Capt'n Pauley
Small Craft Advisor|May - June 2020
Normally, I talk about hard items like fiberglass, wood, steel or aluminum. Today, I’m offon another tangent—marine fabrics.
Paul Esterle

Exterior Fabrics When thinking about exterior fabrics, you immediately think of sails, the engines of our boats. Two main types of cloth are used in most production sails. The first is ripstop nylon, starting at .5 oz./yd. The second is polyester (Dacron), starting at around 2 oz./yd. and going up to as much as 10 oz./yd. for heavier sails such as storm jibs.

A word about that sailcloth weight. It is expressed in ounces per yard. You might think a yard would be 36 x 36 but you would be wrong. A sailmakers’ yard is 28.5x 36. (Evidently sailcloth was woven 28.5 inches wide back in the day.) Sailcloth comes in a wide variety of weights, sizes and colors.

Production and custom sails are assembled from precut panels. By controlling the taper in panel ends and panel orientation, a sail designer can build in desirable sail features, such as sail camber, twist and shape. In addition, the sail designer specifies stitching, reinforcements, bolt rope or lufftape size. Some sailmaker suppliers, such as Sailrite (www.sailrite.com) can supply DIY sail-making videos online. Make sure to view these before buying a sail kit.

New nylon or Dacron sails tend to be a bit pricey. For a lower cost option, investigate a used sail loft. There are several companies, such as Bacons in Annapolis, that specialize in selling used sails. Most have online websites listing available sails, their size and estimated condition. I did a recent search of the Bacon site for a used genoa for Ternabout, and found 22 sails that matched her dimensions. Prices ranged from $150 to $275. A comparable new sail would be around $650.

Don’t give up on your old sail, either. The Sail Care company can professionally clean your old sail, do any needed repairs and apply new resin. I had the sails cleaned for Bryn Awel; they came back like new and are still in use.

Before we leave the subject of sails, we need to talk about another sail material, polytarp. Polytarps are tarps made from polyethylene plastic. We are all familiar with those ubiquitous blue tarps. However, the tarp material used for sails is a heavier, more UV-resistant type, usually white but also available in a number of colors. Polytarp suppliers can provide the tarp material, accessories, sail kits or even completed sails.

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