Home . Articles . How-to . Boat Doctor . What’s wrong with my sails?

What’s wrong with my sails?

2009 November 1
Dear Boat Doctor,

I am new to sailing and just purchased a 1975 17-foot Silverline Dolphin. The boat shows use, but is in good shape for its age. At first glance, the sails also look good. However, when rigged on the boat (in the driveway with no wind), the sails seem pretty baggy and limp. My questions are:

1. Were the sails intentionally made this way, or is the bagginess an indication that they have been stretched and worn through much use over the years?

2. Given that the present set of sails are at least functional as is, if I wanted sails that would last and perform well, should I have these sails cleaned and reconditioned for mildew,UV and water resistance, or would it be better to simply put that money toward a new set of sails?

3. Do you have any insights into the capabilities of this boat (given its age and class) for me to consider whether or not a new, more advanced set of sails would even be worth investing in, or would there probably not be enough of a noticeable difference in performance to make the money spent worthwhile?

Paul Farrell
Oshkosh, Wisconsin
Dear Paul,

Your boat should be a great platform to learn on, and I think you can get your present sails to last a few more seasons.

From looking at your photo there are several problems that I see. First off, the sail does not appear to be fully hoisted. The top of the sail should come within several inches of the masthead. Second, the boom is too high; it should apply tension to the trailing edge of the sail (the leech). If you resolve these two conditions you will see a better sail shape.

However, it is very likely that the bolt rope along the leading edge of the main (the luff) has shrunk. The net result of this is that the bolt rope will tighten under halyard load but the sail cloth itself will still be loose and floppy.

I spoke to sailmaker Peter Grimm of Super Sailmakers in Fort
Lauderdale (954-763-6621, www.sail-depot.com) for advice. Peter feels the sails can be saved. Quality small-boat sails can be rebuilt and UV is not a big factor in boats from the Midwest.

He recommends that you wash the sail yourself. Just lay the sail out on the grass and scrub it lightly with Joy detergent and warm water. Rinse the sail well and hang it up to dry.

After you clean the sails, any sailmaker should be able to assess the condition for you and from there you can decide to go ahead and repair or just replace the sail.

If you do not have a sailmaker that you wish to work with, Super Sailmakers has a free program called Sail-by-Mail. Super Sailmakers will ship you an empty box with a return address label, just put your sail in the box and drop it off at UPS. When they get the sail, Super Sailmakers will evaluate the sail and send you an assessment and quote.

I think you have a great boat on which to develop a love of sailing. Thanks for writing and good luck with the new boat.