Keven talks sails: The Main thing

Ontario 32 Main

Oct 22, 2020

CUST “Hey, I need a new mainsail, what should I get?”

SAILMAKER “What type of sailing do you do?”

CUST “I have a J/32, do weeknight JAM races and thinking about LOSHR and some club point to point events and a few weekend trips to NOTL and hopefully a Thousand Islands tour next year.”

SAILMAKER “That sounds like an ambitious season. I really like the J/32, decent down below and overall nice handling boat.

CUST “I had a Dacron main that came with the boat, I was reading that they don’t last very long and would be really heavy….”

This is a typical conversation during the off-season at the sail loft. This is where I pull up a price sheet and a list of different sail cut and cloth options on the computer.


Over the past 20 years, sailcloth has really improved. We saw the maturation of laminated sailcloth development, with high modulus fibres such as Kevlar, Technora, Spectra, Carbon Fibre and even hybrids like Cuban Fibre. We had custom laminated loadpath sailcloth, offered in many forms, and in some cases laminated by the same sailcloth makers that made the roll goods and woven cloth.

For all of the improvements in these laminates, good old woven cloths have also been moving toward higher performance versions. Most cloth makers have included newer polyester formulations with less stretch, more durability, and properties that allow is to be woven tighter than ever before.

Keven PiperKeven shows roll of Dimension Polyant OD180 for dinghy race mains and some other yarn tempered Dacrons

As well as better yarns, the cloth makers (Challenge Sailcloth in the US, Dimension Polyant in Germany, and Contender Sailcloth in Holland) have embraced computer controlled air shuttle weaving looms that give better control of tensions of the yarns when weaving. They use this technology to make tighter weaves, and reduce warp crimping for special radial oriented cloths.

The cloth makers are also carefully developing new formulas of resin finishes to stabilize the sailcloth from stretching and provide anti mildew and UV protection. I’ve had many conversations with the cloth makers on what changes they made when we see a marked improvement in our in house cloth testing program that has a data base going back over 40 years now. The three major sailcloth makers I mentioned all make a wide range of sailcloth, and all of them have economy low performance materials and top shelf premium cloths. For an enthusiast sailor like this J/32…..

SAILMAKER – “Let’s look at a High Aspect premium cloth like Contender High Aspect, Dimension’s Strong Fill, or Challenge Marblehead High Aspect….. any of them will be great. Now while we are doing the main, I have another important question – “Have you thought about a track system for the boat while you are considering a new main?”

Next column we will discuss the advantages and reasonable costs of a new luff track system.

Keven Piper – Sailmaker, Bay Sails, Hamilton, Ontario

Keven Piper, two-time Shark 24 World Champion, founded Hamilton, ON-based Bay Sails in 1998.

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