Summer is knocking at the door. It’s time to warm up the engines. Or rather, to unfurl the sails. But before you let go of your moorings, even if you’re not in the mood anymore, it’s only fair to check that your “engines” are ready to take on the new season, and won’t leave you “stranded” after a few miles. Simple interventions are often enough to get everything in order, without the need to buy a new sail game.
We asked our trusted “mechanic,” Roberto Westermann (owner of Wsail sailmaker in Lavagna, which turned the 30-year mark in 2014), to help us make a check list to understand what checks need to be done. Whether you have carefully winterized your sails in a dry place or abandoned them in the boat to their fate, there are specific checks to be made before setting sail. In the second case, if there were problems at the end of the season you will now find them just as they were, the halyards and sheets will certainly be a little harder, the sails dirtier, the furling genoa will probably have uv protection with some green traces due to the growth of microorganisms and, if in laminate, even some traces of mold. That said, the first thing to do before taking action is to distinguish problems into three groups: aesthetic, structural, and functional. In this first part, we will deal with the first two.
AESTHETIC PROBLEMS – DIRT AND MOLD
Dirt and mold are not problematic factors in the proper functioning of sails. However, they are certainly not uplifting. All that is needed to remove these aesthetic nuisances is a good cleaning, though not too aggressive, because some stains come off only with drastic interventions, but these are not good for the sail: “It is now a proven fact”-Roto Westermann tells me-“that bleaches and pressure washers ruin sails; I advise our clients against industrial washing, because sails that come back from that type of treatment are almost always irreparably ruined. Instead, what I encourage people to do, as soon as the season allows, is to get into our swimsuits, lower the sails on deck, soap them with neutral products and rinse them by hoisting them or ask someone to do it for us.” When it comes to mold, however, it is important to take action now.
If the stains are recent, small, and superficial, there is a very good chance of being able to remove them; but if they extend and penetrate deep into the fibers, the likelihood of achieving an effective cleaning decreases considerably. Separate sails that have mold stains from clean sails and any other fabric that may come in contact with them (e.g., sacking). But how to prevent mold from forming? Make sure the sails get air regularly, especially after rain. When the boat is moored and the day is dry and not windy, we recommend that you hoist the sails and leave them in place, for about an hour. Exposure to sunlight can be useful for the purpose of drying the sails and removing moisture, but excessive exposure can cause other types of problems. Never store your sail if it is still damp and saline-stained, and always store it in a dry environment. If the boat will be left unused for more than three weeks, take down the sails and fold them perfectly dry, or make sure someone airs them out.
STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS – LEECHING, SLAT POCKETS, SLIDERS
Before returning to the water, it is necessary to perform some checks aimed at verifying the structural integrity of your sails. First, try scratching the seams of the leech webbing (especially of the furling genoas) with your fingernails: if the thread jumps, the advice is to go to a sailmaker to fix the problem. The genoa particularly suffers on the base and leech. On the base, because it constantly rubs on the drapes, on the leech because it can touch the shrouds, and because it is always exposed to the sun, even when the sail is furled. If they skip the seams they are obviously poorly made. If, on the other hand, it rips or ruins often, always in the same place, check your shipboard equipment, perhaps you have a poorly repaired pathway light or stripped drapes.
Remaining on the genoa, it is then necessary to check the condition of the UV band, the luff ring, the webbing of the pen angle and tack angle, the start of the luff if the sail is furling or the luff plungers, the meoli and their chokes. The same check should be made, as far as the mainsail is concerned, on the seams of the zeros on the bulges: again, if the thread is skipping, it is time to go to the sailmaker. Then crumple vigorously and try to tear off, as if it were a sheet of paper, the leech webbing of both the mainsail and the genoa: again, if it breaks, the only thing to do is to solve the problem by going to your trusted sailmaker. Carefully check the beginning and end of the slat pockets for their integrity. Check on the mainsails the rings and the attachment of the sliders to the luff: if any slider is ruined, arrange for replacement; if, on the other hand, any ring does not look right but has signs of tearing or, worst case, is blown off, go to the sailmaker.