A guide to yacht sails for the sailing yachtsman
Written by Sarah Rowland
Last updated: 22/09/2016
A well-designed sailing superyacht is a thing of pure beauty: Owners, guests and shore-side admirers alike quickly fall in love with the billowing sails, the excitement of the race, and the eco-friendly nature of these imposing craft.
With good sail planning, great design and regular maintenance, these spectacular sails can be used to their full potential; after all, they are there to be used and enjoyed.
Yachting Pages looks into the various types of yacht sails fit for a sailing superyacht, and provides insight into the names, fabrics and uses of each.
A guide to spectacular superyacht sails
The main power source of any sailboat or yacht is the wind, which is captured by the mainsail and headsail to propel the boat forwards.
Types of yacht sails
The types of yacht sails include:
- Mainsail: The larger sail aft (behind) the mast, attached to the mast and the boom
- Headsail: The sail between the forestay line and the mast. Either a jib, a genoa or a spinnaker, there are several sizes of headsails: A working jib is a smaller jib that fills the space between the mast and forestay, used in stronger winds. A genoa jib on the other hand overlaps the mainsail, providing maximum power in light winds
- Spinnaker: A large balloon-type sail attached to the mast at the bow (front) of the boat, used when sailing downwind
Parts of the sail
Parts of the sail include:
- Head: Top of the sail
- Tack: Lower front corner of the sail
- Foot: Bottom of the sail
- Luff: Forward edge of the sail
- Leech: Back edge of the sail
- Clew: Bottom back corner of the sail
Superyacht sail fabrics
Sail fabrics and materials have, and continue to, develop at a rapid pace. Currently, yachts can sport anything from Dacron crosscut sails that are built for recreational cruising, to carbon & UHMPE laminates that are built for competitive racing.
Fabric options for working sails can be divided into three main categories:
- Woven fabrics: A long-lasting and cost-effective product, however, it has low shape retention and is heavier than the other available options.
- Laminated for panelled sails: Less durable overall, but offering a much better shape retention and lighter construction than woven sails.
- Laminated membranes: Built in large sections, these offer the best shape retention. They are light and durable, but they come in at the most expensive.
Sail material should be chosen to suit the specific yacht type, yacht size and the level of sailing the vessel will be doing, e.g. cruising or racing.
When choosing a supplier to fit out the masts and rigging of a superyacht, as with all yard work, it’s important to find a supplier that you have a good working relationship with. Fiona Bruce from Doyle Sailmakers said, “Your sail maker should be chosen not only on product, but on service and trust.”
There is a worldwide network of sail lofts and sail makers to choose from, each with their differing strengths and weaknesses.
The future of sailing superyachts: Eco-sailing
Every year, the sails aboard sailing yachts, and the sailing yachts themselves, are becoming lighter and more durable, allowing them to propel vessels faster and more efficiently. With wind, water and solar power already acting as alternative fuels, can we say goodbye to diesel once and for all?
Advancements and interest in green power is forever developing, with recent developments seeing wind and solar power utilised to charge the battery bank below deck.
Flexible solar panels, named PowerSails, can also be attached to sails or even incorporated into the laminate for an extremely durable alternate energy source. Weighing just 100 grammes per metre squared, each square metre is capable of generating 100 watts of power, and does not require constant direct sunlight to generate electricity.
With movement towards wing sails in performance sailing, plus the development of transom-mounted hydro generators, methanol fuel cells and wind generators, eco-sailing has never been more of a reality, with such trends perhaps soon filtering through to the cruising and production classes in some way shape or form.