency.
Sailing is about having fun, and damage to your sails can result in “down time”, so it definitely pays to take a little extra time to check your sails over before the sailing season begins.