At the end of the sailing season sails should be washed and inspected carefully for damage, including small tears, stitching failure, ultraviolet damage, stains and mildew.
- Check the sails for tears, cracks or signs of chafing, especially where they may come into contact with the spreaders, fastenings, exposed split pins, cotter pins or sharp edges around the mast. Look for wear along the foot of headsails, especially where they overlap the shrouds.
- Check that sail slides are in good condition and securely attached to the sail.
- Check the condition of the headboard, batten pockets, Cunningham and outhaul rings – look for chafed or broken stitching.
- Check seam stitching is in good condition and not degraded by UV damage. Mark any defects with vinyl tape.
- Check the battens are in good condition and remove these before winter storage.
- Check headsail UV strips are in good condition.
- Check the sail covers are in good condition.
Rinse your sails thoroughly with fresh water to remove all traces of salt and dirt and clean with a mild soap solution. Salt crystals are damaging to sails as they cause chafe, so the simple act of rinsing them will help to prolong their life. As well as damaging the sailcloth, salt also corrodes the fittings sewn to the sails.
Avoid heavy scrubbing of the sails or the use of harsh chemicals as this will damage the sailcloth coating.
Make sure the sails dry thoroughly before storing them for the winter – it is best to air dry them on a calm, sunny day outside, keeping them supported clear of the ground. If they are stored damp then they will attract mould.
Note that sailmakers advise owners never to wash sails in a washing machine. There are a number of reasons for this including that a sail’s finish will be irreparably damaged by putting it through a washing machine, fibres will be broken down and the sail weakened, UV inhibitors will be destroyed, exposing the sail to UV damage and the sail’s shape will be distorted, resulting in poor performance.
Tip: Rinse sail bag zippers and lubricate with silicone spray.
It is always best to remove stains as soon as they occur, however it is almost inevitable that a sail will have a few unsightly stains at the end of a sailing season. If using cleaning fluids, always double check first with your sailmaker which products are harmful to your sailcloth and which are ok to use as chemical solvents and detergents can destroy the material integrity of a sail.
Here are a few tips on how to deal with stains:
- Rust – wet the affected area and soak with lemon juice for about an hour and then rinse. Oxalic acid is another option but it needs careful handling – mix 15g of crystals in 300 ml of warm water.
- Blood – blood stains can be removed with soap and water. If this doesn’t work try diluted oxalic acid (see for rust above) and rinse well.
- Mildew – soak the stained area in a mild bleach solution, scrubbing lightly with a soft brush or cloth. Leave it for a while and then rinse with plenty of fresh water. Do not use bleach on nylon, aramid or laminated sails. Lemon juice will also remove mildew.
- Oil and grease – rub the stain with a soft brush soaked in acetone. Then rinse and apply a mild soap, taking care to scrub the sail gently as excessive scrubbing will damage it. Also try hand-cleaning jellies used by car mechanics, such as Swarfega. Rub into the stain and scrub with warm water and soap. Then rinse well with clean water.
Sail care tips
- Flogging – do not allow sails to flog as this will reduce a sail’s lifespan very quickly by the constant and rapid side to side motion. When motor sailing avoid steering into the wind and instead allow the sails to fill even if this means tacking. Better still, if heading into harbour, drop the sails completely and continue under engine.
- Chafing – use tape or sail patches to protect the sails from sharp edges and fittings that might rub on the sails.
- Flaking – when flaking or folding a sail do not always follow the same crease as this will cause damage to the sail. Note that rolling a sail rather than flaking a sail will prolong its life.
Avoid folding sails on the same fold lines to prevent small creases from becoming permanent. They are best left loosely rolled with nothing heavy on top of them.
If you are storing your sails at home, they should be kept in well-ventilated clean conditions. Moisture increases the risk of mildew developing.
Watch out for pests including rodents and insects.
When it comes to sail repairs, this will depend on your sailmaking skills. Areas of a sail which are not under too much load can be repaired at home by someone who knows what they are doing – examples being batten pockets, hanks and slides. Repairs to critical areas such as the clew, tack and head rings are usually left to the professionals who use specialist equipment.
Re-stitching a seam
While major sail repairs are usually carried out by sailmakers, it is possible for re-stitching to be carried out by hand, preferably after a little bit of practice on an old or scrapped sail. This entails following the old needle holes using sailmaker’s needles and strong polyester thread and a sail repair kit which will include a sailmaker’s palm, sail repair tape, needles and thread:
- Use double-sided tape to hold the sailcloth in place while doing the repair.
- Anchor the thread with a few stitches through two existing holes.
- Work along the seams with the needle and thread, following the existing holes in a zig-zag direction.
- Stitch back in the opposite direction to complete the other side of the zig-zag.
If you missed Part One of this article, you can read it here: Sail care and maintenance – part one.