Buying a secondhand sail. (see the end of this guide for; Selling a Sail.)
For a complete list of sails forsale, see any of my ebay items forsale ads. Scroll down to end of the ad and click on the link.
Will the sail fit your setup? Do you need a boltrope, luff slugs or slides. Do you need top racing performance, or is reliability top of your list? Are you willing to persevere with a cheaper sail that may not be as reliable and will require more frequent repair? How can you tell how good the cloth is on a second hand sail? These questions I hope to shed some light on in this guide. If you are not familiar with terminology, such as luff, leech, foot, clew, tack, head etc then have a look at Wikipedia- "Parts of a sail". If you have a sail you want to replace, then measure up the old one. ie Luff, leech, and foot measurements. If you don't have an old sail, then you will have to hoist a tape using your halyard. Measure off the maximum luff possible. Swing the tape to where the clew will be, and take another measurement. The last measurement you need is the foot length. If you can come up with a range of measurements that would be acceptable, (eg luff 10m to 11.23m) then that improves the chances of finding the sail you are after, without resorting to cutting down a larger sail.
HEADSAILSjib or genoa, #1 (number 1) largest area for light winds, #2, #3, #4, stormjib etc staysail.
How does your headsail connect to the forestay? Does it use piston hanks to clip onto the forestay? In this photo the eyelet through which the piston hank is attached is corroded and is breaking away. This indicates that the sail has been subject to damp, that has accelerated corrosion. This problem may not require fixing, especially if the sail is nearing the end of it's useful life. Take a look at all the eyes on the sail, the clew eye, tack, and head. Some types are more prone to corrosion than others.
Is it a roller furler with a spar fitted to the forestay or is it a wire furler? Wire furlers are most common on small yachts, trailer sailers and dinghy's, and don't have a spar. If the furler has an aluminum (or similar) spar, then the first thing to consider is, what size boltrope does the sail require so it can be feed it into the spar. There is quite a range of sizes ranging from 2.5mm up to 12mm with 5 and 6mm being the most common. If you buy a sail with the wrong diameter bolt rope on it, you will have to spend money on getting the correct size and having it fitted to the sail. This can cost $100 to $200+ depending on the size of sail. If you have a section of spar, see what is the largest size of drill bit you can fit into the track. That will tell you the maximum size of boltrope you can tolerate. Similarly, if the boltrope is too small, it may pull out of the track while sailing. Measure the boltrope retaining gap. The gap plus a few mm for safety margin will give your minimum boltrope diameter.
HOW TO TELL HOW GOOD THE CLOTH AND STITCHING ARE.
The first indication of the condition of a sail is how many repairs does it have? If it has none and none required, then it's a good chance you are looking at a sail in above average condition. I rate these sails very good or better, (7 out of 10 or better) and generally regard these as still having the strength and reliability for racing, or off shore cruising. I will talk about specialized racing sails later.
Many sails offered forsale do have repairs and this requires a bit more investigation. Occasionally a sail that is very good or better will have damage, but it is not hard to recognise a newish sail. Another telltale sign is the condition of the stitching. Are there any broken stitches? The leech seams are a classic place to look for this. Have the seams already been restitched? If so you are probably looking at a sail that is coming closer to the end of life rather than the beginning. If the leech tape is starting to part from the sail then this confirms the end of life assessment. A very good test to perform on any hole or cut on a sail is to rip a little bit more of the rip and see how much strength is in the cloth at that point. You will often find about as much strength as in a piece of tissue paper. Compared this with trying to rip a piece of new sail cloth and you will see the difference. I rate a sail like this at 2 to 3 out of 10, and being more suitable as an awning or BBQ shade, drop sheet, carport duties etc.
Another sign of wear is what I call leech line exposure. It is common on mainsails, jibs and genoas too. It is where the sailcloth surrounding the leech line is chaffed and the leech line can be seen; This is usually a forerunner to more serious failure, such as the sail ripping right across to the luff, and many of these sails I would rate as fair to average condition 4 to 5 out of 10 rating.
RACING SAILS AND HIGH PERFORMANCE CRUISING SAILS.
Perhaps the easiest way to understand the benefit of a laminated sail, compared to a woven sail, is the effect of crimp. A woven fabric has 2 threads. The warp and the fill. The warp is the thread that runs the whole length of the woven roll. The fill runs across the roll and usually has less crimp. Crimp is the snaking effect when one tread is woven across another. When force is applied to a woven fabric, the crimp allows the fabric to stretch. So when you design the sail you orient the line of maximum force to fill line to minimise stretch. With a laminated fabric, the is no weave and therefore no crimp, so the fabric does not stretch as much under load. The down side is that the warp and the fill have to be glued together and the the glue may not hold them together as well as the weave did. Often a clear plastic material called mylar is used to glue the components together. This stops the wind from getting thou the sail and allows for very light weight sails with excellent performance. The mylar film is not as tough and durable as a woven fabric, and is more vulnerable to fatigue, which can lead to a shorter life, compared to to the traditional woven sail cloth.
Sail cloth engineers can design many different cloths with the strength oriented in the warp direction, allowing for tri-radial sails which maximise the strength of the cloth to align to the requirements of the sail at each corner of the sail. A fiber is often used on the bias to stabilise the cloth similar to a cross-brace on a steel bridge. See an example of this 2 pictures below. I know that I have become a bit confused with all the different types of cloth on the market now.
The following types of fiber have become common in racing sails. The numbers relate to the modulus or strength of the fiber. High modulus means low stretch;
Nylon, modulus 47,
Polyester trade name Dacron (most cruising sails are made out of this, durable, cost effective), modulus 100,
Polyester (Pentex) modified to stretch 60% less, modulus 250,
Kevlar, note the brown paper-bag colour, (trade names, including Twaron), modulus 850,
Spectra (Hood spectra is the blue stuff you may have seen around and Dyneema (Spectra is more uv and moisture resistant than kevlar), modulus1200
Carbon fiber, modulus1800.( I got these modulus figures out of a Bainbridge Leaflet) This picture is from a Farrier F28R. Carbon fiber is so strong that very little is used. Note that carbon fibers are black, but polyester and Technora fibers are commonly dyed black in modern laminates. This makes it difficult to know exactly what you are looking at in a secondhand sail. But then all these modern fibers are so super strong it probably doesn't matter. The incidence of new composite materials turning out to be a disaster, are very few these days, as the industry learns from it's mistakes. If you buy a racing sail, then try to save it for racing only. It's harder to do with a large main. What are you going to do with it when not racing? It's in this situation where high performance cruising sails come into their own. For example; cruise laminate, better performance than dacron, and still giving reasonably long life.
HIGH PERFORMANCE CRUISING SAILS.
Many people who are racing their cruising boats or want more performance, are willing to pay more to have composite sails that have more emphasis on durability than the all out racing sails. These sails often incorporate a light, durable, abrasion resistant fabric called Taffeta, often as a sandwich. The stretch resistant structural fibres are sandwiched between two layers of more durable protective layers. "Cruise laminate" is an example and has been been around for many years now, and has improved a lot since first introduced) My problem is that there are literally 100's of different cloths now available, and so its often hard to know what you are looking at. I am using a rough rule that says, if you can see through any part of the sail (except a window), or has plastic on at least one side, it's a good chance of being a racing sail, which often equates to shorter life, but higher performance until it falls apart.See here the mylar (plastic) "delaminating" from the laminate. This one is a scrim fabric stabilised with mylar which is coming adrift. (moth mainsail).
This is the tack of a #1 heavy genoa made out of cruise laminate. The sail is a tri-radial cut which maximises the benefit of the directional strength of the cloth. The structural fibers, polyester (for low cost and durability), are sandwiched between two layers of Taffeta and is a typical high performance cruising sail. When looking at buying a used cruise laminate sail, be careful to check all areas, especially leech, clew and tack, for the sandwich coming unstuck. Once it starts, it won't be long before the whole sail comes unstuck. Buying secondhand high performance sails is a lot more risky than a woven dacron (polyester) sail. If in doubt, get an expert opinion, or a 14 day money-back deal. Else, buyer beware!
Old Kevlar racing sails need particular mention as the Kevlar is vulnerable to (1.) uv breakdown, (2.) moisture. Kevlar is a brown paper bag colour in it's natural state. There is no way of knowing how much life remains in a secondhand Kevlar, so don't pay too much! I bought a secondhand kevlar jib for my racing tri and only used it for racing. After say 20+ races and only one sticky back patch, I sold it again. It will continue to perform well until one day Bang! The Kevlar will break and you might as well just throw it away. So beware of any Kevlar sails with major repairs.
Old spinnakers can be an area to tread carefully. As spinnakers age, some types of cloth, especially nylon, can weaken more than others types. A weakened cloth is usually evident in a spinnaker that has multiple major repairs. The sail itself can look quite good, especially if the repairs have been well done and colour coordinated. If you buy a cheap spinnaker, even if it is a heavy weather sail, 1.5oz or 2.2oz, it may need to be treated carefully to avoid major damage. It's heavy weather days may be over! This is often the impossible ask. As the wind rises and the boat speeds up, it's a great sensation, just leave the spinnaker up a bit longer and pop! If you can afford it, save your money for a spinnaker with few if any repairs. If you own a spinnaker, try to keep if as free of salt as you can. Salt is a bleach when dissolved in water and it is abrasive in crystalline form. These are both enemies of the spinnaker. Just rinse in a bath of fresh water is all that is needed. Don't dry it in the sun but in the shade or indoors to reduce the effect of uv radiation. Buying an old spinnaker is definitely a place for "buyer beware". If you are looking to buy a spinnaker that has a rip or cut, you can test tear strength by ripping a couple of mm more. (this goes for any sail) It can be astounding how little strength is left compared to new cloth. These oldies may only be only 5 to 10% of the cost of a new one, but if it can't do what you want it to do, it may just be a waste of money.
Spinnaker cloth weight is measured in ounces per sq yard in my listings and is a guess in many cases. 0.5oz cloth is the lightest cloth that I come across. It is a specialised racing cloth and the most expensive to buy, but does not have much value for the cruising sailor. It can not take much rough handling before incurring damage, and does not age as well as heavier cloths. It is therefore often cheap to buy secondhand, but may only be useful as an experimental kite, for light conditions only.
FREIGHT CHARGES when buying from me; alansecondsail
In most cases I have chosen the standard Australia Post rate for the following reasons. Since 1983 when I started, I have only lost one item in the post. I cannot say the same for couriers. While I do use them more often, just last month I had an item that went astray wasting a lot of time for me and the customer. The item was picked up from the depot approx one month after being sent.
Estimating the cost of freight is not an exact science. There are many instances where the cost of freight to me has been higher than what I have charged. The postal system is quite limited in the size of freight they can handle. Items that are close to the limit of acceptance will have a higher cost advertised as the only other option is the generally more expensive courier system. If an item is just over the 105cm length limit or 140cm girth, it is too large for the postal system. Sometimes refolding the item will do the trick.
Added 4th Oct 2012. Since writing this guide Aust Post has bought out the 5kg satchel with tracking. These satchels help with efficiency because they are prepaid and save time. The savings are passed onto the buyers. Many of my buyers have noticed significant freight refunds for items that have fitted into a satchel.
Thanks for reading this guide.