Sail repair for Idiots (of the capital I sort…)

4 Oct
Going up the mast to sort out the cause of a very stupid mistake…

My father has a mantra of sorts for whenever he does something really foolish- ‘Well, at least I can write about this…’ In that spirit, I have a confession to make.

A little while back a couple friends and I went out for an evenings sail and seeing as there was plenty of wind we decided to put the boat through its paces. I hadn’t yet put the rail underwater so that became the goal for the evening. Sailing close-hauled in 20+ knots with full main and genoa up it wasn’t long before we were toasting the long life of the boat at 30 degree angle of heel with wet toes and spray in our faces. Then, as we tacked came about, disaster struck. On a particularly sloppy tack the genoa caught on a spreader, back-winded, and before we had time to react there was a horrible tearing noise and the edge of the leech opened up. As quickly as we could we let go the sheets and eased the sail down, which was a bit of a struggle as it was firmly caught on the edge of the spreader. As we limped home under the main I tried to figure out what the hell had happened. We were nearly at the marina when it hit me, and damned if it wasn’t one embarrassing realization. The culprit?

Yep, I was sailing for a month with the genoa sliding across this…

Well in my defense I hadn’t thought it was quite this bad. When we were doing the rig we didn’t have any big enough cotter pins so we had briefly entertained the idea of drilling this out for a small bolt. Somehow this bolt idea stuck in my head enough that I was able to write off taping up the spreaders as something for the nebulous ‘near future’ to-do list. If it was just a nylock nut sticking out, how bad could it be? Of course it wasn’t a nut, and this is how bad it was:

That’s a rip in the genoa where around six feet long of the stitching containing the leech-line tore away from the sail. Up close it looks like this:

Time for some research on sail repair, I guess. I pulled out Don Casey’s (hope that doesn’t sting too much, dad!) ‘Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual’- a book which is a little more prone to fluff than his classic ‘This Old Boat’ but nonetheless has very good illustrations and a great section on canvaswork and sail repair (this is not to say that it isn’t a great book, only that if you’re just going to buy one you should start with ‘This Old Boat’) . As per the book I tracked down some heavy duty V-92 polyester thread (my local North Sails was nice enough to sell me a quarter-spool) and some sail tape and tried piecing the sail back together. Unfortunately the sail tape wasn’t adhesive-backed so I had a bit of a struggle getting it in place, eventually managing with a combination of double-sided scotch tape and pins. Far easier would have been to buy adhesive sail tape. I learned that sail material is quite difficult to work with and doesn’t much like household sewing tools but that they can be made to suffice.

The sail material doesn’t like to stick to the tape, nor is it easy to pin but a combination of the two worked ok
I taped and pinned a 1″ strip on both sides of the sail along the length of the tear and then put a row of stitches along each edge.
Some parts came out pretty well!

Others, rather sloppy…
It isn’t pretty but it seems very strong. I was fortunate that the tear was simple, straight, and along a seam not generally subject to much stress (barring idiocy, that is). The sewing was all done on an old Sears Kenmore- a domestic sewing machine from an era when the designation ‘home machine’ did not necessarily imply plastic junk. It’s powerful compared to today’s consumer models but was still barely up to the task – the unevenness of my stitching is because the motor would only go through the heavy material if it had a good bit of momentum, making it necessary to sew at what felt like a breakneck pace. A heavier duty machine or a bit of skill would have come in handy here but for a repair this simple neither was really necessary.
That’s the repair my toe is touching. Just humor me by pretending you need this caption to figure that out
 It may not look pretty up close but I don’t think this patch is going to open up any time soon and it blends right in from a distance. Lessons learned? First, (like most things on a boat) sail repair seems really quite easy, as long as you aren’t too concerned about looking professional. Second, it’s totally possible with home tools and an old sewing machine. But- if I were to do this again I would go a size down on both my thread (from V-92 to V-69) and my sail tape (from the six-ounce I used to a four-ounce). Doubling it up makes the repair plenty strong anyway and the machine was really struggling with what I wanted it to sew.

Of course I also went up the mast and sorted out that damnable cotter pin.
Better, though I still need to add a spreader boot up there
The view from the spreaders
… and up to the top
Southshore Marina
Actually this I did this a little while ago and have just been sailing on my jib in the meantime. This weekend we’re trying to get out to the Gulf and back in time for work on Monday so that put a bit of fire under me to finally fix the genoa and get this post up. Trip report when I come back!

 See my Index of DIY and How-to Posts

This article was syndicated from Safe At Harbour But Meant For The Sea: DIY Sailing with Paul Calder


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*. Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments Policy.

More from the AIM Marine Group