Knowing how to patch up a sail can get you home safely, extend your cruise and save you money. Rob Kemp at Kemp Sails talks Rachael Sprot through sail repair essentials
Fixing a tear
A big tear in the body of the sail looks dramatic but is easy to fix. Don’t use sail repair tape – PSA adhesive backed sailcloth is much better than standard sail repair tape and it comes in large areas.
Clean any salt off and dry the sail, then put it on a flat surface – the deck, pontoon, or a wooden board. Cut a large patch with generous surround as this is where the strength comes from. Round off the corners to prevent peeling. Don’t sew the patch, as this adds a line of perforations which can weaken an older sail. Only stitch or use other glues as a last resort.
To stick on the patch, peel the backing off one edge, then gradually work the rest of the patch on, being careful not to introduce any creases.
Glue works with heat and pressure, so give it a good hard rub once you’re done and this will help it to adhere. Repeat the process on the other side too. This technique will work on laminate sails as well as dacron ones.
Fixing mast sliders
It’s easy to break mast sliders, particularly if the kicker gets left on during reefing. Some boats attach the slider above a reef point with bungee, which can snap rather than damaging the sail or slider.
If the slider has broken, it’s good to have spares on board. These can be snapped on with a pair of pliers, or shackled. Failing that, use some loops of 12mm webbing to sew it on. Make sure that the slider has the same stand off the mainsail as the other sliders so it takes an even amount of load. Stitch along the side of the loop, not across the middle, so that the slide can articulate fully which will stop if jamming. To finish, tie a loose knot in the thread, then split the end of the thread and pull apart to slide the knot tight against webbing.
Reefing spectacles can make reefing on a ramshorn a lot easier, which can loop over the ramshorn without distorting the sail.
Pass some 25mm webbing through the hole in the sail. Feed the other o-ring on and feed it back through the sail and repeat two or three times. Set your length at this point – longer for higher up the sail to get past the sail stack. Sew several loops securely on side, at each end and in the middle.
You could also consider adding a Wichard style clip onto your ramshorn (any fabricator can do this), to stop the reefing eye slipping off.
Other quick fixes
Cover areas of chafe with adhesive patches, particularly where battens touch the rig. Battens can wear through pocket ends; a plastic pocket end can be bolted through the sail to secure. Leechline cleats also need replacing occasionally, so carry spares, and bolt rather than rivet them on. A Velcro clew strap can also help take leach loads and prevent tearing.
Sail repair tool kit
- PSA sticky back fabric – much better than standard sail repair tape
- Adhesive fabric discs
- Sailmaker’s palm – a good quality one will stop the needle slipping and stabbing you
- Scissors – cloth shears and splicer’s scissors for cutting dyneema
- Wax hand sewing thread and needles
- Webbing – reels of 25mm and 12 mm
- Nuts and bolts – for attaching sail fittings
- Leechline cleats
- Spare sail slides and shackles
- Fid and bradawl – hammer through the sail to make holes for any heavy stitching
- A good pair of pliers – to help pull the needle through
- Cigarette lighter – for sealing the threads.
- Double sided sticky tape – to hold pieces in place rather than pinning
- Batten pocket ends
- Spare vertical battens for furling sails, and batten joining kits
- Velcro webbing
- Dyneema – string for lashing repairs
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