These Dacron sails can be seen to stretch near the luff in gusts, producing more heeling moment and making the boat more difficult to control
With the underlying technology behind the materials used for sailcloth continuing to develop, anyone considering buying a new sail needs to stay abreast of developments. While it might be easy to assume this applies only to out and out racing yachts, it’s also an important factor for cruisers. Granted, you may decide that a traditional Dacron sail is best for your boat, but that’s no longer certain to be the case.
In the past longevity has been the main reason that cruisers have stuck with woven Dacron – while it loses its design shape reasonably quickly the sail’s structural integrity is assured for many more years. However, materials have moved on and in the offshore racing sphere there are many yachts in the 35-40ft bracket that are picking up coveted silverware using high tech sails that have covered 15-18,000 miles or more. Moreover, plenty of larger racing boats have clocked up 30-40,000 on a single suit.
Of course these are not made of the same material that a smaller boat would use for inshore regatta style racing. But if longevity no longer needs to be a limiting factor, what are the advantages of high-tech sails for cruising yachts? On a windy day if you compare two otherwise identical boats, one with Dacron sails and the other a high tech suit, the difference in the handling of the two vessels will be significant when the wind is forward of the beam, especially in gusts.
There are now numerous examples of long-distance racing yachts of all descriptions sporting high-tech sails that have covered tens of thousands of miles
The high tech sails will maintain their shape, enabling the boat to continue in a straight line and at much the same speed, with maybe a couple of degrees of extra heel and marginally more weather helm for the duration of the gust. However, the handling of the boat with Dacron sails is liable to be very different. Each time a gust hits the sails will physically stretch, taking on a deep and baggy profile. This in turn increases heel, by as much as 10 degrees, causing the boat to spin up into the wind. As well as the difficulty in handling the boat associated with this, it will lose speed, so you will be at sea for longer, and it makes the boat more uncomfortable for everyone on board.
Given that so much has changed in the past few years, when buying sails for a cruising boat it’s worth considering joining the many that are now specifying high tech cloth, even if you would not have done so as recently as five years ago.