We are often asked if there area any upgrades and modifications can be made to the sails that would improve the performance of their boat. One of the most often asked questions is: Is it possible to recut my sails to tune them up over the winter? The answer is always a resounding maybe!
First you need to ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish with the recut. There are small, subtle changes that can often be made to racing sails to improve performance in a certain wind range, or on a particular point of sail. There are also larger recuts that can be made to change the physical size of the sail if it does not fit the boat properly, and retrofits for roller furling, full length battens, or other sail handling systems, that change how the sail is used.
The second step is to make an honest assessment of the sail. Is the sail fabric still fairly firm? Are the seams still intact? Is there any delamination? If the sail is old and falling apart, there is not much point in spending money to try to recut a sail that needs replacing.
If you think the sail is in good condition and worth spending some money on, the next step is to go sailing and take some photographs of the sails. For headsails take the following shots: 1) Lie down on the foredeck in the center of the sail and look up, aiming at the head of the sail. 2) Stand as far back as you can on the boat and take three pictures looking forward, first the lower third of the sail, then the middle, then the upper third.
For the mainsail take the same photographs: Looking up from the center of the boom, and looking forward and up from the back of the boat. Other helpful photos are shots taken from off the boat, and photos of the specific problem area on the sail. It is very important to note the time, wind velocity, point of sail, sheet and halyard tensions, backstay tension, and any other helpful notes that will describe the physical setting of the sails.
Bring the photographs into the sail loft when you bring the sail to your sailmaker. When you are discussing the specific recut you have in mind, you can look at the sail and the photographs together and determine what if any recutting is possible. An important second step is to re-photograph the sails after the recut has been performed and keep them with your records.
If the recut you are thinking about will require changing the physical size of the sail, you should bring an accurate sail plan to you sailmaker along with the sail. If you don’t have a sail plan, consult with your sailmaker. He may want you to take some measurements, or accompany you to the boat to take the measurements himself.
While a new sail will usually be faster, most laminated (Mylar/Kevlar) racing sails can be recut one or two times during the life of the sail to improve their performance. A very helpful way to keep track of the condition of your sails is to keep a detailed description photographic log of the sails. Much like keeping a maintenance record on your car, this log will allow you to see the approximate miles/hours put on each sail, record the shape changes with photographic evidence, and compare the “new”, “before recutting” and “after recutting” photos.
In addition, keeping this log will help you develop a better eye for sail shape, and help you track your boats performance (ie. race results, or boat speed) compared to the shape of the sails, and may help you make a correlation between the two. It is very educational, can help you reduce the cost of recuts, will help keep your sails in better condition, and can be a lot of fun!