It’s time to take a close look at your sails so you can be ready for action as soon as the season starts. Your sails should be inspected at least once per season.
Begin by inspecting the sail cloth. Look for sun damage. If the sail looks and feels like tissue paper it may be beyond repair. Try to tear the cloth with your bare hands, with the weave and across the weave. If you can tear it you might want to consider a new sail.
Next inspect the stitching. Check the stitching on both sides of the sail. The stitching on machine sewn sails sometimes will give out before the sailcloth. Scraping the stitching with your fingernail may reveal weak or sun damaged thread.
Inspect spur grommets, pressed rings, eyelets, boltrope, batten pockets. Check for corrosion and damage to surrounding cloth, and the condition of stitching on hand sewn rings. Don’t forget to check the condition of reefing eyelets. Clew and head rings take the most pressure but don’t neglect the other rings and eyelets.
Check reinforcement patches. A single layer of sail cloth is not sufficiently strong enough to withstand the load placed on the edges and corners of the sail. Therefore, multiple layers of sailcloth are used to build up these areas. Make sure the reinforcement patches are in good condition and do not show signs of damage caused by strain and chafe.
Check headboard for corrosion, halyard shackle chafe, and the condition of rivets. Check the reinforced edge where the headboard meets the sailcloth. Headboard flexing can over time damage this area. If a failure occurs here your sail will literally loose its head.
Inspect all hardware. Check all slugs, slides, shackles, hanks, and wire for corrosion, cracking, wear, or any other damage that can end a day of sailing. I always carry spare replacement hardware on the boat.
Check reefing points. Reefing points are your sailboat’s brakes. You wouldn’t drive a car unless you were sure the brakes work. Reefing points should be in a straight line slightly lower than the reefing tack and reefing clew. They should be spaced 18” to 24” apart.
Roller furling sacrificial cloth should be inspected. First check the stitching. Many lofts use polyester thread to sew on sacrificial UV cloth. Polyester thread works well on polyester (Dacron) sails but not on UV cloth. Tenera thread does a better job and will outlast the fabric. I also recommend UV Dacron rather than Sunbrella fabric for sacrificial cloth. Sunbrella is three time heavier than UV Dacron and therefore can distort sail shape, especially on smaller boats.
By inspecting your sails at least once per season you will identify issues early so they can be corrected and do not become major problems later on.