You’ve put off replacing that threadbare old sail long enough. Or maybe it ripped during your last outing. Or maybe you just bought a used sailboat and it’s missing a serviceable mainsail or headsail. You want to buy a new sail but you’re not sure where from, there are so many choices. Being a stingy sailor, you can’t afford to just write a blank check. But you also don’t want invest in poor quality that won’t perform or won’t last.
A sail is a sail is a sail, unless it’s on sale
Opinions are like, well, ear lobes. Everybody’s got ’em but they’re all pretty useless. Ask other sailors what you should buy and you’re likely to get several answers, none of which are particularly helpful.
A friend of mine got his from _______ for only $_______. I guess it’s okay; I don’t know.
I get all my sails from _______ (local sailmaker), they stand behind their product if you have a problem. I would never buy a sail made offshore.
I don’t have time to look around; I just ordered one from _______. It was the easiest. They’re all the same anyway.
Ask a sailmaker and you’re likely to get answers that serve them well, but not necessarily you. They pepper their answers with “I” or “we” statements. “You” statements are rare.
I’ll come to your boat and measure it to design a custom sail that’s perfect for your sailboat.
We only use the highest quality materials and make the best sails. They’ve won races around the world.
You don’t want to buy a _______ sail made offshore. You don’t know what you’re getting. They’re cheaply made from rejected sail cloth and they don’t last. You’ll be lucky to get a year out of one.
The first problem is, there’s a little bit of truth in all the answers. You can find cheap sails online and they’re easy to order but you don’t often know in advance exactly what you’re getting. Most local sail lofts make custom sails from quality materials and stand behind their products.
The second problem is all the answers are subjective. Each is limited to the perspective of the person that made the statement. How does that help you? Should you get as many answers as possible and give the sail loft with the most positive comments your money?
Buying a sail, like buying most anything else that isn’t a commodity like gasoline should be a personal choice—a subjective decision that you make from your unique perspective, not someone else’s.
You can do that in one of two ways:
- Understand your own needs, educate yourself on how to best meet those needs, then research to find a sail that meets those needs. That takes time.
- Pick a qualified sail loft, let them draw the answer out of you and then build a sail that they think meets your needs. The key is how well the two of you understand your needs and how well they interpret those needs and incorporate them into their product.
If cost is no object to you, you can hardly go wrong with #2 if the loft is truly qualified. That rules out stingy sailors on a budget. Custom sails are expensive. You get what you pay for but we don’t have the luxury of buying more than we can afford.
The goal of this article is to help you with #1—educate you a bit to make a good decision for yourself. I’ll show you what you can expect from a budget-priced, standard mainsail made by a reputable offshore sail loft. And I’ll try to point out how and why the key features of that sail can be important to you. I’ll do that by comparing it to a mainsail like you probably have now, one made by Ullman Sails and originally included with a Catalina 22.
Armed with this information, you can decide if it’s a good fit for your needs or use it to compare with other sail lofts until you find the right fit.
Sail Anatomy 101
I bought the sail that I’m going to show you for my 1981 Catalina 22 with the standard rig. I purchased it online from nationalsails.com, who is the US distributor for Rolly Tasker Sails. Rolly Tasker was a famous Australian racing sailor (hence the boomerang in the logo) who built his sailmaking business into the largest sail loft in the world.
The sail has many standard features and is made from 5 ounce Performance Dacron from Challenge Sailcloth in a crosscut design. The cloth is slightly lighter than the 5.53 ounce cloth from which Ullman Sails makes replacement Catalina 22 sails but is still adequate, especially in lighter air. Performance Dacron is a good quality sailcloth often used on recreational cruising sails. Challenge Sailcloth is one of several sailcloth manufacturers who supply the world with sailcloth.
Class insignia and sail numbers can be added for an extra charge. A Cunningham cringle is another additional cost option along with second and third rows of reef points. The only option (at no extra cost) that I requested in my order was for a loose foot. That means it has no shelf and bolt rope built into the foot to attach to the boom slot. The sail is easier to bend on without them and the sail shape is better in the lower third of the sail.
At the time that I purchased it, the sail cost $489 plus under $25 shipping. That’s $250 less than a replacement C-22 mainsail from Ullman Sails. My sail was estimated to arrive in 5-7 weeks and was actually delivered in 7 weeks and 2 days. National Sails charged 50% upon order and the balance upon delivery.
The sail arrived neatly folded in its spacious sail bag, which is made of lightweight, rip-stop nylon.
The head of the sail features a plastic headboard and 5 layers of radial patches compared to the 3 layers of regular patches on the original sail. Radial patches distribute the tension more evenly and produce fewer wrinkles in the sail shape.
The mast slides are attached to stainless steel grommets with plastic shackles. The slides on the original sail use webbing pressed into brass grommets instead. The rounded ends of the new slides pass by mast gates better than the old square-ended slides.
The batten pockets are twice as wide as the original pockets. The openings are also larger and each is reinforced with a round patch. Tell-tales are standard. I like the easier to see darker color of them.
The plastic battens of the original mainsail had become brittle and broke into many pieces. I replaced them with fiberglass battens from that popular online Catalina parts retailer. Neither set of battens included end caps and this caused chafing in the batten pockets that required patching. The Rolly Tasker sail includes thicker, fiberglass battens with wide end caps that spread the tension of the battens in the pockets better and reduce chafing.
The luff has an enclosed bolt rope compared to the exposed bolt rope of the original sail. Both are attached with two rows of stitching. The crosscut seams of the Rolly Tasker use a three-step zig-zag stitch, the original uses two rows of single step zig-zag stitches. Both stitch types are equally strong but the three-step stitch saves manufacturing labor.
The Rolly Tasker mainsails come with one set of reef points as standard. The 7 layers of radial patches at the luff cringle are much larger than the original sail’s 4 regular layers.
The middle reef points of the Rolly Tasker mainsail are reinforced with two layers of round patches compared to the original two-layer, diamond patch.
The leech edge reef point mirrors the luff edge with 7 layers of radial patches plus webbing reinforcement in the grommet. There is also an intermediate clam cleat for setting the reefed leech line tension. The leech line in the original mainsail was not standard and I added it myself. You can read how to do this upgrade yourself in Improve Sail Shape and Performance with a Leech Line.
At the tack are 8 layers of radial patches and a two-way webbing reinforced tack ring instead of a grommet, which is easier to attach to the gooseneck. The original sail has only three layers of patches. In the picture below, you easily see the difference of the loose foot shape.
Clew construction is consistent with the rest of the sail—8 layers of radial patches and webbing reinforcement versus 3 layers of regular patches with no grommet reinforcement. The boom track slide on the Rolly Tasker sail has a metal bail lashed to the grommet with heavy webbing. The clew tip is also guarded from chafing by more webbing.
The stitching on the Rolly Tasker sail is all straight, uniform, and neatly finished. Overall quality is very good. The only place where I noticed minor corner-cutting was with the headboard and leech line cleats that have the manufacturer name of Pacific Nylon Plastics on them, which is a division of Rolly Tasker Sails. More expensive sails use aluminum or glass-reinforced headboards and Gransegel cleats made in Sweden. Considering the intended use of the Rolly Tasker sail (recreational inshore sailing) and their non-critical roles, the parts seem adequate. For example, in some sailmakers’ opinions, headboards aren’t necessary at all on cruising sails and a ring works better. That’s hard to argue with when rings are commonly used on the other two corners of sails.
Out on the water
The difference in performance between the new sail and the old sail is obvious and would be appreciated by any skipper.
Since its sailcloth isn’t blown out like an old sail, it can be trimmed flatter, which means less heeling. Air flow is also improved, which makes the sail’s performance smoother throughout the full range of sailing conditions and more predictable. It simply handles better, responds to trim adjustments better, and requires less trim tweaking than an old sail. All these improvements add up to more speed, better control, and more relaxed sailing. With proper care, it should last a good, long time.
A Rolly Tasker sail may be right for you if:
- You’re a casual cruiser or race short courses for fun with your local club. If you’re a hardcore racer, you already know that you want more performance than this and you’re willing to pay for it.
- You sail primarily in protected waters: inshore or lakes. If you sail offshore you had better know that you need a stouter sail than this and you’d better be ready to pay for it.
- You own a modern, popular, mass-production sailboat. If you own a vintage, rare, or hand-made sailboat, you need something special and a local sailmaker may be your only solution.
At one-third less than the cost of a de facto replacement sail, a Rolly Tasker sail from National Sail Supply is definitely budget-friendly. They’re well made of quality materials and offer most of the popular options you could want. That’s a good combination for a stingy sailor. I would buy from them again.
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