We often tend to forget this when cruising, but sails must always be used properly in order to prevent them from losing their shape, negatively affecting the boat’s performance, and, most importantly, from breaking, turning what was supposed to be a vacation into a real “slam dunk” in search of a sailmaker who can give you a hand. Compared to racing sail games, made of exotic fabrics that suffer more from UV rays and excessive loads (Kevlar, carbon, Vectran, and so on), cruising sails, in most cases made of Dacron, are made keeping in mind that they will be used paying less attention and in a much wider wind range: but it still takes little to ruin them. Distraction and laziness are often the main causes of damage to mainsails, jibs and furlings during summer cruising.With a few simple tricks, without spending a dime, you will avoid placing sails under stress and thus risking “accidents” while sailing.
It may seem obvious, but whenever you take down the mainsail you must not forget to protect it with the mainsail cover. Just take a walk around a crowded roadstead to count mainsails bent over the boom without any cover, thus exposed to the wear and tear caused by ultraviolet rays, which in the long run irreparably damages the sail. In addition, the cover is also a protection against saline that tends to abrasion the mainsail. Even if you are using a lazy-bag, remember to always close the zipper once you have lowered the sail. It is a common practice when motoring to hoist the mainsail to stabilize the hull, but make sure it carries: in a total absence of wind 99 percent of the time the sea will be flat, so you won’t need the sail up, while with little air the motoring will result in a very narrow apparent wind. Set the course so that the mainsail is not becalmed (also because there is no point in holding up a flapping sail; in fact, it is a brake), avoiding unnecessary strain on it.
The wear and tear caused by flapping is accentuated for generously sized mainsails, which clash against the backstay putting the integrity of the rubbing points at risk. When sailing at load-bearing gaits, make sure to always arrange for a boom restraint: the sail will not be ruined if it rests on the spreaders, but if the boom is free to move by constantly hitting the shrouds you could do damage (e.g., to the batten carriages). Fixing the boom with a stroppetto will solve the problem: this is a trick that should be put into practice not only when the wind is sustained (and the loads involved are high), but also with light airs, because as the speed of the boat increases, the apparent wind decreases and the boom tends to close and then reopen as the pressure increases again. When the mainsail is lowered, remember to slightly loosen the tension on the halyard, the adjusters (base, cunningham) and, if you have given a coat of reefing, the borosa as well. When the mainsail is in use, the wind pressure “spreads” the stresses involved, but if the sail is down, the halyard pulls in one direction only, risking unnerving it.
FLAKES AND GENOA
The most common mistake when using a jib or genoa when cruising is to partially roll it as the wind increases. Unless it is a sail designed to be used semi-rolled as well, with dedicated reinforcing points, you will have to decide whether to furl it or leave it fully spread, perhaps decreasing the area of the mainsail. Sailing with a jib whose sheet points are wrong means deteriorating its shape. Also be careful when at carrying gaits: a slack genoa will rub on the stanchions and dredges, so the advice is to make a pre-cruise sea trip to locate the rubbing points and cover them with adhesive protection. Another expedient is to apply leather covers to harnesses and cotter pins and plastic casters to the dredges to minimize friction. As with the mainsail, remember to let up the jib halyard slightly once you are stopped with the sail rolled. In this way, you will also give the tree a rest. If you decide to sail aft, a good solution to “protect” the sail may be to tangon the jib.
GENNAKER AND FURLING
Regarding gennaker and Code 0 type furling sails, the main recommendation is to never leave them rigged once you are at anchor. The fabric is very delicate and particularly sensitive to the sun’s rays: being very thin, it also lets rays penetrate the inner laps, so the damaging action of ultraviolet involves much of the leech even when the sail is furled. Once it is rolled up, lower it and rather leave it on deck, protecting it with a tarp if you do not have room underneath: also, if you do not lower it, remember that even if you have the best anti-twist cable, at the top, where the pen triangle is located, the sail can never be furled perfectly and, in high winds, it can unroll and be damaged.