Andy Pag saves thousands of pounds on a replacement by mending his shredded sail himself using a domestic sewing machine
Pop-Zzzzipp it went. I looked up to see my trusty spinnaker flailing in shreds. I loved that sail.
Everyone loves a spinnaker, but I really loved this one for several reasons.
Firstly I got it free, given away because it was so raggedy. Who doesn’t like free stuff? But the fact it was free meant I wasn’t afraid to use it.
It wasn’t a precious £3,000 sail that I was too scared to put up. So I used it a lot.
On a catamaran, we don’t need a pole to fly a spinnaker which simplifies things considerably.
We fly it off the windward bow and control it with just two lines, a guy and a sheet. So simple that I even use it when sailing solo.
And it stops all the flogging and creaking that comes with light wind sailing under white sails. The boat is quiet and the movement restful.
I called it the ‘Storm Spinnaker’ because I wasn’t afraid to keep it up as the winds built.
It was a bit too small for my boat, and the fabric was old and porous so it coped with a bigger wind range.
But there was always a bit of anxiety as I never knew how far I could push it.
Every spinnaker has an apparent windspeed which will create the breaking strain that will blow its seams out.
I left mine up as I rounded a headland and turned onto a broad reach, thoughtlessly neglecting just how much the apparent wind speed would increase now that I wasn’t moving downwind.
Another thing I loved about this asymmetric is that it was usable with the wind directly behind, round to 90°.
With the anchorage in sight, I kept sailing, eyeing the wind gauge. I was looking down when it blew out.
A gust of 18 knots was the answer I hadn’t wanted to find out. The ‘pop’ was the head seam separating in one instantaneous failure.
The zzzzip was the consequent rips of 12m down each side almost to the base.
I wrestled the fabric inboard, and motored to port, contemplating the value of this sail wasn’t the zero pounds I paid for it, but the £3,000 I’d now have to shell out to replace it.
Making my own spinnaker repair
I showed it to the local sail loft who looked unsure if I was playing a practical joke on them.
Why would anyone want to spend money on repairing this tattered rag?
I think of the ripstop nylon as having three phases of life.
The first is when it’s new. It’s so crinkly you have to raise your voice to be heard over the rustling it makes as you stuff it in a bag.
The second phase is when it’s quietened down but still passes the wet finger test: the moisture from a healthy dollop of spit on your finger won’t show through.
With age, it will start to show wetness along the chequered lines and your spinnaker is entering old age.
When the wetness shows through an area of fabric, as mine did, it needs palliative care.
The wind will blow through it and the fibres are weak. If it breaks now, it’s time for the undertaker, not the sailmaker.
Paying someone to repair a rip this big made no sense.
The technique to repair a spinnaker rip is relatively simple.
You tape it with ripstop nylon repair tape on both sides and then stitch it on either side of the repair.
However, if you don’t get the fabric perfectly flat it will create creases and stress points in the fabric which can become a point of failure.
It’s a tricky enough job on a small rip, but on my 25m rip it’d need a sail loft sewing floor where the whole rip could be laid out and everything lined up correctly for taping to avoid any pinch points.
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There’s another challenge; the sticky tape is notoriously un-sticky!
So by the time you’ve taped it, flipped it over, taped the back side and then moved it to your sewing machine, there’s a good chance the tape has come unstuck in places.
This is especially true in a cold climate.
A recognised trick is to apply a bit of contact adhesive to the fabric before taping.
This allows you to manhandle the sail over to your sewing machine and be confident the tape will still be stuck.
No need for a sail loft floor.
The tape is expensive. The cheapest rolls I could find were £45 for 25m. And I needed two rolls as I had to tape both sides.
Along with a bottle of glue, brushes and UV thread, the materials bill came to just over £100.
To tape you need a flat surface and somewhere dry with no wind. Avoid anything abrasive or hot, like tarmac in the sun.
Doing it on grass is no good as you’ll end up with clumps of vegetation stuck in the tape.
Finding the perfect spot took a while and, in the end, impatience got the better of me and I started doing the job on a boatyard concrete floor.
The first step is to line up the rip as accurately as possible.
I used seams that crossed the rip, or kinks in the rip as reference points to stay aligned over the length of the rip.
The curvature of the sail means it’s like laying out a grand circle on a flat chart.
There has to be some stretching and over the big distance that translates to some tension.
I weighed the fabric down with blocks of wood and dive weights to keep everything in position.
Once lined up, I marked lines across the rip every metre or so, so I could work the repair in sections. Then came the glueing.
Even though I swept the concrete before I started, I ended up with a few spots of fine gravel sticking to the contact adhesive.
Luckily I found a nice wooden deck floor to move to, and because it was marked out I didn’t need to have the whole sail stretched out.
The contact adhesive has the advantage of sticking the fabric to the ground too, which helps align it before you lay the tape down on it.
You just have to remember to carefully lift it off the ground before the glue cures.
A stitch in time
Sewing fabric this thin is a doddle for a domestic machine.
I used UV-rated polyester thread and a tricot stitch, like a zigzag but with an extra stitch halfway between zags.
It’s stronger than a simple zigzag but gives the same flexibility, not offered by a straight stitch.
It’s a judgement call balancing the stitch strength with how many holes you put in the fabric.
You don’t want to create a perforated line for the next rip, but while you’re sewing in the tape the old fabric is strengthened.
Over the 25m rip, there are inevitably a few spots with tiny pleating, but overall the repair looked pretty good, and when inflated the sail is smooth.
Maybe now the breaking point is over 18 knots apparent. Hopefully I won’t find out.
Enjoyed reading Spinnaker repair: how to do it yourself?
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