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.
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
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