New year sails


As we head into 2016 Matt Atkins, Director at Kemp Sails, explains why making your sails last is important – but so too is using them efficiently. Here he lists a few of the basics you need to know.


  • Make sure the sheet leads are in the right position on the track. As a rule of thumb, the sheet’s angle should bisect the clew. With the lead too far aft, the leech will be slack when the foot’s tight. Too far forward, and the leech will be hard against the spreaders while the foot is still some way off the bottom of the shrouds.
  • Use the telltales. They will indicate whether the lead is correct. If the top windward telltale breaks first, the lead is too far aft. If the bottom one goes first, move the lead forward. Ideally, the windward telltales all the way down the luff should break (stop streaming) simultaneously when you luff gently into the wind with the sheet in tight.
  • Move the sheet lead forward when you reef the sail. As you reef a roller Genoa, the clew moves up and forward – so you will need to move the lead forward to maintain the correct sheeting angle. If you have rolled the telltales up in the sail, you can add extra sets at known reef positions. Otherwise, watch the sail – the lead needs to be moved forward if you lose drive at the top of the luff before the bottom.
  • Do not forget forestay tension. If your backstay is too slack (or the cap shrouds on a fractional rig) your Genoa will be too full – the main symptoms are excessive heel and loss of pointing ability. Try tightening the rigging. Watch the halyard tension too, in light winds you should not have any vertical creases, but as the wind builds you will need a tighter luff. When you have established the right tension for average conditions, mark across the headfoil and luff tape a few feet above the tack. That way, when the marks come into line, you are at the right point to start adjusting for more or less wind if necessary.



  • Keep the top telltale streaming. If it is not, your leech is too tight – ease the mainsheet and/or kicking strap.
  • When sailing to windward, keep the boom central until weather helm builds up. The mainsail’s leech is primarily responsible for making the boat point upwind – so keep it working. As a general rule, this means keeping the boom fairly central until the boat starts protesting through the helm, heeling too much or losing speed. Then you will need to start easing the traveller or, if you do not have a traveller, ease the sheet but make sure the kicking strap is reasonably tight.
  • Do not over-sheet. This applies to both genoas and mainsails. If the Genoa’s too tight, it will back-wind the main and you will pull the main in to compensate, resulting in too much weather helm, heel and loss of speed.
  • Use the Cunningham. It will help flatten the sail, move the draft forward and open the leech in stronger winds.
  • For easier mainsail reefing, mark the halyard at the point where you can hook the reef ring over the tack horn. This saves extra trips along the deck. Ensuring the Tack is properly secured avoids Luff damage when winding in the Leech Reef.


Prolonging Sail Life – General Tips

  • With tapered battens, make sure you insert the thin end into the pocket first.
  • Do not let sails flog – Use your Leech and Foot Lines. Letting your sails flap in the wind is one of the quickest ways of ruining their condition and shape.
  • Wash the salt out of sails. Salt is abrasive and will wear away at both the fabric and stitching. It also attracts moisture, which can quickly lead to the growth of mould and mildew.
  • Do not put sails away wet for long periods.
  • Do not scrunch sails up – Flake (fold) them along the foot without the battens in and store straight and flat.
  • Keep them clean.
  • Protect them from the sun. (Make sure your cover fits, is secure and covers the sail completely). Do not leave roller genoas on the headfoil if you are not using the boat for a while – take them down and stow them below.
  • Roll the headsail up tightly, so the wind cannot catch it (ideally over wind the sheets around the sail twice and secure both sheets and furling Line).
  • Protect sails from chafe – Beware split pins and tape them up.
  • Do not leave your sails under maximum tensions. Slacken halyards on roller reefing genoas when leaving the boat and ease the mainsail’s clew outhaul.

If you’re experiencing problems with sail trim, call or email Kemp Sails – ideally with a picture of the issue.
Wareham Sail Loft: 01929 554308
Gosport Sales & Service: 02392 808717