Their task is sometimes, unfairly, underestimated. But when we talk about the efficiency of our sails, the mainsail in particular, battens play a key role. They support the shape of the sail, help it preserve itself over time, and are basically a key component of our “sail propulsion” to which much more care and attention should be given. Knowing them is the first step. What are they for? What material are they made of? Long or short? Which ones for racing and which ones for cruising? What about the slats for the bow?
We talked about this and much more with Andrea Casale, North Sails man, Laser national in the 1990s, with great experience in the One Design world, several international successes in ORC and experience also in the Tp 52 circuit. Today, in addition to racing, Andrea Casale also follows the world of cruising boats. The chat we had with him about cues will indeed be 360 degrees.
What are the cues used for?
The battens are a practical ploy to add structure in the only side of the three of the sail that lacks it, namely the leech (the luff is bound by the mast, the base on the boom). To keep the leech from vibrating, we apply extra structure, namely our battens, which will also serve to improve the overall shape of the sail. In furling sails that lack them, however, it is necessary to caulk the meolo to prevent vibration but the shape will never be as optimal as that of a battened sail. In recent years, these needs have been joined by others, this is because the average user is also confronted with technological developments: moon sails, square-top, with these solutions the battens have become tools that project into the air the ideal profile of a sail, which increasingly resembles that of a wing and is less and less triangular and more tending toward the rectangle.
What material is a splint made of?
The materials factor on the battens resembles the historical process of sailboat masts. Profiles used to be only made of aluminum, and now they are more and more made of carbon, because it is a material that has more modulus, more lightness, computational capabilities have improved, and therefore carbon shafts are solid, the only downside remains the price. For battens the process is similar, the end goal is carbon, and the starting point was fiberglass and epoxy in particular. Today there are many inexpensive resin products, but they are softer and have less modulus, slowly the industry is leading us to have more and more carbon cues although the price factor also remains here. For an experienced sailor who knows his or her way around, carbon battens, which are more fragile, can be something extra because they stabilize the sail’s shape more by being stiffer while weighing it down less. For a somewhat less experienced sailor, I would recommend resin ones, which are more durable and forgiving of use that may involve a few mistakes such as a sharp bend when stowing the sail. On boats 60 feet and up, on the other hand, I would consider carbon almost indispensable; epoxy on those sizes really yields little and the price difference does not justify the loss of technical efficiency we would have with the poorer product.
Long splints and short splints, what differences?
The general rule tells us full batt en for big boat, partial batten for small boat. And I would also add full battens for the cruising boat, partials for a racing boat. If I have a big cruising boat, I have my full batten mainsail on the ball trolleys, with the lazy jack, the mainsail will drop on its own, otherwise it would be an adventure especially if I do it solo.
On the other hand, if you are a racer of, say, an X-35 and you want to win your regatta, it is obvious that you are going to go with a sail with partial battens, because you will have a greater possibility of sail shape depth, and the boat’s equipment, with its many adjustments, will help you modify the profile of the mainsail in various needs. The presence of full battens, on the other hand, dictates a sail with a shallower profile, more suited to the needs of the cruiser than to those of a racer. On square-top racing boats, on the other hand, we see at least three or four full battens at the top to support the shape of the square, but at the bottom partial battens remain, even in the case of a boat that goes offshore.
Racing boats with full batten mainsails, staying in the realm of offshore sailing, may be the Imoca 60-style ocean open boats, but they are very special boats that meet completely different needs.
How do you install a splint?
We start by explaining the importance of the pockets from where it is to be inserted. By now, the batten pocket in so-called membranes is built inside the sail and at the same time as the lamination of the sail, in order to have a totally symmetrical final shape, which is not feasible if you build the pockets separately and apply them afterwards only on one “face” of the sail, resulting in two different surfaces between them. That said, the battens should be installed with the thinner part pointing toward the luff and the thicker part at the lath. This is for tapered slats, then there are non-tapered slats, but even those will make sense depending on how they are installed. The battens are numbered from the top, with 1, which is renamed top and is usually full batten even with the rest of the partial battens, being the highest and then the others going down. Should the cues not already be coded, it is good to do so.
How many battens should a cruising mainsail have and how many should a racing one have?
It depends on how big the boat is first of all. Performance-wise for a racer you try to put fewer battens because they weigh down the structure, for cruising it is always better to put one more because it discharges the meoli from vibration and thus preserves the sail. Then each sailmaker has his own parameters based on the boat he is going to sail. As always in the end it is necessary to be clear about how we will use the sail according to the type of boat.
How to tell if a cue is properly adjusted
The general rule of thumb says that if there are vertical wrinkles there is little tension on the splint, but we need to pay close attention to this discussion and do some thinking about the materials we have today. It is usually thought to be a “disaster” that there is some wrinkling on the slats and this is perceived as a problem, in fact it is not. The reality is that if I have to choose to pull the battens “bomb” to get rid of any wrinkles or keep them softer I would always choose the second option, because in the first choice I keep everything under a load not justified by the need and always under pressure deforming the sail, so in the end I get a better aesthetic effect but I get worse performance. If I leave it softer, on the other hand, the batten still does its job well, and there are no particular contraindications to the shape of the sail. Also because today we don’t have the “soft” wings of the past, today our wings are very stiff and inelastic as well as more high-performance. That is why we often see wrinkles, which are physiological because sails are “hard,” but that does not mean we should pull the battens to death because we would annihilate the shape by deforming the profile and stressing the material for no reason. Wrinkles are ultimately an almost primarily “cosmetic” problem.
The slats on the bows
It no longer makes sense, except for mere immediate savings but which is short-sighted in the long run, to have a cruising furling jib without battens. For a delta of 10% cost you end up with, without the battens, a jib (we are not talking about genoa but 105-107% sail) that has a strong negativity between pen and clew, thus a much more “hollowed out” leech with an inevitable loss of square footage even up to 7-10% . This negativity we are forced to give to prevent the sail from vibrating and “flapping” in leeching in an unresolvable way. On the other hand, if we apply three or four vertical battens, we can have a jib that is a little more elongated , and better in shape and surface area, which is good for us in most of the conditions in which a cruiser sails, with a nice reserve of “horsepower” then, but still allowing us to sail properly even in 20 or more knots of wind. Vertical slats ultimately help us to increase square footage and better support leeching. By now, all sailmakers make these sails; the battens line up with the furling of the furler and there are no counter indications even when leaving the sail hoisted and furled at the mooring.
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