Goodbye sewn Dacron: North Sails ready to invade the world with Nordac 3Di

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Dacron has been “reinvented” for cruisers and owners of small and medium-sized boats. It was the North Sails which diverted attention for a moment from the world of racing, performance and superyachts to frame the “white sails” that populate seas around the world. To test this new technology, I flew to one of the world’s sailing havens: Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Island .

From the combination of a traditional material, such as the Dacron (polyester), with the modern manufacturing process (North Sails’ patented 3Di technology in which Dyneema, carbon and/or aramid filaments are laid flat, pre-impregnated with thermosetting adhesive and conformed into ultralight ribbons), comes Nordac 3Di, a product aimed at the mass cruise market, and particularly small and medium-sized cruising boats. This is the direction taken by the American sailing company, which, sixty years after its founding, has decided to try to take back such an important slice of the cruising market. How? Taking what are the advantages of a technology developed for the high-performance world, i.e., better sail shape and longer durability and strength, and applying them to a wider pool of sailors, while trying to keep costs down.

In addition to technical capabilities, seamless white sails also have a remarkable aesthetic effect

This milestone is the latest in a journey that began in 1995 when North Sails first introduced 3D sails into its production. The very clear advantage in everyone’s eyes was to be able to have sails with a stable and more durable shape. Then came 2010 with a further breakthrough: the introduction of 3Di technology, an approach to composite sailmaking known for high elongation strength and superior durability through the use of thermosetting glues instead of thermoplastics. Not only had the shape been improved, but the structure of the sail had also been worked on.

In 2017 came a further breakthrough: the application of the most advanced and exclusive technology with the most popular and widely used material in the world: namely, the fusion of 3Di and Dacron. But what changes in the process of making these sails compared to the traditional polyester processing method? In the case of Nordac 3Di, the fiber is oriented unidirectionally on a resin pre-impregnated tape.

3Di machining at the North Sail loft in Minden, Nevada.

After that, the tapes are robotically assembled to make up the sail, and the sail sections are amalgamated into a single, integral membrane that is subsequently fitted with rings and accessories necessary for its use. In the case of traditional polyester, on the other hand, the fibers are interwoven to create a resin-impregnated fabric weave, which is then cut into panels. Finally these are assembled and sewn together to make up the sail (cross cut). The problem, however, is that woven fabric sails lose their shape long before their structural integrity is compromised.

OUR VIDEO IN NAVIGATION

In contrast, 3Di Nordac sails promise to offer high stability without sacrificing durability, having a better balance between structural life and use. In addition, vacuum molding via 3D composite structure provides a perfect shape and reinforcements for the reefers integrated into the structure for better sail shape when reefed.

The sails we tested, a full batten mainsail and a 105% genoa, were rigged aboard a Beneteau Oceanis 45 and on a First 47, on which we sailed among the amazing Caribbean islands, from Tortula to Virgin Gorda, in winds around 15 knots with gusts up to 20.

The different tightness of the shape of these new sails was immediately apparent, especially under gusts: every time I lifted my head, I observed the upper part of the sail always having the same shape.

This is the first time that Dacron has been improved to such a level of technology

But not only that, the top of the sail, i.e., the most important part to be adjusted, responded promptly to the “orders” given through the sheet and carriage, as I could well observe from the movements of the leech profile. A sensitivity that traditional Dacron sails lack, on which the top end is difficult to keep under control. Sailing upwind what is easily perceived is the increased power these sails give the boat in light winds and superior control when the wind rises. If you look closely at the sails, you can see that in the center, in the areas of least stress, are layered about six or seven layers of tape that increase in number as you get closer to the corners, up to fifty, where the stress is greatest (as is also the case aboard superyachts, where the clew of a 3Di sail is about 10 cm thick).

As for the cost, at the time of our test it had not yet been officially defined, although a slightly higher price than traditional Dacron is to be expected, with a warranty, yet to be determined, but which could be about 4/5 years. According to North officials, these sails are expected to last about 10 years and are intended to completely steal space from the Dacron Cross Cut (paneled). And it was Dan Neri, CEO of North Sails, on board with us during the test, who told me how “Building a trusting relationship with cruisers is much more difficult than with racers, because the former we only change sails every 6 to 8 years. But it is precisely this slice of the market that we are intent on taking back.”

northsails.com/sailing/3di-nordac

Veronica Bottasini

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