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Sail making

Episode 13: Chuck O'Malley Show Notes

Andy Schell: Chuck O’Malley is with Chesapeake Sailmakers here in Annapolis. I’ve known Chuck for the last 10 years and he’s worked on my sails, my dad’s boat and some other stuff I’ve done. Just recently, Chuck built a brand new mainsail for our Swan 48 Isbjörn and it was amazing. We blew up our old mainsail and it got done in two weeks, we picked it up in Saint Martin and it is just fantastic and he’s going to talk a little bit about specifically the sail we got made and why we got it made with certain features specific to blue water sailing.

I’ll let him explain that but we do a bunch of events over at Chesapeake Sailmakers as well, if you do in Delmarva, the Delmarva seminar is going to be over at the loft as will some of the parties and stuff we have around that. So they do a lot of stuff over at the loft year round and Chuck is a great guy to work with and really knows his stuff. So I’ll leave it to him to talk about off shore sails and sail making, thank you Chuck.

Chuck O'Malley: Thanks Andy. Welcome everybody, I appreciate you having me here, we’re going to cover a lot of ground in a very short period today. So it’s going to be an overview, I’ll be here after the break, I’ll stay for lunch, I’ve got samples to show people for different cloths. But we’re going to try and really address offshore sails and what you need to think about, what you need to start preparing for and how using sails offshore is very different from maybe how you’ve been using them currently. 

With that, offshore sailing, what does it mean to me as a sail maker? As I mentioned, it’s a very different approach and basically, when you’re on the bay, you’re using your sails but you get to pick and choose when you go out, you get to pick and choose the conditions you sail in, it’s very different. When you go off shore, your bringing all these in here. Your choices or things are dictated to you more. You’re making a long passage, all of a sudden your sails shift from being used in good conditions or fair conditions to now you’re going to have periods of extended times in UV extended wear and tear.

You don’t get to choose what sea state or what wave, or what wind conditions you sail in. The sails get a lot more demands on them a lot of wear and tear, a lot of weathering, a lot more chafe, even just the acts of putting a reef in has a lot of wear and tear, takes a lot of life out of sails. So all these things factor into, as a sail maker, things that I consider when I build an offshore sail versus when I build a sail for someone who is bay cruising or even sometimes coastal cruising. So it really makes a difference in how we approach the sail we’re going to build.

With that in mind, I’m going like try and think about, what does it take, what goes in to making a good sail? What do we have to think about? The foundation of any good sail is going to start with sail fibre, the cloth. Within the cloth and we’ll have lots of different types of cloth but the basic fibres we use, and the fibre is what’s going to dictate how strong the cloth is, we’re going to have Dacron or polyester, this has been tried and true. We’ve used it forever, there had been lots of advances and it’s been a more engineered product in the last 10, 15 years than it has been.

It’s a lot of different weights, lots of different styles, and lots of different weaves. It used to be, when Ted Hood pioneered this back in the late 50’s, it was a cross cut, XY axis type of weaving and the same fibre was on the X axis as was on the Y axis. Today, we really mix the weave construction mix. So you might have a 70/30 weave or 60/40 weave or no, still 50/50 depending upon the sail but we changed the way that the cloth is used with the Dacron polyester fibre.

Pentex is a fibre that kind of came on, it was real strong, we thought it was going to be a silver bullet for cruising sails, as it turned out, it was a fibre that had great strength in the laboratory but once you started getting flex and flogging, exposure to UV, it wasn’t as strong as what we initially thought. It’s basically polyester or Dacron, on steroids. So it ended up not being that silver bullet we were looking for.

Aramid fibres are fibres we see more commonly in race board application but one of the fibres that’s really nice is you get into bigger boat for cruising, it’s Vectran. It’s got great flex qualities, very low stretch, very poor UV. So what we do with the Vectran fibre is we coat it with titanium oxide, which adds a little bit of weight to it but it makes it more, not impervious, but makes it in a much better fibre for UV. This is something more for bigger boats.

Carbon, again, that’s been a big buzz in the racing community, it’s filtering down into the cruising community. The nice thing is it’s impervious to UV, it’s got very high strength to weight, it’s not super heavy. One of the drawbacks for a lot of cruisers is it’s black so they don’t really like having black or greyish looking sails. The other big thing is it’s got poor flex qualities. Carbon’s basically a fairly brittle material. So when you put it into a sail, on a mainsail, it might not be too bad other than flogging considerations but on genoa, if you have a big overlapping genoa, every time you tack, you’re going to be taking some life out of the carbon sails.

So you have to think about how we do that and as a result, as sail makers, what we’ve started doing is, we started with a carbon that was a very strong low stretch carbon and now we’ve dialled back the initial modules to create a carbon that stretches a little bit more than what the perfect race environment is, but the more we dial back the initial modules, the stretching, the more we get to a better flex quality. So it’s trying to find that happy median between the two properties.

The last one we see is Spectra or a lot of times we hear it called Dyneema. Dyneema is a great product for flex, it’s a lightweight fibre, it’s got great ultimate strength, it’s got a little bit of creep to it but for cruising application, I don’t really find that to be an issue. The only other problem we see with Spectra is that it’s got a little bit of an oily finish to it, the fibre itself is as very slippery fibre. As a result, a lot of times in laminating, it’s not a great fibre for lamination. So it’s very hard when we do these cruise laminates or oriented fibres to get a good sandwich with that fibre. It tends not to stick as well as some of the other fibres out there. 

So we’ve got the predominant fibres that we’re going to deal with and now the next thing we’ll look at is what types of sail cloth? Think about, we’ve got Dacron, aramids, Pentex, Spectra, all these fibres go in to making up a sail cloth. So we start with the most basic and that’s woven. Woven is, every white Dacron sail you see is basically a woven product. That means it’s just like we make clothing, it’s just on a loom, they weave material comes out on a roll and we build sails out of it.

The neat thing for sail making, and Andy just talked about his boat, the woven material for yours were just a standard Dacron. Now, we’re seeing a big push in the engineering of woven materials to create hybrid wovens. So Dacron’s with Spectra’s blended into them or we’re creating wovens where we have a very engineered approach to the way the X, Y axis of the weave is so we can create a really strong, tri-radial type or what we call a warp-oriented fibre.

There’s been a lot of research and development in the woven cloths because we’re finding the durability of woven, the lack of mildew concerns. All these things as we travel through technology, we’re coming back quite often to what was original and now we’re just trying to improve the original technology. 

Laminated sails are great for high performance. We’re still using the same, whether it’s polyester, whether it’s Spectra, whether it’s Pentex, whether it’s Vectran, the structural fibre is still the same in a cruise laminate as it is in a woven sail but the application, the way we build it is different. The pictures probably don’t show up real well but in a laminated sail, you might have what feels like one layer of cloth but it’s actually five different pieces all glued together and put under pressure to create a one unit.

So you’ll have in the centre a structural grid of the fibre and then two layers of Mylar and then two layers of a very light weight Dacron, those all get sandwiched together to create a one layer of material and what happens is, we call it cruise laminate because all those layers of adhesive go together. This material’s got great shape holding, it creates a little bit lighter sail but over the life, it’s going to be more prone to some delamination because all those layers over the span of use tend to break down, the lose starts to fail over time and now you get some air pockets and those air pockets lead the moisture penetration, mould and mildew concerns over the long span. Not immediately. 

These products have gotten much better, they’re putting fungicides in the adhesives and they’re treating their sales topically to help prevent moisture and penetration, it’s really come a long way. We’re seeing more of this in bigger boats; we see some of this also in genoas. 

Andy Schell: Can I just interrupt? Can you define bigger boats?

Chuck O'Malley: Okay, so a bigger boat, that’s a great question. For instance, on a 40 foot boat, I might think about a cruise laminate for my genoa because I don’t have and we’re jumping ahead a little bit, but we don’t have anything supporting our genoa. The genoa is out there, we’re tacking, there are no battens, you don’t really get a lot of benefit from the mast, you don’t get benefit from the boom, you don’t have reef patching in the genoa. So you’re asking the cloth to do a lot. 

So on a 40 foot boat a cruise laminate or an oriented fibre might be an option depending upon how performance oriented you are. But a mainsail on a 40 foot boat because you have battens, you have reef patching, it’s connected to the boom, it’s connected to the mast. A standard Dacron main might be fine. And what we’re going to get to is boat size, when you start to move in to 55 feet, suddenly you’re moving into woven products. If you go with the traditional Dacron, you might need to be up into an 11 ounce cloth and the problem with those Dacron’s in the heavier weights is there’s not as much R&D being done on construction of heavier weight, pure Dacron’s. Because we find that the sails get stretchier. 

Dacron is elastic by nature so it doesn’t hold shape as well as we like it to. So most of the R&D, most of the innovation in the woven materials is moving towards what we just did on Andy’s boat and that is, it’s a Dacron Spectra blend. So it’s a woven material but it’s, on a boat Andy’s size a 48 footer, the mainsail might be 50 - 60% Spectra by weight, 40% Dacron by weight but it’s blended where it looks like it’s all one material. But it’s that blend of materials which is giving you kind of the best of both worlds. You have a woven sail, very great shape holding, longevity is incredible and you’ve got a no mould or mildew concerns, no de-lamination concerns. 

So as you move up to a bigger boat and the loads increase, that’s what starts to dictate what you have to do and you either have to remove to the hybrid type of woven or you’re moving to one of the laminated products. And that’s, I feel like at 40 feet for a genoa, 45 feet. As you get to 50, 60 feet and multihulls over 40 feet, you start to move into a higher tech material or a higher tech construction approach. Oriented fibre is something that we’re seeing on all of these race boats, if you’ve looked at all the race boats where they have strings and they go to all different directions, that’s an oriented fibre sail. 

We’re seeing this trickle into the cruising market and it’s become very popular with performance cruising boats, creates a lighter sail, very customised, very engineered, it’s a very strong sail. It has all the drawbacks of cruise laminate. You’re still laminating layers of fibre together and over time, it will break down. Probably breaks down a little bit earlier than a production built cruise laminate because this is being done in a factory with very controlled pressures, very controlled heating going into the drums that produce it. This is built more on a boat by boat basis. So there’s not quite the control, still a very high quality product, very engineered but it’s just not quite as manufactured as some of the other products out there.

Now we’ve got our fibres we’ve thought about, we’ve thought about the type of cloth, whether it’s a woven or a cruise laminate or organic fibre, now we’ll kind of looking at some of the different things here. Crosscut sails are what we see a lot where the panels run horizontally. This is tried and true construction, very easy to understand, very easy to maintain, very easy to recut, very easy to get fixed pretty much anywhere you’re going to go in the world. It’s understood pretty much by all sail makers. This is going to be limited more to, there’s one version of cruise laminate you can build with a cross cut, but predominantly Dacron sails. 

So almost all white sails will be done in a cross cut faction. Very little waste, if you look at the wastes laid out, you have very little wastes in a sail like this but the drawback is, if this sail is nine ounces, it’s nine ounces from the front to the back. So there’s very little opportunity to engineer your approach with the sail. You have to say, “If the highest loads are out here and I need 10 ounce cloth out here, I’m going to build a whole sail as a 10 ounce sail.” When in the front of the sail, we know the loads are about half of what they are here. So in the front you might not need 10 ounces but you have to build it to the worst case loading.

The next type of sail we look at is a tri-radial construction. Tri-radial construction is what we find in most cruise laminate sails. Cruise laminates are built when we build the fabric where it’s what we call warp-oriented. The load’s oriented in the long axis of the cloth when we make a roll of cloth and so you’ll end up with these sails with all these triangle panels. It creates a very high performance sail but, as you can imagine, there’s a lot more cloth waste. Each one of these panels has to be what we call nested; we have to line the load of the fibre and the cloth with the predicted load in the sail. So that process of lining those loads means all this little triangles, the off cut of the triangle can’t be used. It’s not like we take it, turn it the other way and put it someplace else on a sail.

The nesting efficiency probably ends up with close to 20% to 23% waste on a tri-radial sail. In addition to the waste, there’s a lot more labour involved with the construction of the sail. The benefit to the tri-radial, it all comes down to performance in strength. If we know, just like we talked about with the other sail, the leech of the sail has twice as much load as the front of the sail, I can come out here, put a 10 ounce material out here and in the low load areas along the luff, I can drop down and build a six ounce material. So I can really engineer the sail, that extends the life, makes the sail perform better over its life. That’s a lot of things we’re doing. 

The other neat thing about this type of construction now is a lot of the hybrid materials just like Andy’s sail we talked about. Andy’s sail’s built out of a product made by dimension-polyant. Dimension-polyant has got a factory in Connecticut; they’ve got a main factory in Germany. But that material is called HydraNet radial, it’s a Spectra Dacron blend and that sail is built as a tri-radial, it’s a Dacron woven product but it’s designed, the cloth is designed and engineered to be built as a tri-radial sail. So it gives me all the performance of a racing sail but without any of the drawbacks of delamination, mould and mildew and I can engineer that Dacron Spectra sail by going lighter in the front, heavier in the back. So it’s a really neat process. 

Then the last type we look at is what we call orient fibre. In this sail, they actually have a big gantry. A sail like this would be laid out and the machine is about as big as this room. Gantry runs all away across and in that gantry, there are 18 filament layers. At this end of the room there’d be all this bundles of carbon or Vectran or polyester or Spectra. They come up, they go down into this gantry arm and the gantry arm is computer driven and it has a load diagram on the sail. We do a load analysis, come up with a layout of where we want these yarns to pass and then that machine will just go ahead and lay yarn exactly along a load path that we’ve designed.

Really high tech, it’s really cool. A sail for a 40 footer is probably going to be strung and laid out in about six hours. The fibre is placed in a very precise method. It’s a really neat process and you can see for instance, some of the benefits to this type of layout, every time you have a reef, you can see there are different passes. So we can design arcs to go into reinforced reefing so we have a really strong reef point without adding extra weight to the sail. So the whole point of these sails is as you get to bigger and bigger boats, these sails give us the strength we need without adding a lot of weight or a lot of bulk and it lets us specific engineer. 

It’s amazing now, a lot of these mega yachts you see, most of these mega yacht sails are being built out of materials like this and instead of laminating together, you know I said you have the fibre in the centre and then two pieces of Mylar and then two pieces of Dacron, these mega yacht sails quite often will have a fibre, two layers of Mylar, another layer of fibre, another layer of Mylar. They can get up to seven or eight layers to create the strength they need. So it’s a lot of lamination to build these mega yacht sails but what they’re finding is these types of sails are really the only sails that can give you the strength you need to hold shape and, you know, now we’re seeing the Nantucket Bucket and the St. Barths Bucket, they’re starting to race these mega yachts so people can start with performance.

The drawback to these sails is they don’t last quite as long, they are completely driven by performance, weight savings and strength and shape holding at the expense of lifespan. Think about the construction, the fibre, the types of cloth. If you look at Dacron, a good Dacron sale could probably give you something in the neighbourhood of 15,000 to 20,000, 25,000 miles. They are really well constructed. If you move to a tri-radial sail out of a hybrid type material, a woven material, Andy’s sail, I would expect that sail to go 30 to 40,000 miles without a lot of concerns, it’s something now in Andy’s case, that might only be four years. It doesn’t sound like a lot of time but 10,000 miles a year is a pretty aggressive cruising schedule.

The cruise laminates, depending upon what fibre you go with, you can look at the tri-radial cruise laminate sail and be in that same general 30,000 to 40,000 mile range. The big difference is, when you get into the 25,000 mile on, you’re going to see the beginning signs of lamination break down, so there’s going to be some more air pockets and now moisture will get in and you’ll start to see mould and mildew showing up in the sail. So there are the little things in cruise laminate. Structurally, the sail’s still going to be fine, aesthetically, it’s going to look bad and then as you start to push it up towards the end of its life. You’ll see it start to break down more rapidly with the lamination. Once the delamination starts, it starts to accelerate its own process.

With the oriented fibre sails, the membrane sails as we call, that’s probably something that’s going to be more like a 20,000 mile sail, when it’s really well built and engineered. You’ve got a half-life from a really nice hybrid, woven tri-radial sail. So I like to look at the fibre, the type of cloth and the construction first because it sets the foundation. Every sail decision we make, we’re going to come back to “what cloth, that construction method?” Some of the things I like to get people thinking about this point now is what drives your decision? Everybody’s motivated by something different. Performance, if you were an ex racer and you bought a Swan or you bought a Hylas or you bought a cruising boat that’s very performance oriented cruiser, you might be more driven to go to an oriented fibre, membrane type sail or cruise laminate sail or tri-radial hybrid type sail than the guy who has an Island packet 45.

An Island Packed 45, you were looking for strong, durable, good sea boat underneath you. There are different things that drive us; those things have to go on to what drives your decision on sales. Reliability, any off shore sailor, I think the reliability’s got to be up there and that’s going to come out through your cloth choice and also through some of your construction details. Longevity, that’s a big driver, if you’re someone who says, “Hey, I want to go really fast and if I have to replace my sails every third year, I’ll replace my sails every third year, or every fourth year.”

Depending upon the type of cruising you do, if you do the World ARC, you might find it down at the World ARC, those sails are done, depending upon what they’ve been through and where they’ve gone. Affordability, budget always enters into the equation, we always have to think about what’s more expensive? Cross cut Dacron, because of the ease of construction, because of the more efficiency in the cloth layout, it’s going to be a more budget conscious sale and that might be a really good choice for main but maybe you spend a little bit more money on the genoa. So there are different things to consider.

Then, appropriate technology, I have a number of clients, they come in and they really like the membrane sails, they love the membrane sails. They have a Valiant 42 or they have a Pacific Seacraft 37 and you know, I’m glad you like the membrane sails but to be honest, they are only going to give your boat a marginal increase in performance.

The extra money you’re going to spend to get the performance that you can get out of a membrane sail, there are limitations to your boat and you didn’t buy your boat because you wanted to be the fasted guy upwind. Different things drove you to your decision of what boat you chose. It’s part of being a sail maker and part of counselling our clients is to understand what technology is the right technology for the boat in trying to help them decide on the appropriate technology. All of these things weigh in tow hat drives your decision on how to choose the proper sail. 

Now we’ll move in to working sails. I like to start with the mainsail because it’s really the most complex sail in the boat, your most decisions will be made around your main sail. On a main sail, we have to consider material selection and construction method.

That comes back to what types of cloth, what type of fibre; tri-radial or cross cut and this is going to be true for main sails, even spinnakers, those two are always the foundation of deciding on how to start our sail. Then we move into baton structure, we move into reef layouts, we move in to left track systems, sail handling systems, in boom furling, in mast furling. There are lots of different considerations with the mainsail that we’re going to start to think about. The first one I like to start with is baton structure. There’s always a question of, “Do I do full bat, do I do a mix of some full, some partial, do I do all partial, do I do no battens?”

I address a lot of the Seven Seas cruisers. A lot of the Seven Seas people like no battens, but you have to understand what the give and take is. If you have a full baton main, it’s going to help increase your performance. I can help design a better sail with a full or a full partial baton combination. It’s going to dampen the flagging better, than a sail that doesn’t have battens have partial battens. It’s going to extend the life of the sail. I equate battens to like bones in your arm. If you didn’t have any bones in your arm, this would just flap around and big piece of skin but when you put battens in, you can really create structure to your sail and help add life to it. 

Hand in hand with that, I do a lot of engineered battens, we used to do engineer battens on racing sails all the time, cruising sails would come in and we just do one flat piece of fibre glass battens stack that we’d stick in the sail and it would bend uniformly. Now, battens have gotten really engineered and a really nice approach but we can take a baton and say okay, we want the bending moment of the baton to be at 40% and we want the back end of the baton to be stiffer so it holds that wing, the designed wing that we have in the sail. 

That’s all done through baton technology now and battens have gotten lighter, they’ve got more engineered. I do that on all my cruising sails, it’s just a standard course, it’s just, “Why wouldn’t I want to help my cruising sail, last longer, look better and have a better shape just like my racing sail. The baton cost is nominal, it’s not adding, it’s not doubling the price of sails, so really, it just makes a lot of sense. Easier handling with full baton sails and you have to have some special fittings. A lot of boats with full baton sails have to go to some kind of track system to make the sail go up and down easier.

There’s longer and the baton is, the more compression has the mesh and the harder it makes it to go up and down. Partial battens, a little bit low performance, you’re going to have less roach to the sail, it might be easier for reefing because you don’t have a baton in the sails, you don’t have to worry about twisting or bending battens or breaking battens. Generally there’s less chafe and that’s one of the big reasons people go away from full battens or a mix of full and partial, to all partial and no battens, the hardware is simpler but even when I do a partial baton, I still go with the engineered battens now.

It’s amazing how many older sails we get in, that have partial battens and the battens are, it’s like a board in the sail. You see the whole nice sail shape and then you get to the baton and it’s like standing straight, the sail doesn’t take that nice curvature. You can do an engineered partial baton sail, I have it tapered, flexible tip in the front and the stiffer part in the back and create a nice sail shape.

Most of the partial baton sails we do now, way back when, 20 years ago, the battens were pretty much all being 30 inches or 33 inches. Now when we do a partial baton sail, the battens are different sizes and they’re more related, their length is related more to the girth of the sail at each point where they are. You might have a partial baton but it might be 60 inches long through the body to sail to helps support some roach. It helps the life of the sail, helps our designed wing much better.

This just shows you a little graphic of one full baton, three partials or all full baton. Just gives you something to think about. Reefing is incredibly important for offshore sails. If you’re on the bay, sailing or if you are up on the coast or coastal cruising, quite often, you can pick and choose when you go out, you say, “Hey, if it’s blowing 30 knots, we’re going to wait, this will pass, you just have the weather thing, heavy weather, shortened duration so you can pick and choose when you go.” When you do an off shore passage, you don’t have that luxury, you know at some point this sail is going to be reefed and so you have to really think about your reefing options.

There are always the two reef versus three reeves and so one of the things I like to look at is in the two reef main, a standard reef layout might be 12% and 25%. If I do an offshore main, I would do 15 and 30 with the idea of being a two reef person, it’s going to try and tri-sail. Their weather plan, their heavy weather plan is one reef, two reef, storm tri-sail. Single line reefing is really nice, you have to look at how it works, a lot of this booms have shovels in the booms now and that dictates where you can put your reef points so you might not be able to get a 30% reef, you might have to be 12 and 25 based on the way it’s setup inside the boom.

A lot of the seldom booms have that shuttle; some of the old isomets had that shuttle. That dictates your reefing, how deep we can put a reef in. We just did on Andy’s sail and I’m doing it almost all my off shore sails, in the back end, we used to always have the grommet in the sail your reef line will go through. So now I’ve started moving away from the grommet, I think I have a picture, and having a low friction ring on the back of the sail. That low friction ring looks a little bit like a grommet but it’s external to the sail so there’s less wear and tear and less chafe on the sail. The way it’s setup, it can self-align so it isn’t twisting in the back and really reduces the friction a lot and the sail strength is the highest load point of the sail, we punch a hole on it, now we don’t have to do that so we’ve really maintain sail strength a lot.

A couple of other little things, mark your halliard so it’s easier to reef especially at night, reef early, reef ahead of the need and storm tri sail with three reefs, I look at standard reef might be 12, 25 and 36. If I go off shore, 12, 30, 45. Anybody here with multi-hulls? Multi hulls, this is a really good example. A multi hull, most of the multi hulls now, a lot of them have square tops, a lot of them definitely have big roach mains. When you look at a multi-hull main versus say a main like Andy’s boat.

Andy’s boat has a pretty good sized boom but relative to the hoist of his main, it’s a high aspect ratio sail. A lot of multi-hull sails, you can have a 21 foot boom on a 42 foot multi hull with a 45 foot hoist. You’ve got a lot of areas especially that big roach. If you were to reduce your reefing in this pattern, when you put your third reef in, you still have a lot of sail area up. You have to think about this and I should back up. When I say 12, 30 or 45, what I’m referring to is the luff. If you have a 50 foot luff, 12% of that luff. If I make it easy and go with 10, you’re going to take five foot out in the first reef, if the second reef were 20, you’re taking 10%. If I go to 30, I’m taking it out the next step. So that’s what these refer to. 

On a standard triangle, if I use these numbers, I’m reducing area pretty proportionately but if you have a multi hull with the square top or with a big roach and I use these numbers, I’m not taking the area out as quickly as I need to. That’s why I start thinking about reductions of luff in this way. So I can take more sail area out at each reef. So something to think about. Mizzen are more personal. For instance, a lot of boats will sail jib and jigger. On a mizzen, I might go with one deeper reef or depending upon my discussion with a client I might do two reefs, with the second reef being there more for dropping it in and that now becomes his anchor riding sail. A lot of my clients with mizzens will drop the mizzen down to second reef and that’s his riding sail more than it is in storm conditions. But a lot of boats with mizzens you’ll go one deep reef and then sail jib and jigger and that’s how you’ll setup with a boat like that. 

Some of the little things, colour coded reef lines, really nice, reef that I need, understand reef ties, a lot of the boats reef hide in your main sail, you have those reef diamonds to tie in the sail to the boom and that’s just to gather the sail. Those aren’t design to bear load ever. They’re always set below, if you look at the plane of the sail you have your reef cringle front and back, those diamonds should always be below so they’re not gathering a load. It’s something, they’re just to hold the sail to the boom so it doesn’t go fall overboard, and collect with water. 

This just shows some of the more common reefing systems, whether you have single line, whether you have a slab reef setup, this shows that low friction ring, you see it’s webbed into the sail and it hangs off the back of the sail, a lot of little neat things have been done in reefing but for off shore sailing, it’s an important consideration to make sure you’ve got a reefing system that works. Main sail handling systems, this is another really important issue, whether you use roller slides, whether you use a strong track, a Harken style track, all of those things especially if you go to full battens, it’s going to make raising or lowering the sail much more palatable. It’s going to make reefing the sail much easier. So you need to think about that. 

As you go into a bigger boat, 40 feet and up, full battens, it’s almost mandatory to have some type of track system. Boats under 50 feet, the strong track system works really well, they’ll do a one piece track up the 60 foot in length and it’s very reliable, we’ve been using them since ’97, ’98 and we’ve had no failures with it. The Harken tracks as you get into bigger boats, become a necessity and they’re incredibly strong, well-engineered, what I like about the strong track for boats under 50 feet is there are no moving parts. So very little maintenance, very little to go wrong, it’s just a neat system. 

Other thing to look at is, you’ve got in mass furling and lots of different sail choices there. In boom furling, there are lots of different systems there. On the mainsail flaking and gathering, you’ve got as simple as lazy Jacks, Dutchman type of systems, you can move into any one of the type of cradle cover systems and then also what we’re seeing a trend towards now, used to be only in mega yachts but we’re seeing a trend towards these pocket booms even in smaller boats. I think Tartan was one of the first manufacturers introduced pocket booms and now we’re starting to see a lot of other manufacturers and spar builders offering pocket booms in boats in the 40 and 45 foot range. 

So a pocket boom, instead of the boom being just like a round tube or a rectangular tube, the pocket boom is more V shaped and the sides come up and then it rolls and then it has like a little trough on the inside. So when you drop your main, it’s getting cradled, whether it’s carbon fibre, some of them are doing it out of aluminium but it creates a trough at the main, lives in. It drops down in to. You still have the cover that goes over but it basically the main drops into a trough that holds maybe 25 to 40% of the main depending upon what it is. It’s all a handling system technique. This show for in mast furling, traditional main, no battens, if you think of the rectangle, that sail is half of a rectangle so you’ve got a sail area of 50%.

When you move to partial vertical battens, you can get up to about 53% of the rectangle, when you move to a vertical full battens, you can get up to about 54, 55% of the rectangle. A traditional cruising main, full battens is going to be about 57% of that rectangle. The whole key here is, we moved from losing a lot of this area to adding back some more. When we get here and here, the other thing we can do is we can start to add some shape to the sail, when we have an in mast furling main without any battens. It’s very hard to add shape because we don’t have anything to help support it and as we’re trying to furl around that mantle the more shape we have, the more it’s going to bunch up. Adding some battens adds a little bit of complexity to the furling operation but it does let us create a better sail design for you, to kind of get back to an aerodynamic wing. 

So in boom furling, this shows a leisure furl system but there’s pro furl, there’s boom furl, there’s chafer, there are a lot of different options and these options used to start off where they’re only available to mono hulls, we’re seeing more and more multi hulls moving to these in boom systems as well. This basically let’s me design a traditional full baton performance or mainsail and it’s going to furl around a mantle inside this boom.

I tell my clients with these systems, very reliable, very nice systems, it’s an acquired taste, you’re not going to go out in day one with it and fall in love with it but within probably two months, two months of use, you're going to find it makes life much easier for you, especially as you get to bigger boats. Reefing is very convenient; everything is generally done from the cockpit. It’s more or less necessary to have an electric winch to try and do something like this. The specific drawback is cost, for instance, if you have a boat now and you want to move to the system, an average 40 foot boat, 45 foot boat is probably going to cost you somewhere around $30 to $35,000 to go from what you have to this system. 

Because we have to design a main sail specific. The main sail design, each baton has to have a certain angle and then the construction of the sails is different from a regular construction. That’s probably the biggest difference in why you don’t see a lot of them after market and OEM manufacturers don’t like to do it because I takes training and so as a result, some of them do it but if they don’t provide the necessary training, clients tend to have problems with them and because there’s an education piece involved. So as an OEM manufacturer, they tend not to want to 0, they want to sell you the boat, get you going but don’t want to be there to train you how to use it. That’s what I see but is very reliable, it’s a product that makes a lot of sense for lots of us cruising husband and wife type of cruisers, always a reliable product.

Dutchman or cradle cover, these are lower cost options to how to handle your main sail. You started seeing these mostly on catamarans, a lot of the charter boats but it’s a nice product, it’s very reliable. When I started with Doyle, I left Quantum and I think I was going to sell many of these and I was amazed when I started building them and using them, how well they worked. Again, it’s not a silver bullet but it does a really nice job of making it easy to handle main sails on bigger boats. This shows a tart and pocket boom. You can kind of see how the boom has a V shape, the sail drops in, this is a 43 footer and we built like a little modified stack pack for this. It gives you an idea of what a pocket boom looks like. 

At this point we’ve decided battens, we decided the reef structure, we’ve looked at the cloth type, we looked at construction method that we’re going to do, we want to look at what details, what construction features should we be looking for in a good blue water sail? Luff reinforcements, batten reinforcements, belts and bridges. So they are the things that go up between the reefs, these bridges, that help stop pinging and break down, chafe protection and a lot of times your old sail will be the best indication of where the sail chafes and where it breaks down.

Your reef handling systems, we want to think about areas where there’s going to be machines sown and areas where it’s going to be hand sown. Wide seam allowances, multi-step zigzag instead of a standard zigzag, we want multiple steps, so it almost looks like a straight stitch but just in a zigzag method. Overhead leech lines so you can adjust for leech line without having to go to the back end of the boom or hang off the back of the boat.

This just shows some details, here is like an overhead leech line coming over the top of a batten pocket. Here’s the reinforcement for luff slide, so you have a lot of meat there, so you’re not going to be pulling the slides out. It’s hard to see here but this piece here over reef has a different type of material, sacrificial that’s a really great material for chafe, so you’re not chafing the sail. Batten pockets that are machines sewn and also hand sown. Headboards that are pressed on hydraulic weave with stainless steel rings and also webbed on. So just lots of little details go into making a good offshore sail. 

Now we’ll move to headsails. Headsails, for a lot of our boats, are the driving engine but it’s a much simpler process. The decisions we have to make are, they are a lot fewer decision, again, material selection, anchor structure method. We do want to cross cut Dacron sail or we do want to tri-radial hybrid woven material. Once that decision’s out of the way and that’s really a critical decision to think about what materials we’re going to use and how we’re going to build it, what method of construction. Then we think about sizing and headsail sizing, LP is what sail makers talk about all the time and we take for granted that everybody knows what it is. 

But basically, LP stands for luff perpendicular. If you go from the clew, draw the line into the head stay. Where that line creates a 90 degree intersection with the head stay, there’s a dimension and that’s what we call LP, that’s the luff perpendicular of the sail and it’s always expressed in the percent, 120, 130, 150, 110 and so if you think about simple terms from your head stay to the front of your mast, let’s say it was 10 feet. If you had a hundred percent jib, the LP of that jib would be 10 feet. If you had a 150% jib, the LP of that jib would be 15 feet. That’s all that LP stands for. 

When we think about overlap or LP or sizing, it’s important to consider, is our boat headsail driven boat? Is it a mainsail driven boat? For instance, I’ve got a lot of clients that have older bristles or little harbours, very headsail driven, smaller mains. Andy’s boat is a pretty headsail driven boat and needs a nice headsail. The mainsail does a nice job but it’s not like a J 46 that has a big mainsail and not as much headsails required or some of the newer boats like the Hanse’s where you have just a no overlapping jib and a big main. So that’s one of the considerations when we think about sizing. 

The other thing we think about is everyone has a different tolerance towards heel. So we have to think about, “Okay, if I’ve had a 130 or 140 and I use that as my primary sail, I’m going to have to reef it a lot if people on board don’t heel or I sail a lot in conditions where I always have heavy weather.” If you’re in the Caribbean, you’re always sailing in Christmas winds, that 140 might be reefed all the time. So if you’re sailing with your sail reefed more than 25% of the time, your headsail’s probably too big. You need to think about a smaller sail whether you go with a smaller sail the next time you buy one or whether you have two sails. One you use up here on the east coast in the summers, another one you’ll use down the islands in the winters. 

Performance oriented; if you’re really performance oriented, you might find that you have a need for a bigger headsail and a smaller headsail. That comes back to the numbers of headsails in the inventory. Some of my clients, especially extended cruisers, a lot of them will have something that I call a Yankee, smaller overlap, higher clew and they use that for passage making and then they have something they use when they’re back home for cruising in general where they know they’re going to have to attack more, they want to point more, there are going to be lighter winds. That’s what starts that process about thinking about what size headsail to go with. 

Shape most often is a term by the boat characteristics, every boat sails differently. A Hylas 54 versus an Island Packet 45. Very different performance characteristics to the boat and my shape considerations on how I design and build a sail. The building of the sail will be the same but the shape and the design process will be very different between those two boats.

It’s also driven by the headsail options. If I know I’m building you a 130 and you have a smaller heavy weather jib or in Andy’s case for instance, we’re looking at building a 140 and he’s thinking about doing a 100. So I might build that 140 is more of an all-purpose shape and give him a little bit more power for performance in light-medium, medium-heavy but I don’t have to make that sail take him from zero to 30. He’s got something that at a 20 knots, he can shift and go 20 or 30 with a smaller headsail. That lets me change my shaping characteristics of when I design the sail. 

Shape’s also driven by venues, if you know you're just sailing the Chesapeake or just sailing up on the East Coast, we generally have lighter winds. But if you know you’re going to be doing around the world rally or you’re going to be doing something in the Caribbean where there’s going to be higher winds, you might think about changing the shape of a sail or change the design characteristics of a sail. Especially a lot of boats only go with one headsail. So we’re asking one sail to do a lot, so we have to think about the best cloth, the best design characteristics and make sure all of our reefing options for that headsail are really working well.

Hand in hand with that shaping and sizing is clew height, now we have to think about visibility, is that a higher priority than performance? Clew height can help reduce chafing and the higher we go, generally we can start clearing the lifelines, clearing things on the deck, cabin house, chicken bars, all that kind of stuff but it also affects the way sail trims. Generally, the higher your clew is, the better your sails going to be reaching and running. The lower your clew is, the better it’s going to be up wind. Because if you think about the dynamics, your geometry, the lower your clew is, as you start the ease the sheet of the sail, you’re taking proportionately less load off the leech.

So you're starting to let the leech twist off or less load off the foot and more of the leech. As soon as you ease with a lower clew, the leech is going to twist off more and the foot’s not going to ease as much. Where if you have a higher clew, the sail’s more balanced so if you ease a sheet, you're easing more evenly off the leech and the foot, the sail’s better for reaching because of that. What I found is a lot of cruisers don’t change their leads fore and aft, inboard and outboard. So by going a little bit higher on the clew, you’ve created a better all-purpose sail that’s going to be trimmed 95% of the time the right way as supposed to 80% right and 20% wrong when you start to change your point of sail. Clew height becomes an important consideration in that regard.

Just like the mainsail, we want to think about what details of really important for us when we construct. Reefing reinforcements, it’s hard to see from this picture but when you have your tack patch, it goes here, there will be a second patch that comes down horizontally and extends into this area. As you reef the sail, you’ve got reef patching all in that head stay. Because if you just started reefing the sail without that, as you get back into here, there’s no reinforcement on the sail, you know, where it wraps around. You’d have one layer of cloth bearing all the loads; you want to have some reef reinforcements built into the sail.

I like reefing indicators and I don’t show them here. But I usually do a little red stripe or dots even, at 10% and 20%. It gives you that visual from the cockpit when you’ve reefed your sail in, makes it really nice. UV covers; UV covers if you go a higher tech material, you might go with a UV Dacron and they make the UV Dacron where it’s treated one side or it’s treated both sides. If it’s treated both sides, it gets a little bit heavier so instead of being four and a quarter rounds, it’s five and a half ounces but it last twice as long. That’s for good for performance range sails and it’s going to get you about six to seven years of life.

If you go Sunbrella, the Sunbrella materials that we see out there are about nine and a half to 10 ounces, that’s probably going to be a seven to 10 year life on the cover. So again, it comes back to what your drivers are affordability and performance issues versus longevity issues but UV covers are critical on all these sails. We like to have the UV cover wrapped around the back of the sail, a lot of UV covers we’ll see are a one side of the sail. Machine sown, hand sown, same as the main sails, head and tack webs here and I do have a strong Spectra so they have good flex bodies and they wear well. Wide seam allowances, multistep stitch and strong clew rings. This will just show you some pictures. 

I wrap all my webs at the head and the tack in the Sunbrella or in the Dacron so they’re UV covered. All my UV covers, we do a straight zigzag instead of the multistep. Because that’s sacrificial, we have to be able to remove that cover at some point in their future we place it. I want to make sure I can get it off without damaging the sail. This shows you these reef hash marks; this shows you machine stitch webs that are all underneath the UV and then the hand stitching and same thing with the clew rings. All the webs are underneath the UV, as we talked about in the very beginning, UV is a huge factor for all these offshore sails. The sails are out and in the sun a lot, we want to try and protect as much as possible all of the different, whether it’s stitching, whether it’s the material. Certain materials hold up well at UV, other materials don’t but the more we can cover from the sun, the longer the sail is going to last. 

We’ll go quickly, stay sails and solar jibs, we’re seeing a trend, used to be a lot of cutter rings where you had to stay sail, that’s a great sail plan for offshore sailing, really offers you a lot of options, we’ve seen a trend in the last 10 years towards solar jibs as I refer to them with more of a reach around the front. You see the Saga’s have that layout; some of the southerlies have that layout. This is a really nice option, the boat can sail well under the self-tacking jib or a small jib, not overlapper. Then this is more of a big lighter air, reaching oriented sail. 

The big key here is, if you have options to reduce sailing area without having to replace the sail or without having to change the sail on your furler, you're going to be in much better shape, we’ve even I think your dad’s boat was one of the first ones we did on. Then Andy’s boat I think you did on your 48th. But if it wasn’t set up for a stay sail, now you can do these removable inner four states that are made out of a dynes docks or something like that so you don’t have to have a wire anymore, there are a lot of options to deploy a stay sail. We’ve also done some of these where they’re actually on a torsion line that kind of rolls up with a little furling drum so you can actually have a deployable stay sail that’s separate and it’s not always air, there are lots of options for setting up a secondary headsail for heavy weather conditions.

Downwind sails, this kind gets to the fun part as kind of like the desert for your celebratory. Adds a lot of speed downwind, can really help asymmetrical spinnakers have become very user friendly now, I’ve got clients with 45 and 50 footers that sail these with just two people. Lots of different cloth weights depending upon the boat size. You can go everything from cruisers I recommend a three quarter ounce up town and a half, bigger boats may be even an ounce and a half to 2.2 ounce because they’re tri-radial, we can change weights of cloth so we can offer a lot of engineered approach as to making the sales stronger. This shows just the traditional dousing sleeve, which in many cases is the right way to go, and this shows a top down furler which has been kind of the buzz in the industry last couple of years.

They work really well, they’re pretty expensive and they’re not always as easy as the top of the sleeves. Technology, what I find is once you get over 50 feet, these top down furlers start to really come into their own when you’re in like a 40 or 45 footer, the sleeve might be just more practical and might be easier to use actually. We’ve been doing more, specialty sales, for downwind. This new design is like. All they have nine overlapping jibs when you start to reach with the boat with a small jib upfront, you’re going to lose a lot of horsepower so we’ve been doing a lot more of this reaching Gennaker’s. They’re usually setup on a furler so they’re very easy to operate, I’ve even got a number of clients that they made a conscious decision to go with the smaller genoa, maybe something like 115% LP and some kind of a reaching sail like this because it’s good reaching, it’s also good downwind.

It’s on a furler so they’ve chosen that route instead of a spinner and instead of a big genoa, they’ve deliberately gone to, ask you 43, they went to 150% jib, it’s their biggest head sail with a reaching type of sail like this on a furler. The traditional spinnaker, we all think about of symmetrical with the pole, they’re great if you’re making a long downwind passes but as cruisers, the pole, the extra sheets in guys, it’s more complex and you need more people to operate them.

With the cruising spinnaker, an asymmetrical spinnaker, it’s much easier for someone to single handed or two people to sail with that sail. This takes a few more than two people or takes two really experienced people to make that work, quite often it’s going to be one of those decisions of, “Is the passage long enough, are you going to be long enough to justify the effort to put it up.”

Then the last option downwind is just wing and wing which is quite often a very good option for us. If we’re some place in the 150, 180 range, you can wing in wing, put out a whisker pole, I show it without the main being up but you can also do with the main being up and have a preventer out the main, a lot of times you cannot do two headsail but just to wing out your genoa with the whisker Pole, take your main out the other way with the preventer and they’ll create the barn door effect.

It’s a very effective method of sailing down wind and it’s very controllable. So it’s something to think about, if you don’t have a whisker pole, you don’t have a preventer but you’re going to have to make a passage, they might be two very valuable things to pulling your boat. 

Now you’ve improved your downwind performance without adding a lot to your budget. The last thing we’ll move to is storm sails. In a perfect world, we should all have a way of deploying a storm jib or some type of storm sail forward and that’s where that inner force comes in so whether you’re cutting or you have a staysail up there now or whether you figure out a way or deploying a staysail.

I always recommend, if you have storm sails, deploy them either at dock, when it’s calm but use them before you need them. Go out and get a soap box. 79, the Fast Net Race, we had a first major, major tragedy in the racing industry and all the boats had storm sails but they never deployed them. They go out, they get caught in this huge storm, they have to deploy their sails and what they find out is, they didn’t know where they trimmed half of them, the slides didn’t fit in the mass because they never tried them. They met the rule by having it but they never tested it. 

A lot of the carnage that happened in that race came because the boats had storm sails but they were never tried so we want to try them. Fast forward to 1998 with the Sydney Hobart race. The Sydney Hobart race proved another thing. All those boats had storm sails, they all have sailed with them, they deployed them and it’s a race where you have to put it up before you do the race. The problem there was, the storm sails standards hadn’t been updated since the 1950’s. 

Now you have these modern day race boats with sizing recommendations for boats that were built in 1950. There were a lot bigger than what they should have been. You had much more easily driven hulls. So storm sails or something that we shouldn’t just say, “Okay, here is the recommended sizing and we just default to that. We should stop and think about what kind of boat do I have? How do I sail as just a husband and wife? Am I going to actively use them? 

If so, you want to think about how you design them, how you build them and how they’re going to be deployed. This shows, a lot of these single handed boats now, they’re doing this races, they’ll have this multiple furlers with multiple smaller and smaller sizes, this is a great idea for deploying a storm sail, having a little furler with a storm sail on it and now, the way they’re building these furlers, you could have a top down furler for a spinnaker and that can serve double purpose and be used for a storm jib.

Now you’ve got one piece of equipment you bought that’s being used in two different ways. This just shows, storm tri-cylinder ready bags. So you can have the track coming down, the sail’s already setup so you’re going offshore, it’s ready to be deployed. So if you need it, you're not trying to dig it out of a bilge, hank it on, it’s already hanked on the track and ready. This shows, a little pet peeve of mine, but this is a racing boat, he’s got his storm sails up and he’s got storm tri-sail connected to his boom. My feeling is always if you have the perfect storm sail, eliminate the boom, anytime you get to a third reef or storm tri-sail conditions, the boom’s a weapon, it’s not a tool. Immobilise the boom so it can’t be swinging around and let this sail more like this.

This is another bad picture but this shouldn’t be trimmed with a boom, it should just be trimmed to the aft, almost like a genoa. This shows you a really poorly executed storm tri sail, your storm tri sail should always be high enough that it’s not going to it someone in the head. Here, if they tack or if they jive, these sail’s going to sweep people off the boat and it can be done just by changing where your hoist is by having a paint on the sail. Storm tri sails are something that we shouldn’t go off shore and not give consideration to, we need to have a plan and we need to play with them before we get out there.

Just final thought for you to take away. You're not in this alone, there are lots of sail makers, they that have a lot of experience designing sails, lots of fabric choices, lots of equipment choices… some of the things, simple things have really made life easier for us. You’ve got a lot of people who have done this ahead of you. Talk to your friends and dock mates who have done some cruising but they’re just lots of options, lots of experience for you guys to kind of gain and share by talking to people.

Andy Schell: Thank you very much Chuck, that was excellent.

Chuck O'Malley: Thank you.

Interviewer: David Hows

Episode 12: Rob White Show Notes

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Hi folks we’re here this week with Rob White at Evolution Sails and Rob’s joining on the Ocean Sailing Podcast this week to talk specifically about sail making and sail selection. Welcome along Rob. 

Rob White: Thank you. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So Rob, take us back to when you get started with sail making. How long ago did you start making sails? 

Rob White: I started making sails in 1973, I was 15 years old and my father thought it would be a good profession to get into at the time as he and all his family were heavily into sailing, and it was probably a good way for getting sails at the right price. So I started by doing an apprenticeship like a lot of people did when they left school around 1973. 

Graham Sherring, partner at Evolution Sails is also the 2016 Australian Sports Boat Champion

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So your family had a big history in sailing as well? Were they passionate sailors? 

Rob White: Yes they were. They all sailed right back to my grandfather and they had big yachts in Auckland and I started in a class over there, it was a P-class and then went through various other classes from mistrals to M-class and also crewing on big boats and they were just called keelers. They sort of are around about between 40 feet and 20 feet long and there were lots of them and lots of opportunity for plenty of crewing and racing. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Right and the P-class, even today the P-class is still a pretty significant class in terms of kids stepping into sailing and then on then beyond all sorts of other high speed, highly active Olympic class type boats and did you sail the M-class out of the Akarana Yacht Club? 

Rob White: Yes but we belonged to the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. It wasn’t until several years later that the M-class joined Akarana although the boats always were left on the hard stand at Okahu Bay in front of the Akarana Yacht Club. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: And the M-class being the old mullet bow, if you capsized those there was a lot of bailing to do to get those things back upright. 

Rob White: No. They were clinker built, unlike the mullet boat, which was cold-moulded kauri and we also had plastic bags for buoyancy and there was a good chance after a capsize you could get it up and return to the race. If it was really rough, you couldn’t get the water out and had to be towed back, but if the conditions were okay, you are back on again. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, great and if you look at the last, I guess, four decades in the sail making you’ve done, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in recent years over the past couple of decades or so? 

Rob White: Probably the biggest thing out of the whole lot is the boats have got a lot bigger. A big boat in the 70’s was a 40 footer. A big boat now is, well, there’s every size. 80 feet long, you know, plus, plus. In 1979, there was a Maxi boat, Bumblebee IV, and it was announced that it has a 100 foot mast. It was the biggest mast put on a boat at that time. Now I’m told that some of the super yachts and that are up to 300 feet. So the boats have changed an awful lot and people’s boats just seem to be bigger. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So how does that limit your options with getting sails made? I mean you must need some pretty big facilities to even lie out those size sails inside sheds. 

Rob White: Yes well the sails have really got to be made lighter than what they were so various fibres have come in over the years. I mean it went from cotton to Terylene, to Dacron, to Mylar with Polyester, and Mylar with Kevlar, PBO, Spectra, Carbon Fibre, they’ve changed with it, the boats have changed. The mast and construction of the boats have changed using all these fibre's as well. So the boats have improved, and sails, over the years mainly because of the new materials that are available to make them out of. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, and so those materials have gotten stronger and what does that mean for boats? As things excel, they need to get stronger. What have you seen changed with loads and weights and stresses and some of the dangers that might come with that to? 

Rob White: Well yeah. If everything is lighter and the boat has a larger bulb or weight, which they do nowadays because lead was incorporated into the keels in the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s and now you’re finding that the lead is now in a bulb. So the righting moment is a lot stiffer, the cloth gives less, it is lighter so all in all, there’s a lot more power and because of this power, there’s a lot more weight on everything. 

With the keelboat, it’s not too bad because it can lean over to de-power whereas as a boat with like a multihull, which can’t. It point loads and therefore everything is directed to the fittings and the blocks, the jib tracks and everything that is on the deck. So depending on what the boat is like, it depends on the power. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yep, okay. So I’m talking to you Rob, because last year I came to you. I had a boat with an eight or nine year old Dacron on cruising sails, a 20 year old spinnaker and we were looking to do some more racing than we had been. I had no idea about where to start with sails and so I thought today was a good opportunity to have a chat to you because there’s all sorts of sailors out there who’ve got cruising boats of various ages and levels and don’t always know where to start. 

I know with some of the sails you made for me, carbon sails, where you said, “You won’t break the sail but you would break the boat.” That’s been true. I have snapped the out haul and I’ve sheered the piece off the top of my mast that holds the top of the code zero and as you put these strong, lighter sails on boats then every bit that’s connected to the sail needs to be checked as well from what I’ve seen in terms of the load and then transfer it to somewhere else to find the weakest part of the boat. 

So I guess my question is, lets say, I’ve got a cruising boat, say I’ve owned it for two or three years and started doing a bit of club racing and now I want to maximise this offshore racing potential and maybe I’ve got a genoa and a main and a gennaker maybe, and a spinnaker. How would I go about planning a sail wardrobe upgrade if I want to actually start racing my boat to it’s potential? How would I go about doing it? Where would I start? 

Rob White: Well, you’ve really got to look at everything. A production Beneteau is built to have one roll up furler headsail, a main with a couple of reefs and maybe a MPS or possibly even a storm jib. But quite often they don’t even have those. So then you’ve got a boat that’s a cruising boat that’s usually quite heavy, limited in its’ sails and you want to get it going. 

Where I would start with is a crew and a crew that’s prepared to value the money that you’re spending on the boat to get it going faster and to back you so that you would be going faster. I mean there’s no point in spending the money unless you’ve got everything going for you as of a good crew. Then, you will start at looking at making it a race boat. 

To be competitive in AOC or something like that, you’ve got to be prepared to forego your roller furler, make sure that you’ve got two spinnaker halyards, one for code zero or an extra and also a spinnaker. You’ll also need to make sure that you’ve got a spinnaker pole and then from there, you’ve got to go right through the whole boat and look at jib tracks and all that sort of thing. 

Because you cannot be competitive with one sail, you have to have a couple of genoas. In the old days, you would have a number one light, medium, heavy, number two, three, four, spit fire jib, storm jib. With the spinnakers, you have a half ounce three quarter, one and a half and a 2.2-ounce. So you are using a lot more sails. 

You don’t need to use that many sails because of the modern materials and that, where they don’t stretch, but if you’re going to get away with less sails and a couple of number ones and number three, which is sort of the bare minimum, you have to ensure that the stuff on your boat is working particularly well with the mast head boat. 

Your backstay is extremely important because that will change the range and the head source by changing the forestay. So in other words, in the lighter airs your backstay will be eased to create forestay sag, which will deepen your headsail. There’s no other way of changing its shape so as the breeze increases, then your forestay will be tightened as you tighten the backstay. 

Once the breeze gets up, until it’s too much and you’ve done as much as you can, you change head source and you might have to power up that head source slightly and go back and ease the backstay again and then you go through the whole scenario again as the breeze increases. As the breeze drops, you have to do the same thing in reverse and therefore, increasing the range of each sail. Now that’s basically the short and simple way of describing that. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah like changing gears in the car, right? 

Rob White: That’s right and it’s got to be done constantly. You’ve also got track positions that could be changed. Not that easily on a lot of cruising boats because they use a pin in the genoa car rather than a pulley with a slider, which is better but a typical 40 foot cruising boat is not set up at all like that at all. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: No, you’ve got to tack onto your new setting and then you’ve got to ride…

Rob White: Yeah, that’s right.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, I know when I was talking to you about sails last year, we could not hold our lane off the start line. We couldn’t point well and moving to the adjustable backstay has made a world of difference in terms of what we can do right now. So I guess the part of the point is that if you don’t upgrade the hardware, there’s no point just putting new sails on and hoping that everything else magically happens. 

Rob White: No, you have to do the whole thing. If you wanted to turn a cruising boat into a race boat, it’s just got to have everything. There’s no way around it. You know, the horsepower is the whole thing in the race and also as I said in the beginning, having that same crew, people that know the boat, people with the same goal will just make it that more easier and it’s worth doing the exercise. If you haven’t got the people, or the crew or the will, you won’t really get anything out of it. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, it’s a really, really good point. You can make half a dozen mistakes in a three hour race and give up one or two minutes each time and your race is over just through poor execution. 

Rob White: Exactly. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So it’s not to be understated. You can go a long way with a good crew before you need to look elsewhere at things to do to improve the performance of your boat. 

Rob White: That’s right. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So let’s say I’ve got a 40 foot boat that is 15 years old, I’ve got $25,000 to spend, how do I weigh up spending money on some of the more exotic type sails versus spending less per sail but having a wider range of sails? What would you recommend if I had say $25,000 to spend as a priority list? 

Rob White: Okay, your main sail is your best sail. It’s up 100% of your racing time. It’s up all the time, upwind from three knots to 30 knots. It’s up downwind for exactly the same. So it’s the sail that gets the most use so it is the most important one and you don’t want to have a main sail that is not performing well. 

With the headsail because you’ve got a couple of them, one might be a little tight, the other one might be a little deep or something, at least you can change them when the range falls out or something. It’s not quite as critical but a proper race campaign with boats like TP52’s or something with fully professional stuff, they don’t compromise anything. 

Everything is brand new at the start of the season but nobody with a cruising boat is going to do that and they’re not expected to either. Just look after the stuff. So many times you go down in our boats after a race and that, and everybody’s that keen to leave the sails aren’t packed properly and you’ve just got to realise that the motor and they’re an expensive article and to get the most out of them, treat them the way they should be. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yes, that’s a good point. I mean theoretically you can do probably more damage in the way you store them and handle them when you’re not racing than actually racing if you don’t care for them. 

Rob White: Absolutely. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: One of the things that I found really interesting when we talk about Dacron at one end of the scale and whatever the modern equivalent is of that, and carbon at the other end of the scale, if you look at that sort of data we see sort of Dacron stretches maybe 80 or 90% over five years and carbon stretched 1.5%. In terms of value over the longer term with carbon when you’re paying 40 or 50% more, it’s actually not that significantly more in terms of cost relative to the value you’re probably getting in year, two, three, four and five where if you look after your sails, you’re probably getting some, from the cruising-racing point of view, you are probably getting some pretty good value if you take a five year view rather than just 12 month view. How do you look at where you recommend Dacron versus carbon or the other materials that sit in between? 

Rob White: Well I’m quite surprised at how long the carbon type sails are lasting. I mean you’re getting quite a few seasons out of them. Three seasons out of them now, at least and it just seems to be getting better. I mean the industry is not going to go backwards. It will be always pushing forward with new trends and new stuff. It won’t go back to that Dacron. 

Dacron is quite good for club racing and it definitely is one of the only ones to use along with cruise laminate for cruising sails. Dacron does have the disadvantages of being quite heavy and I guess that’s why it lasts so long. It’s definitely still got its place but if you want to step up from basic club racing to the Brisbane to Gladstone’s and all that sort of stuff, you’re going to be looking for that extra half hour at least faster down the track because that’s what you’ll lose by. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yep, that’s right. Especially if you’re racing on a fixed rating system like AIC. 

Rob White: Yeah, that’s right. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Are you seeing quite a lot of growth now in the uptake of carbon sails on the keel boat? Is it catching on at a lower level, or at a club level now? 

Rob White: Yeah, you’re quite right. Yeah, I am. It is amazing, people are now buying, that are doing the club racing and that, they are certainly stepping up to that black look. I don’t know whether it’s trendy or not but I mean all helps but yeah, they are. Even people that are doing Wednesday night races and things like that, they are not really buying Dacron sails anymore. They are buying something a little bit better. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: It’s becoming quite fashionable isn’t it? 

Rob White: Yeah, it is.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Something different than white. I mean just at Southport Yacht Club we’ve had three keel boats in the space of six months invest in carbon sails and so that’s not something that happened probably in six months prior or six months prior to that. 

Rob White: Yeah, I know. We’re sending them up and down Queensland as well. So it’s everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised that there would be a lot more laminate sails than Dacron probably now. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so if I’ve got, let’s say I’ve got $40,000 to spend as opposed to $25,000, then what extra sails would you recommend in terms of building a racing wardrobe outside a couple of genoas and a jib and a main and what else would I look at? 

Rob White: Well, then you’ll be starting to step up to like a membrane sail, which is a sail really made by a machine apart from all of the edges and batten pockets and all of that sort of stuff. They are not made in Australia. They are imported from overseas. Extra sails are important like code zeros, things the typical cruising guy boat is fairly heavy and the light air is always suffering. 

So therefore, these big code zero type sails have totally changed their game and the light air, if you just cracked off, they can get a good speed probably because of their weight, they can maintain it and over a long period of time, that was quite a good elapsed time. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, I’ve been surprised with the code zero. I thought it was just a light weather sail but it’s really both and the light, if you can go three knots instead of two, percentage wise that’s a massive increase. But in heavier breeze if you’re at 90 or 100 degrees off the wind, you can carry those code zeros in 50, 60, 70 knots and the boat flies a lot and they really are quite versatile sails. 

Rob White: Well it doesn’t take much because as soon as the boat gets moving, the apparent wind increases. So therefore, everything starts multiplying so they just do make the boat go good. The code zeros are designed to go after the beam, just after the beam in a lot of wind and that’s not uncommon. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah and what would be the maximum? What was the crossover point between a code zero and a spinnaker in terms of once you get after the beam, what’s the metrics for sort of changing? 

Rob White: Well every boat is different and that changeover has to do with I guess we call it polar diagrams where apparent winds, true winds, boat speed all these factors that you’re in, your boat has more or can have a sheet done by the designer and you’ll see where different sails overlap and what your target should be. 

So it’s quite easy if the boat’s got that. If you haven’t got that, you’ve really got to start making notes yourself of when the boat’s been going well and maybe filling out a log after every race. It will be handy also to find out who was on board so you can remember your best days and also who you beat and different speeds you got. But if you were to purchase a new boat now, they would come with all of that. It would have crossovers for different size spinnakers, jive angles, all of that is available. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So same kind of stuff the Volvo guys use where they just literally known how to paint by numbers based on optimising their speed based on… 

Rob White: I would assume so. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: …sail combination. 

Rob White: Yeah, they would have that all worked out and of course, they would. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: And that’s the trouble, as soon as you’ve got a bigger sail wardrobe, there’s sometimes when you’re not actually sure which sail to put up. 

Rob White: That’s right. Well, they don’t really have that big a wardrobe and they’re limited under there rules what they can have anyway, but for sure they would know exactly which one, which wind angle, which wind breeze, which sail is the one they’re going to have up. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: And so for a cruising sailor who doesn’t have that, they can just start building that information. 

Rob White: They can start building their own. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, what angle you will be sailing, what speed and what sails would you use? 

Rob White: Yeah, you just jot it down. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah. 

Rob White: And it won’t take long, but as I said, all the newer boats and that, the designers will supply them. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah and there are some benefits in knowing your boat speed polars because if you ever decide to pay for weather routing with some of the long offshore races, if you haven’t got boat polars, if the weather router hasn’t got boat polars to work with it’s very hard to actually give you a route to follow if they don’t actually know. 

Rob White: Yeah, that’s right. They’re just going to be relying on you by radioing and then telling you what speed they assume they’re going to be doing. Yeah.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so if I was to purchase say some new carbon sails for my cruising boat so I can do some serious racing, how would you go about working out what the best size and shape sails are for my boat design given that what cam with the production boat aren’t necessarily going to be for the exact same shape you use going forward to maximize dimensions you’ve got to work with? 

Rob White: Okay, well the first thing that we’d look at is the type of boat, the weight of the boat, what we already know about it’s speed, in the case of yours versus a lighter displacement boat. A lighter boat will have slightly flatter sails, where yours will be quite reasonably deep. If you’re predominantly racing offshore, your sails will be deeper again. 

So that, you know, it can handle the swells and all that sort of stuff to keep the boat going. If the boat is being raced on flat water, well then the sails will be flatter because you are not looking to go over any swell or anything. You’re looking for height and say you work through the worst scenario is a chop or something. So the sails have got to be shaped predominantly for what you are doing. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and what about dimensions in terms of how high you go, in terms of mast, head sails and how far back you go in terms of where the end of the boom is, what do you need to do there to maximise those dimensions? 

Rob White: Those dimensions really got to do with your rating and you have optimising rating around your sail there. So the boat would be rated, have a certificate, we will see how that looked with what head sails it had on it and then we’d either advise to go bigger or maybe smaller. Same with spinnakers and the sizing is done around the rating. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and so just in terms of the rating, if you’re getting an IRC rating, biggest sails aren’t always best, right? Given your biggest main, genoa, and spinnaker are actually what’s measured. So just big for the sake of big isn’t necessarily going to get a better result. 

Rob White: No, you’ve really got to do a kid of test certificate or something like that but a bit is known with bigger spinnakers have penalties possibly worth taking a lot of the time. So yeah, there’s a bit known and how to do it easily but you certainly wouldn’t just go and make big sails and say that the boat’s got a sail to get it to a higher rating. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah. 

Rob White: It might be detrimental to it. Once again, as I said before, it really depends on what boat it is, what weight it is and what you’re racing in. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, and so we’ve got IRC rated at the end of last year. I know that one of the IRC measures who will remain nameless said, “Oh, there’s no point in getting IRC rating because you’re never going to win anything,” which was encouraging at the time we were getting measured for that. 

But nonetheless, it’s a 23 year old Beneteau, we’re going okay in terms of our rating. We’ve found ourselves to be competitive in half of the races that we have done so far. How does somebody decide where it’s worth getting an IRC rating or not or whether it’s going to be a waste of time? How do you know based on the type of boat you have what’s going to work, whether it’s going to be worthwhile?

Rob White: Well I disagree with that. I think any boat is capable of winning if you set it up properly and crew it correctly. You know, I think anybody could do quite well and I’ve usually found it reasonably favourable to the older boats. Once again, to say that you’re not going to win anything, I think that’s wrong and I think you can win. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, we’ve had some IRC success already in the early days. 

Rob White: Yeah, you can have a Gladstone race or something where the wind is all over the place, and all that sort of stuff and you can rock it, it’s surprising what wins. I remember in the Brisbane Gladstone for example in the IOR days, and there was a Yachting World keelboat that Jack Holt designed from England. It was like an etchell or something. Well, it won its fair share of Gladstone races and who would have thought that? 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, so people shouldn’t exclude themselves from the opportunity really.

Rob White: Definitely not. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Do some research, check it out, talk to other sailors. 

Rob White: Absolutely. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and the good thing about IRC or any of those other ORCR ratings is the effects to your boat. So if you sail it to it’s potential, you sail the shortest course and the weather goes your way as well. You can be competitive unlike PHS where your rating is going to shift around all the time. 

Rob White: That right, you can continually win because nobody can change it. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah and there are allowances for the age of your designs. So if you do have an older boat, that’s part of the effect that helps you in your rating. 

Rob White: There’s all sorts of things in the rating. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay, so tell me about the current designer to production process now. So when I had sails made, you’re talking to me about them being designed in one country on the computer and then cut out somewhere else and they put it together somewhere else. How does modern sail making work now in terms of the production process? 

Rob White: You will find that most companies are associated one way or another with some sort of franchise. All that really is a share like a design share of information about sails and boats. So if someone, it could be in another country, it could be in another city, has got clear success in one particular type or boat or design, he would share within his group and nobody else. 

The reason being is because they all share their advertising and marketing and you stay within your group as long as it’s good for you and it just sort of puts you in a bit bigger picture but basically everybody is still really is pretty hands on with their own stuff and their own customers and their own boats. I don’t know of any loft that would make sails without their own input because you’re trusting your customer with somebody from overseas that they wouldn’t know or anything like that, they want to deal with you. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. So Evolution Sails they’re here on the Gold Coast but you’ve got access to international design software that gives you the ability to share intellectual property from sail making experience over the world to then tailor what you were doing for your customer based on the conditions they’re going to race in, but you’ve got access to that type of technology. 

Rob White: That’s exactly what happens. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. 

Rob White: And then of course we know where you’re sailing, we know what you’re doing, we know what your crew is doing and all of that sort of thing and therefore, it can be tailored to suit you and your area and information can be sourced about the construction of the sails, the shapes of the sails, and what we use it as well.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Then you take the carbon sails and then they’re laser cut, right? Laser cut in Sydney for Evolution Sails. 

Rob White: Sometimes, yeah.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Sometimes. So what governs Sydney versus elsewhere? 

Rob White: We buy most of our cloth from Sydney and our cloth suppliers have the plotters down there and so it enables us to get the sails down there. We also have a plotter here but we don’t use it as much as we used to probably mainly on crosscut sails because we found it useful and less mistakes to have it done there. So it just comes up, just like the cloth did before. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, okay. 

Rob White: And then the sail is ready for assembly but it’s all designed in house. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: And is it common for standalone sail makers that work from home or work for a small business to have that access to the same kind of laser or design type technology or is there still a collection of, I guess, more traditional sail makers out there that are not using that technology versus the Evolution type brand where they’ve got access to that network globally of technology and equipment? 

Rob White: I think now everybody has access to it. I mean you can buy sail design programs of various types, you know? Some are really basic and then some are super complex. I mean it depends on how much work you want done with. Obviously our one is quite comprehensive because it does the whole thing, from performance analysis to reinforcing sizes to weights and everything like that. So I know there was a week that I look at the sail sailing, before we even start to make it. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. So Rob, you’ve done lots and lots of sailing and you’ve got your own boat that you actively sail and race and cruise, so what tips would you give that would contribute to boat speed improvements for older cruising boats or typical production cruising boats that most people wouldn’t even think about or appreciate that they can tweak on their boats to get some more speed out of them? 

Rob White: Well with the cruising boats it’s just like all boats, just take everything off it that’s not being used. You will end up with a lot cleaner boat, it will be nicer downstairs and certainly boats cart that much rubbish around, for what reason I don’t know. So that’s a good place to start. A typical cruising guy might sail around with a three bladed fixed prop. Have a look at putting a feathering one it. The difference it makes is unbelievable. 

So there’s little things like that that will make the boat go quite a lot quicker. If you do have to carry a lot of weight on it, watch where it’s stowed. Have it around the centre of the boat, it will help with the pitching and all that sort of thing. So you don’t have to do a lot to make it go a bit quicker. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: It’s just surprising what you can do. The boat I bought, I just assumed it had the standard cruising gear on and I kid you not, I’ve got a 2.7 meter high 7 meter long shelving system at home that’s full of gear that came off my boat, and I don’t even miss it and still there’s some on the floor. That’s how much stuff was on that boat and it’s amazing how much higher it sits in the water. If you’re sailing in zero to 10 knots it’s even more of a factor, right? Anything is going to get up and get going in 15 to 25 knots but if you had light winds, weight has got a huge effect. 

Rob White: Yeah, the lighter the boat the nicer it is to sail. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yes, it’s a lot more responsive as well. Okay, so say you’ve got a sailor who’s sailing right now around in a 10 year old reasonably sort of stretched and tied Dacron sails, how much of a speed difference can new sails make in terms of an all-around difference percentage wise? Are we talking about a 5% difference, a 25% difference? What do you see in your experience? 

Rob White: I think because the main thing is to do with the weight. The weight of a Dacron sail and of course, if it is stretched and that, it will be attributing very much to the healing of the boat and therefore the boat will get a lot harder on the helm. The sails will lose their initial shape, being a Dacron sail and there are ways of flattening them with your outhaul and your mast bend and all that sort of thing. 

For cruising, and people sort of cruising around the islands and all that sort of thing, I don’t think it makes much difference really because they will just be going, there’s no point in having a carbon sail or anything like that. You could be looking at something like cruise lam, but there seems to be a lot of problems with sails with sun damage more and more than with the laminates and the double taffeta getting mould inside the layers. 

For the tropics and north of Brisbane this mould thing seems to be, you know, it plagues the sails and they start delaminating. So for someone that was just cruising only and I would get the best quality Dacron I could. It will last longer and okay in seven years your shape might be a bit out, but does that matter?

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, if you’re just cruising. 

Rob White: Yeah, I mean from the Gold Coast to Noumea or something, you know the distance, I doubt the difference would be an hour. You’re better just concentrating on your routing and getting that right because that would be more than having a fancy sail that was not reliable. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: And then if you’re using that cruising boat for racing, that’s where those difference start becoming substantial. 

Rob White: Exactly, yeah. If you’re not racing why bother with something too fancy? 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, which then means you’ve got to spend extra time looking after it when you get to every anchorage. 

Rob White: Yeah. Now obviously if you’ve got a super boat like a super yacht, you can’t have Dacron sails because it’s just not strong enough. As soon as the boats are getting over 70 feet, Dacron doesn’t have place. You’d have no choice but to… 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: That would be bloody heavy too, right? 

Rob White: Yeah, with over 70 feet, you’ve got to have proper laminated sails. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and okay so let’s talk about new sail. So what are some of the common trim mistakes you see with sailors and new sails? The reason I ask this is we were making quite a few without realising it and then Caedric came out, one of the sail makers came out with us for a sail one Sunday and we just learned a ton of tricks. We just didn’t even know what we didn’t know. Because our sails couldn’t do those things but what are some of the trim mistakes you see with new sails? 

Rob White: Winding them on too tight and not letting the sails breathe, how do you tension is still important. Shedding position, but there are things that you’re not going to read in book or learn in a book. There are things that you’ve just got to have experience and once again, you’ll get one guy up, one week trimming a headsail and you’ll get a different one the next week. 

It’s just a different game, that’s why when you do start this more serious racing you’ve really got to work hard on that crew and make sure you get the same ones so you’re all on the same page. The ultimate trim is on the guy on the helm and he’s got to be able to feel that, whether the boat is going right or it’s not. 

Look at the leech of the mainsail have a look at the twist and make sure it’s not too tight. Be aware and thinking all the time and you are going to feel that through the helm. So the helm’s man has got a fairly important job that’s why you’ll see on the real top boats now he’s not that involved in tactics as such. Someone else will be doing that; he looks at his job, the feel of the boat and the trim. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah. 

Rob White: He talks to his guys about that but he’ll also be talking to the tactician as well but he won’t be doing everything. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yep. 

Rob White: Because he can’t if he wants to do it properly. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: If he wants to optimise the boats performance. One of the things you taught us was you can go as fast as you like but if you’re healing your boat over 25 or 30 degrees you’re just going sideways and we’ve got a little thingy in there now that measures the angle of heal and all the crew can see and when we managed it to 15 degrees it will lie down heavy, and gosh it’s made a difference. 

Unto the point where we just kept easing our sails, or change a sail if we can’t keep it at 15 degrees and you don’t appreciate it until you sail behind someone else who's healed to 20 or 25 or 30 degrees, you literally just see them sliding sideways. 

Rob White: Well, that’s like what we’re talking about before with the polar diagrams. You’ll find stuff that your boat likes and other boats might not necessarily like that at all. That might be way too much heel for somebody else. The other thing to keep an eye on is your VMG instrument and that is quite important because it is the one that gives you where you are from the mark and your quickest route there. 

So in other words, sometimes you sail a boat a little bit free and then you will get speed up and you’re going too fast so you start pinching and that and then you sail these S’s and that’s the way to get a good VMG. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. 

Rob White: But once again as I have said before, all the boats are different. A heavy boat does have to foot off, get the speed up and then you start winding it up a bit and then when it gets a little bit slow, you go down again. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and so in terms of one end of the scale you’ve got Dacron and the other end of the scale you’ve got, I guess, carbon. Beyond that you’ve got those moulded sails now. What are the other sail material options in between that you’d consider as a cruiser racer? 

Rob White: Well there are lots, it really starts getting down to cost. Just polyester, Mylar, there’s ones in the past like PBO, there’s spectra, which was used for racing a lot but it’s now mainly for the big cruising boats. I don’t really see them on racing boats anymore. We don’t sell it for that reason. We mainly use it on something like a large catamaran or something where there’s a big race profile that’s got to be stood up. 

There’s Vectran and basically that seems to be the ones that are left. Kevlar comes in various forms and there’s names bandied about like Dyneema, and all sorts of different fibres that are used from one time or another. To be quite honest, it’s a bit hard keeping track of them all but they basically all do the same thing, they supply the structure or the strength and light weight. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So looking at the next two to three years ahead as far as you can, what do you think are the top two or three materials that are going to be the most widely used from what you are seeing right now? 

Rob White: Well, commercially available is the best or most commonly used is carbon fibre. It has an advantage where it bonds very well. Spectra is a very greasy fibre and therefore it doesn’t bond or laminate as well even though it has good properties, like UV and that. Carbon fibre bonds very well. It takes the glues well and the sails, as I said, I’m surprised how long they last. They last well because the bonding is really good. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and then like I’ve certainly found with my carbon sails, by the time that you fine tune them a bit and put the extra strong points on for anti-chaffing and anti-wear then if you can sort of take care of those high wear areas then you can look after your sails quite easily. 

Rob White: Yeah, well you’ve just got to look at your spreader patches where they rub over a stanchion or that they don’t all touch the caps down the bottom there where the rigging screws are. They’ve just got to make sure to put a boot, a leather boot on your rigging screw or we would patch on the sail anyway but anything to stop any chaff is good. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: And if you do all that work and beef that stuff up when you first get those sails then you’re setting yourself up for… 

Rob White: Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a sail actually blow out by itself. It’s usually because it’s ripped on something. I mean water doesn’t hurt the sails. I don’t think wind really hurts them; you’ve got to get them off. You’ll know when to get them off because the boat will feel uncomfortable. But any rip I’ve seen in the last years has always been because there hasn’t been a sail blowing out at all. 

They’re constructed with an Ultra Bond glue system, which stops any slit seem slippage and the Ultra Bond gluing system, I guess is a glue that is pretty similar to what’s used in the manufacture of the material to start with and once again, I have never actually seen one let go.  

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, they’re extremely strong these days, extremely strong.

Rob White: Yeah. It’s amazing. I haven’t actually seen one let go. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Well when I snapped an outhaul, I snapped a pretty chunky metal fitting off the top of my mast and then the other thing that I don’t know if I told you about, you probably knew because you repaired the sail but we were tacking the genoa and the genoa got caught behind the radar and the trimmer didn’t look up and kept winching it, and literally just snapped the radar completely off the mast with the carbon sail, it was so strong. But then it ended up putting a bit of a tear in the sail because it was then flapping over the broken bracket, but that’s how…

Rob White: Well the radar is another thing that should go. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, you keep telling me that. 

Rob White: A radar on the front of the mast on a racing boat is a… 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: It’s a no-no. 

Rob White: Yeah, well it’s going to slow your tacks down and all of that and of course it’s another thing that you can damage the sail. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, it’s a work in progress that one. 

Rob White: Yeah. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: I’ve got a couple of things I’m testing but it might have to come off ultimately. 

Rob White: Like you’re leveraging a pole down the back or something like that. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah that’s an option. 

Rob White: If you want to persist with it. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, that’s an option. Okay, so I guess on a different tack, let’s say I bought a 45 footer and I plan to go long distance cruising with my partner so how can I configure my sail wardrobe for short handed sailing, so just two of us, without having to compromise on speed? What would you recommend I’m still capable of using like spinnakers? Code zeros? What do you suggest? 

Rob White: Well I would set that the boat up as a cutter. So you’ve got two roller furlers at the front, one with your genoa or yankee, probably more of a 125% overlapping genoa. A staysail that is on there that is built strong enough to withhold a storm and then you wouldn’t have to go to the front of the boat in rough weather. 

So from the back of the boat, you can furl up your headsail and your staysail would be there ready. It also is quite fast for just general reaching because you’ve got two headsails up; creates quite a nice slot down behind back of the mainsail and all that and carter rig is really nice reaching too for two handed. For light air sails, I would be looking a code zero type of sail that once again was on a furler and that’s all I would have. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Out on the bowsprit or something on the front. 

Rob White: Yeah and the bowsprit doesn’t have to be that long. It’s only just got to clear the sail so it doesn’t touch the pulpit. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So it’s just clearing your forestay and existing… 

Rob White: That’s all. You want to be able to reach the tack of it to take it off because when the breeze starts getting up a bit, why have it up there? 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, well that’s right. You don’t want to send your partner sort of six feet out off in front of the bow, on the big seas and trying to attach it. 

Rob White: No, no and a lot of boats you probably won’t even have to modify them at all. All you’ve got to do is worry that it clears the pulpit. So if it does that you don’t have to do anything, you know? 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. 

Rob White: And then you’ll find you use them a lot. And then when it’s blowing with your two headsails on the furler, your staysail and your genoa, you can handle anything. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay and what about when you’re running square? So what’s your view on spinnakers with socks or those parasail type spinnakers that are sort of open at the top three quarters of the way up? What’s your view on those if you’re shorthanded it in the… 

Rob White: Well parasails I’ve seen them and we’ve had them in here to repair but I’ve never made one and they look extremely complicated and I don’t really like them except for one thing, everybody that’s bought one in has absolutely loved it. So I think it’s one of those things that you’ve got to use because I haven’t used one it’s a bit hard for me to comment. But as I said, they look complicated and that, but everybody that’s come in, honestly they rave about the things. They reckon they only set themselves. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, well you read those Atlantic rally for cruisers crossing those they have them on for 23 days because they’ve got that slot apparently that they can take gusts without loading the boat up. 

Rob White: Yeah, they all rave about it. So because I haven’t used one it’s a bit hard for me to comment on it. But you know, it’s a bit hard to ignore the fact that they all like them. The other thing with running dead square on a cruising boat, you’ve got to have at least 12 knots I find because of wind, because of the mainsails and that shake around and you’ve got the preventers on. 

Then you’ve got a pole your headsail out because it will just whip you. So what I tend to do on my boat anyway is motor. I just have to check it over, take time to charge the batteries up, get the preventer to hold the boom out, roll the headsail up, and when 12 knots comes open everything up again. Well I just want to make sure I don’t drop below six and a half knots.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, I am a big fan of keeping the average speed up. 

Rob White: Yeah, if I’m going six and a half, that’s fine and I am cruising. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah and then what’s your experience with spinnakers and socks and two people being able to handle those types of sails? Or is that still a little bit thin on the ground? 

Rob White: I like socks. I do have the top down furler on my boat for a spinnaker but I am still practicing with that. The socks are good. They’re really good because they are fairly simple and they certainly capture the sail and then you can drop it easily into a locker or down your forehead hatch. The top down furlers are quite expensive and I haven’t yet really experienced one in a lot of wind yet. 

They work pretty good in a light morning at the marina but I must admit, on my last cruise I didn’t use it. But that was only because the wind angles weren’t right or anything like that but it will be interesting to see how it goes in a lot of wind. Hopefully they're really good, but certainly in the lighter air they’ll work.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah like I feel, I don’t anymore, but I did have the gennaker in the sock and you can literally set the auto pilot, go and hoist it yourself, open it up and let it flap, and then come back and set the sheet. And you can actually do it single handed if you need to, but that was in, you know, 15 knots not 25 to 30 knots. 

Rob White: I mean 20 years ago or 30 years ago when socks were first around people came and asked for them all the time. The hoops were stainless steel bit of rod bent down with a bit of a hose hanging onto it or something but now with the Kevlar bells and beautifully shaped bells and the ropes are all running down their own individual pockets and all that, I mean they’re just trouble free. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, that’s cool. I mean you’re probably not going to have an old one, because I think if it actually gets stuck up, you’ve pulled it up too tight, either you can’t get it back down again, but then you can just bear away and drop it onto the deck but that’s the only problem I have found. Okay, so sail maintenance; what are the things that I should do as a sailor that will extend the life of my sails? 

Rob White: Mainly make sure it’s covered. Nothing really hurts a sail except for sun and it hurts it badly. It damages thread and it deteriorates the materials. Good covers are really important and they’re insignificant in cost compared to what it’s covering. Put the cover on. One of the most common things that we do here is replace UV strips on genoas. 

When I wonder down to the marina and have a look, some of these boats don’t go out that often and I wonder why are they still up. It’s not that hard to pull your genoa down. If you’re going to go overseas for three months or six months, take your sail down, drop it down below and it will be in exactly the same condition when you get back. 

To have them sitting up there all the time and going, “Oh well, the UV strip, I’ve hardly used the sail,” that’s no excuse. The thing is that as long as it’s up it’s being used, the sail is being used and eventually, it gets through the UV strip, when the UV strip starts breaking down and it does get to the foot and the leech of the genoa, and it’s just sunburn. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah or you have some excessive wind and your sails just starts to un-fill a little bit and now you’ve got six inches of sail out of the sun and not just the UV strip protecting it anymore and suddenly you’ve got a damage starting to occur. 

Rob White: Yeah, well you know, some of the people just don’t take any precautions at all. A line could chaff through and it could be the line that used to furler up the headsail. Once that’s undone, the whole sail undoes and then it will take a couple of hours and there will be no sail and then you still see that. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yes, that’s true in itself. Okay, so thanks for all of your technical advice on sail design and sail selection and so, someone’s bought a boat and they’re thinking about getting some new sails, what’s the best way to go about choosing a sail maker who’s going to do the job for you and help you figure all of this out. What’s the best way to do that? 

Rob White: Well, you’ll find that the best way is if you’ve had someone or a friend or something that’s experienced with a sail maker that they’re prepared to recommend is by the far the best way and the most comfortable way for you. The other way is to certainly get somebody that is in your area because you’ll be wanting personal service and you will be wanting measurements checked because that’s quite comprehensive on the amount of measurements that needs to be taken. So you’re better off if your sail maker can actually do that. It also offers you a guarantee that the sails will fit and that any ongoing problems are easily solved because the sail maker is there. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah and there’s, from a practical sense, the fact that your sail maker can get to your boat easily because it’s not miles away and I know from going through the planning process and then the post kind of new sails process, I probably came in here 30 or 40 times and either the planning or getting things tweaked or bringing things in that you were just fine tuning or bringing stuff into the damage repair. So if you’re dealing with somebody that’s out of the way then it does start becoming a bit of an inconvenience as well. 

Rob White: Well, it’s good to get a handle on the process of your sail, why you’re buying it, what it’s being made out of, how is it being designed? If you know, the more you know about it or the more interested you’re in it, the more you’ll look at it when you’re actually sailing or performance and appreciate how to change the shape of it and how to do the best with it and how to maintain it. Without that, without buying a sail that way, you’re in the mercy of the gods. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah and one of the big things to me was when I first spoke to you and I looked at another, a couple of the other sail makers at the same time, you were the only one that was willing to come out on the boat and you said, “We’ll get on the boat. We’ll help you get it tuned up once we get the sails on the boat. We’ll help you fine tune them,” and you came out, Kendrick came out and that made all the difference. 

So from a sailing point of view, if you’ve got a sail maker that’s willing to actually get on your boat and help you tune them up after the sails are delivered, I think that’s a big bonus because there’s another five or 10% of those little things that you don’t know and suddenly, I found myself with an adjustable backstay, with a Cunningham, with some other settings that I hadn’t had before and you don’t know what you don’t know. So a sail maker that is willing to do that for you I think is valuable as well. 

Rob White: Well anybody that comes in and wants to improve their boat and are prepared to take the steps of training the same crew, getting everything sorted out, looking at their deck gear, looking at every part of your boat, it’s worth us getting involved because as I have said before, anybody can win. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yep. 

Rob White: If you do all of these things, your boat will go faster and there’s no way that it can’t. There are a lot of factors and your sails aren’t just the only one. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, they’re significant but that’s right. The boat, weight, the cleanliness of the hull, the crew, if you get those things right… 

Rob White: That’s right, a clean hull, a good prop, there’s lots of things. The sails are definitely important but any boat can be improved and made to go faster quite easily. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Okay. So, just on a personal note, so recently you come off, two or three months back now I guess, you sailed your boat down to Tasmania and still down there now, you’ve been down recently sailing or working on your boat or I’m not sure what you’ve been doing down there actually, but you’ve been out of the sail loft. It’s been crazy here. What are your sailing plans for the future? What’s ahead for you now? 

Rob White: Well I have taken my boat down to Tasmania. I wasn’t sailing very much here at all and I’ve decided to leave it there for a year or two, very fortunate at the moment where air fairs are quite cheep and also you have marina fees and the standard marinas down there are very, very good and I just thought that is was a good opportunity, now that I get a little bit of a time off. 

So I am able to go down there and enjoy that, and do a bit of cruising. So it reminds me of when I was younger in the Hauraki Gulf off the Bay of Islands and all that sort of thing and it’s just a bit different than doing the normal thing up to Airlie Beach with the Whitsundays because there’s not really that many places on the East Coast where you can go around islands and cruise and all that sort of thing. And this happens to be a good isolated place where there are certainly no crowds.

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah, right. I bought my boat in Auckland and sailed it to Australia and I love the Hauraki Gulf and we had a couple of years where we were here and it was there and we flew over there a few times through the year for weekends but some six week trips in the summer and it was fantastic. So not many people think about that, but you can set your boat up to the remote from where you are and then get to experience that destination without having to live there or take a big break off work, on the basis that you can travel every so often and spend a weekend or a week or a couple of weeks and just keep exploring something different. 

Rob White: That’s right. It’s like chartering a boat, except it happens to be yours. I’ve set mine up so I could work from it as well with sail design and other things around the business and all of that sort of thing to help out while I’m away but it is really good to get down there. It’s a lot cooler and wild life is certainly different and I love looking at it, at the penguins and everything. It’s just a neat place. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Yeah. Okay and how much of Tasmania do you plan to see? I mean are you going to go right around it at some point or just exploring some parts of the coast line? 

Rob White: No, I’ll do the lot. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Great, okay. Excellent, well thanks Rob for putting aside the time today and I know that when I said to you about interviewing you for the podcast, you didn’t even really know what a podcast was. 

Rob White: That’s correct. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So thanks for sharing your knowledge. I think it will be really, really insightful and really helpful for the thousands of people who I’ve not got listening to the podcast and hopefully as a result some of those cruising sailors who find themselves owning a cruising boat and getting a bit of taste for racing or cruising further afield and are thinking about what to do next sails-wise, hopefully this helps them along the way with making that sort of next step decision and improving their sail inventory and ending up at a much better place as a result. 

Rob White: Absolutely. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: So thanks Rob. 

Rob White: Thank you David. 

Ocean Sailing Podcast: Good luck with your continued cruising around the Tasmanian coast. 

Rob White: Thank you.

Interviewer: David Hows