Who makes their own sails, and why?

Discussion in 'Sailboats' started by kroberts, Jun 21, 2010.

  1. tspeer
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    tspeer Senior Member

    Performance with a lateen will really suffer, especially upwind.

    I think it would be better to keep the existing mast and jib and go with a boomless main. Then you'd have no metal boom overhead. With a double-mainsheet system, it could be nearly as good as the existing mainsail and maybe even better if the clew were raised.
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    BATAAN Senior Member

    Reply to Questor:
    If I understand what you're saying. You're intrigued by sailing, an honestly ignorant beginner, but vaguely intimidated by the usual sailboat so want to completely re-rig a perfectly good 25 foot boat to an impractical design so you can "try it out"? Wow. What if you don't like it? Does it go in the dumpster? Because it sure won't sell.
    If you don't want to get hit with the boom, don't stand up. The fear of something that's simply not understood, not really dangerous, sounds too much like the political line of "be afraid and grasp at wildly impractical ideas".
    Don't be afraid, get broadly educated in the subject and the fear goes away with understanding. Most modern boats are crap... sailing apartments designed for sales anyway, not sailing, so of course you're confused, but don't be afraid of them.
    The seeming simplicity of lateen rig is lovely, but if it worked in a practical sense today with our small crews, you'd see it everywhere. Learning to sail in a production boat of over 8 tons, mawkishly re-rigged from its designer's very experienced and scientifically derived intent into some land dweller's notion of "easy to handle" Lateen rig, is a poor idea to be generous. All you need is a complete re-design, a new mast, move all the winches etc.... and after all that it won't work anyway and terrify you the first time you try to tack and are faced with two choices: either the sail is pinned to the mast, destroying the shape and turning it into two bags that catch the wind and hold it; or you tack the yard by hauling the forward part aft around the mast so it's on the other side. Both suck and that's why you never see lateen on anything bigger than a sailboard or a sailing canoe.
    Sailing, like flying a plane, is all about the safe landing. Humans have done it for a documented 50,000 years and in that time the survivors have learned a lot, written it down for you, and hope you'll have the sense to seek it out. If you can't be bothered to learn, you'll drown, and this from an old small-boat CG search and rescue guy who pulled too many of your bodies out of the merciless and uncaring ocean.
    If you really want to learn to sail with one sail and no boom, which is a perfectly good idea and more beginners should start this way, sail ALONE in protected waters in a 14 foot flat bottom skiff with a boom-less single sprit-sail or standing lug-sail, as seen on virtually every small (under 30 feet) fishing craft of the 15th through early 20th century throughout the Atlantic coasts of Europe and the UK, where what didn't work drowned whoever tried it out. This set-up works much better than lateen. You don't see lateen in these waters after the wars of the 18th century, when vessels with huge crews set huge lateen sails.
    Sailing alone, with a single sail, on flat water with a steady light breeze, is absolutely the best way to learn the feel of the wind, balance of the boat, and how the helm works. This is exactly the same on the biggest square-rigger, or a Catalina 27.
    For a further education avoid anything that smells at all of marketing and read all you can find from the NMM (UK National Maritime Museum) by Basil Greenhill, a very long list of books concerning working sail, down to the smallest beach-launched fishing boat. This is sailing as an economic necessity, where one learns the most efficient way by competitive elimination, versus sailing as a frivolous yachting pastime, where one learns many varied opinions from many deeply ignorant, arrogant, shallow-experienced blowhards who think they invented sailing, or at least personally advanced it greatly, while actually being very narrow of experience and vastly prejudiced in favor of the products that have been intensively marketed to them all their short, naive lives. Saturday buoy racing and the occasional ocean race do not necessarily a sailor make. A fast racer is not necessarily a good boat. The broader the experience, the more thoughtful the opinion that comes to the discussion, so just because you're so painfully a beginner, don't assume everyone knows more than you do. This forum is full of thoughtful and clever designers who really know the medium and have had their vessels pounded for years by the sea and shrugged it all off, and also many thoughtful and clever people who learn everything from books and have never launched and sailed away across the largest wilderness on earth in a vessel of their own design and build, so filter accordingly.
    The lateen rig, from which the lug is probably adapted in a very Darwinian meaning of the word, is a product of the calmer Med and the Monsoon runs to India. While both of these can be raging with weather, in general the lateen comes with a design parameter of: medieval, large crew needed, suited to easier weather and downwind use. Even Columbus changed the Nina's rig from "caravela latina" to "caravela redonda", which meant removing the fore and main lateen yards and sails and substituting square yards and sails, so I guess lateen's not that great downwind either. When I was Captain of the Nina in 2002 the lateen-rigged mizzen and jigger were a pain in the butt, didn't seem to push the boat much and were more for balance when on the wind. Nothing looks more romantic than a lateen sail billowing in beam wind, but having a yard longer than your boat walloping around aloft in a good seaway requires a short, stout mast and a vessel with the stability to carry the weight of that very long yard aloft. Few modern sailboats designed for a light aluminum mast and jib-headed sail qualify. All the sail power tries to bend the lateen yard so it must be stout enough to resist, which makes it heavy. It's very difficult to reef so not suited to areas where this is necessary. All in all, don't put a lateen sail on a Catalina 27, do learn to sail, avoid modern racing-based knowledge as a single paradigm, but rather seek out broader knowledge.
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    BATAAN Senior Member

    Reply to Tom Speer:
    Sounds very good but the sheet angle would be difficult to get right as it would have to be very far aft don't you think? Also a boomless main is really difficult downwind in light airs where it keeps collapsing.
  4. Questor
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    Questor Senior Member

    In Response to Bataan,

    I've always been fascinated with single sail boats like Polynesian outriggers and lateens. I'm 56 now and won't be in the water off Vancouver Island before June. By then I'll be 57.I've always been a scrap dealer and as part of my forced relocation, I plan to dabble in marine salvage. I plan to start buying unwanted boats locally by the end of September.I only mentioned a Catalina 27 because it is a floating camper that appeals to me. In reality I'll take anything that floats that I can get for free or salvage value.

    At some point in the next year I plan to take a shot at some form of single sail sailing that doesn't involve moving masts or custom modification of the hull.Given that I'm almost an extremist on the safety side of things I won't be going out without training on the sailboat that I'd plan to sail. I'll be studying and researching all winter. Earlier today I tried looking up Lug sails but I didn't find anything useful. After I post this I will be looking up the single sprit you mentioned. Thanks for the very exhaustive answers,
  5. Boston

    Boston Previous Member

    cool so I just ordered "the sail-makers apprentice"
    I also looked up that machine you mentioned but only found a web site filled with way to many machines to know which one you were referring to
  6. cowlum
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    cowlum Junior Member


    Hi Boston

    The sewing Machine im using is an old singer 267 from the 60's. Im sure almost all sewing machines from this period would be suitable. I have attached some pictures. Its no dedicated sail making machine but it works well. I bought it for $50NZ (25US) and I think I overpaid :)

    It requires a bit of mechanical nouse. It was working ok when I got it. A few hours of tinkering and I got it purring. A few mores hours to get the tension right (steep learning curve) and many hours after aligning and re-aligning. Its so absurdly unashamedly mechanical i actually love adjusting it. Its like Mechano. A welcome break from computers.

    Anyway. The most important part is the needle. I currently use an industrial needle size 18/110 with v69 thread. Buy a good brand like schmetz or bernina (10 industrial for $10NZ so no excuse). You must have the right size needle foe the thread. I think the sail makers apprentice outlines which size thread for dacron weights. You could use a domestic size 18 needle if you sewing machine doesnt take industrial. Industrial are just the same only a little thicker for strength. For the record my machine is not supposed to take industrial but it clamped into the needle clamp just fine. A little aligning and it worked well.

    I am 2/3rds of the way through my main now. I was using a size 16 domestic needle as on my Jib but this time was getting skipped stitches on the thicker luff tape and was havng to re-sew portions. So I went out and bought a large range of needles. Size 18 seems the best for this job, It sews well through 6-8 layers of Dacron perfectly now.

    Wish I had done this research before I started because I had to restitch parts and I wanted this sail to be perfect. Oh-well, No one else will notice but I will know where the imperfections are.

    You can see the screw driver I use as a crank handle. Got a machine shop to drill them in straight on their drill press.

    For the record, I didn't write the book on this stuff, mostly just making it up as I go. I guess learning how the mechanics of the machine work makes using it much easier.


    Attached Files:

  7. cowlum
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    cowlum Junior Member


    Regarding your comment about the facilities being important. I would agree. I have been working on the lounge floor. Its hard to do a perfectly straight stich over a long period such as the entire leach length. However at the same time its hard to miss. If you want three zig-zag stitches running the length of a seam it would be hard to stuff it up. Mock up the sail with double sided tape, staples, pins - then all you got to do is run the sewing machine over it. Getting it pretty like real sailmakers would take 'facilites', skill and experience. Practice is the key (obviously). Wish I started each of my sails with the skills and lessons I had gained by the time I had finished them.


    Attached Files:

  8. ancient kayaker
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    ancient kayaker aka Terry Haines

    There are many specialized needles available; I used one intended for jeans which worked great, also there is one with a tiny ball on the end which is great on fabrics that unravel easily. Experimenting is the key.

  9. Boston

    Boston Previous Member

    ok just got my copy of the sailmakers apprentice

    looks like a great book thanks for the suggest

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