Do I Need New Sails?


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There are many options to choose from when considering a new sail. Deciding if you need a new sail at all is the first step. Buying new sails can improve your sailing fun more than anything else you can buy, but can be a total waste of money if you don’t need them. Several things should be considered in the decision, such as:

Are you primarily a light wind fair weather sailor, or do you like to push the boat hard in big wind?

In this sense, sails are somewhat like the tires on your car, If you don’t drive a lot and you don’t drive hard, they can last a long time, if you drive a lot, or if you drive hard, they wear out much sooner. If you sail a lot, or sail in heavy wind (especially if you aren’t quick to reef) your sails could be worn out in just a few years. Heavier wind sailing also requires that your sails be in really good shape to sail well at all, tired stretchy sails show their weakness first in stronger wind.

Do you do some casual racing or are you interested in sailing performance? (if you are a SERIOUS racer you already know this answer!)

Performance sailors replace sails much more frequently than casual cruisers, sometimes every year. NOTHING improves the sailing characteristics of any boat more than good sails, if you care that your boat sails better, this is the first place to spend real money.

Do you think your boat leans over more than you (or your crew) likes, slides sideways too much, doesn’t point as close to the wind as it should, or needs to be reefed sooner than you like?

As sails wear, they become less stiff and more stretchy, in simple terms, this causes them to be less of a proper airfoil shape and more baggy. When you get a puff of wind, a tired sail stretches and bags out, leaning the boat over and pulling it sideways through the water instead of accelerating it forward. The biggest thing most sailors notice about new sails is not how much faster the boat goes (although it does) but how much less it leans and how much more wind they can sail in without reefing.

Are your sails more than 5 years old?

While the original sails on your Mac can last a long time if well cared for and not used hard, most should be replaced sometime between 5 and 10 years unless you are not very concerned about how well your boat sails. We frequently hear people say things like “My sails are in great shape, there are no rips and the stitching is still tight”. In many cases this is the same as saying “the shock absorbers on my car are fine, they haven’t fallen off the car yet”. Sails are worn out when they no longer can make the boat sail properly, not when they fall apart.

Are your sails very "soft":

New sails are crisp and crunchy, whether they are Dacron or Laminate sails, as they age they get softer and softer. Dacron sails are treated with resin that makes them stiff and hard seeming, this resin is also a significant portion of the stretch resistance of the sail. As the sail ages this resin breaks down, making the sail soft instead of crisp. A soft, easy to handle Dacron sail is by definition a stretchy worn out sail. Laminate sails are stiff, but less crunchy than Dacron when new, and don't soften up nearly as much as they age. Laminate sails hold their shape quite well right up until they begin to fall apart. A tired laminate sail will begin to show spots where the Mylar is beginning to flake off, or areas where the layers of the laminate are beginning to separate, or "delaminate", these areas will be soft and funny looking. A laminate sail with either of these symptoms is usually VERY near the end of it's life, and the end usually comes suddenly!

Do you plan a long coastal or “offshore” cruise?

Extended cruising means you are likely to sail a lot, sometimes in conditions you wouldn’t normally choose to sail in, this can put a lot of wear on your sails and is a very inconvenient time for a failure. If there is any doubt in your mind, before you leave is a good time for new sails. However, do not wait until the last minute as there is sometimes up to a 6 week lead time if you are purchasing custom, not in stock, sails.

Will I get a big performance boost from upgrading my sails even if my factory sails are still fairly new?

While obviously there is more to be gained by replacing worn sails than new ones, this is still a very worthwhile upgrade for some sailors. Our Coastal Cruise, Performance, Offshore, and Custom sails will all offer improved boat speed, a greater wind range without reefing, and a better ability to point close into the wind than the stock MacGregor sails. Simply put, the factory sails are fine, but like the factory supplied sails on nearly every new boat sold, they aren't the best you can get. To use the car tire analogy again, your new car doesn't come with the highest performance tires available unless you are buying a high end sports car. Also like car tires, there are some tradeoffs to get the highest performance possible, we will try to explain these tradeoffs when we talk about the specific sails we offer.