Look after your sails and they will looks after you, insists Jonty Pearce in his latest sailing blog

The humble sacrificial strip is prepared to perform self-immolative Hari-Kari in order to preserve the integrity of our precious genoa sailcloth that lies underneath its protective wrapping. Often gaily coloured, it only reveals the benefits of its work when the sail is unrolled and its bleached edge stands out against the pristine protected area that was itself covered by overlying material.

It seems as if we only changed our genoa a mere few seasons ago, yet already our faithful sacrificial strip is fading. I know that the shade of tan that we chose can bleach faster than other colours such as blue, but I was still surprised to see just how much it had already safeguarded my foresail. A moderately sized genoa costs over £1000 to replace, so it is well worth looking after it. Even the ultraviolet rays that emanate from our weak UK sun can do huge damage to our sails and their stitching. The stronger sun of the tropics or the Mediterranean will wreak a far more destructive deterioration.

Aurial, before we bought her, had spent a year in the Med and when we took her over I was both impressed and depressed by the signs of UV damage. The first evidence of ill effects from the sun was the plastic container tied to the stern rail that the previous owners had used to store the kedge anchor chain and rode. I picked it up to move it down below and the container just fell apart in my hands – terminal UV fragility, and another client for the skip. The second victim was the sprayhood – I dared to move it and the seams started to separate. Although the material was sound, the stitching was rotten and now as much use as a chocolate teapot. In a parsimonious fit, I elected to buy a heavy duty sewing machine and re-sew all the seams with UV resistant thread rather than replace it. I hoped gain another year or two of use – I must have done a good job as that was seven years ago, though now the canvas itself is at the end of its life.

In the face of these signs of ultraviolet damage, I am surprised to see so many yachts in the marina fitted with a roller reefing genoa whose clue has not been completely furled. On Aurial, I always ensure that I not only roll the sail away but also add two genoa sheet turns to ensure its security. To leave a corner of the sail unrolled, exposing what should be one of the strongest parts of the sail to the sun’s rays, makes no sense. During the season’s gales this also gives a handhold for the wind to catch. Last season there was the very sad spectacle of a yacht moored ‘up Haven’ whose genoa had unravelled due to poor stowage, flapping itself to expensive shreds as a result.

Whilst on this thread, I am regularly reminded of the corner of mainsail that always remains uncovered by in-mast furling systems; right this moment I am looking out at my next door neighbour in Neyland. Not only is the self-tacking roller reefing foresail clue showing a foot long triangle of exposed cloth, but the in-mast reefed mainsail is displaying 18″ of valuable sail for the UV to attack and the current gale to worry. It is flogging to and fro in a force 7 from astern, and there seems no way of furling it further for protection. At least those with slab or boom reefing can hide their mainsails under sail covers, though it is wiser to remove them altogether – my next job as soon as the rain stops.

So, girls and boys, look after your sails and they will look after you. Remove them in the winter, make sure they are covered and secure in the summer, and commiserate with those whose in-mast reefing design always leaves a triangle of exposed sailcloth – let us hope such areas are double strength. And finally, give thanks for our sacrificial strips – but don’t neglect to replace them when they do finally disintegrate!


Jonty Pearce