Wednesday, 29 November 2017

What we do to extend the life of our sails

Before we flew off to Greece for our summer of fun leading a charter flotilla around the islands we made sure we had properly prepared Our Dreamtime for her time alone without us. You can see what we did here – Preparing to leave your boat for an extended period.

Apart from just normal preparedness for the unknown, we had an ulterior motive for making sure she was pretty well stripped bare. You see, we know each well enough to have realised that if the boat was sitting at the dock ready to sail when we arrived back from overseas we would have most likely said ‘Stuff it’ again and put to sea on her immediately. Then all our planned between season maintenance would have flown out the window. By having all her sails and lines off we were forced to do the right thing.

Our Dreamtime's sails had carried us thousands of miles since they were last removed from the boat for servicing.
So, after giving her a good clean and going through everything needed below decks, we began with our scheduled sail maintenance. Yes, you can just drop them off at the sailmaker’s for servicing and pick them up when their finished but every dollar we spend on a job we could do ourselves is a dollar less we have to go sailing with us.  

Our first task was to wash each sail. Now unless you have access to a swimming pool full of nice fresh, chlorine free water that you can dunk them in, don’t under estimate this job. We were fortunate to be able to use our son’s concrete driveway to do the job. The win for him was we had to very thoroughly pressure wash the whole thing first to make sure there was no dirt or oil which could transfer onto our sails.

A new, soft bristle broom was used with mild detergent to wash each sail.

We could only do one sail at a time. In fact it was one side of one sail at a time. We would start by thoroughly rinsing with fresh water. The sail was then scrubbed with a new soft bristle broom bought for the task using eucalyptus wool wash. This is a very mild detergent which will not damage the sail cloth or stitching. Another thorough rinse off completed that side and the process was then repeated on the other. Both sides were closely inspected as we went and any stitching or chaff found was noted for repair. Luckily we were able to attache lines to the garage and house to hang each sail to dry off the ground which sped the process considerably. This was important as we couldn’t start on the next sail until the previous one was dried, flaked and bagged. Being a cutter rigged ketch we had two headsails, main and mizzen to contend with. Rest assured it wasn’t all achieved in a single day.

Hanging the sails sped up the drying process considerably. The dark patches on the driveway are where it was wet not dirt.

Although the sails did appear a little whiter and brighter after our efforts, the main benefit of the washing process was removing all the ingrained dried salt which can be very abrasive. This also made the sails easier to work with when we got into the sewing side of the job.

The sun's ultra violet rays had taken its toll on the genoa's sacrificial strip.

The blue sacrificial covering on the genoa had clearly done its job of protecting the sail cloth below from the suns UV rays and was showing obvious signs of wear and damage. Rather than patching it we decided to replace the whole thing. Obviously the first task was to remove the old blue cloth. Now unless you have ever unpicked the masses of existing stitching attaching the sacrificial layer on a genoa with a 13.2 metre (43 feet) luff you have no idea of the patience required. With two of us working in tandem it still took hours and hours leaving us with very sore fingers. We found the pain could only be eased by holding a wine glass that was steadily being drained of its contents.
Unpicking the stitching on the genoa sacrificial was the most painstaking job.
We then packed everything up and moved the centre of operations to Karen’s parents house where their spotlessly clean garage became our sail loft. We had purchased a Sailrite sewing machine when we first bought Our Dreamtime and can happily say it has paid for itself a few times over with the savings we’ve made by doing most of our own sail and canvass work. The fact that Karen is a qualified tailor certainly helps. She is no stranger to sewing machines, drafting patterns and other skills that have seen her make all sorts of good stuff for the boat ranging from a new stack pack for the mizzen to storage bags for our folding bikes and even a boat cover for when where on the dock for extended periods.

New sacrificial strip under way.
The genoa is the hardest working sail on our boat and got a real going over. Replacing its sacrificial was the largest job we did on the sails but all of them received attention somewhere. The staysail only required a bit of minor restitching while the mainsail needed some work on a couple of the batten pockets as well as some reinforcing of the stitching in stress areas. As well as the usual restitching in spots, on the mizzen we also replaced some sail slides. We made sure we took the opportunity to attach new telltales on all the sails. They’re cheap and so much easier to do while they’re off.

The clew of the genoa is one of the most highly stressed things on the boat and was showing some wear.

The webbing was re-enforced and leather wear guard replaced.

Karen sewing a new leech tensioning line in the genoa.

All done and ready to refit on the boat.

Apart from the halyards, we had also removed and fresh water washed all of the running rigging before we left and when it came time to refit the sails we made sure to end for end all the lines. Putting the sails back on the boat presented a few challenges as the wind refused to co-operate. We had 6 to 12 knots blowing from the stern which gave us a few moments on the morning we put the two headsails on their furlers.  After battling those two we elected to leave the mainsail and mizzen with a plan to get up very bright and early the following morning hoping for still conditions.

Rubbing the sleep out of our eyes soon after sun up we were greeted by an almost undetectable 0 to 3 knots. Fantastic. Despite being procaffinators who are normally incapable of any action before our morning coffee, we skipped the cuppa and got straight to the job at hand. Even so, by the time we had the mainsail out of its bag and spread on deck, you guessed it, 8 knots was blowing from astern. With the foot of the sail secured to the Leisurefurl mandrel we began feeding the main into its mast track raising it on the halyard and the wind began gusting in the 10-12 range. Not fair wind gods, not fair.

Re-fitting the mizzen in its track. Despite an early start the wind was not playing fair.

It did take a bit of wrangling, wrestling, urging and cursing but we managed to get both sails re-rigged however by the time we had all the battens fitted, the main rolled away in its boom furler, reefing lines rigged and mizzen stowed in its stack pack we were seriously considering skipping our morning coffee and opening the bar. To hell with the sun needing to be over the yardarm.

Rob wrestling the mainsail in the wind as he fits the battens.

Friends who sail with us may not know the boat as well as us so we renewed all the clutch labels as we re-rigged lines.

It was all worth it though. Once we tidied up we were able to stand back take a good look at our pride and joy. Our Dreamtime looked fantastic sitting  peacefully at the pontoon with all her canvas back on, clear decks. She was ready for sea and we could have confidence in her sails to continue powering  us safely over the water.

Sails on Our Dreamtime and near ready to leave the pontoon that she'd been tied to for months.


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