Pam Says: Protect your Sails

Take good care of your canvas and they will reward you with years of performance.

I like to protect my sails aboard Kandarik as much as I possibly can. They are, after all, among the most important equipment on a sailboat!

I worked for a sail loft for 12 years, and the three most common issues we came across are UV damage, loose stitching and loss of shape.

I keep my boat in the tropics, and most of my sailing is also where the sun and its UV rays are always trying to destroy my sails. Even in colder climates, the potbelly stove I use to keep me warm below can dirty the sails with the soot and ash from the chimney.

My mainsail deserves the best care as well, and keeping it clean and out of the sun, when not in use, is the best thing I can do to keep my mainsail for many years of use. Any sail left out in the sun will eventually be destroyed by those UV rays (just like my skin!).

There is really no need to have a mainsail cover go all the way around the mast. Being a rigger's wife, I went with my husband, Andy, enough times to know that often mainsail covers that went all around the mast were destroyed by the sun so that the snaps had rotted out, the fasteners no longer worked, and the lines or velcro straps were eaten by the UV. The front of the sail cover was useless and unable to fasten tightly and securely around the mast, leaving the sail vulnerable.

So why have it go around the mast at all? On Kandarik, we made a tunnel in the front end of the mainsail cover and installed a length of 5/16-inch bungee cord. There is a slide attached to the top end of the cover to slide into the sail track, and the mainsail cover is in place where it should be — and only needs to be — around the mainsail! Rigged this way, you can get to those mast winches without taking off the mainsail cover.

Going further with sail protection, white fabric and thread breaks down faster in the sun than dark colors. Dark-colored sail covers will last longer, and consider having the stitching at the three corners of your sail — clew, tack and head — done in dark-colored thread.

Also remember a flogging sail will destroy thread and fabric as well, so keep those sails full and by as much as you can. Lightweight sails like large genoas, drifters, spinnakers, etc., are not made for heavy weather. They can stretch out of shape through keeping them up and drawing in too much wind. It is better to have some kind of heavier cloth staysail to use in strong wind conditions, than risk blowing out the lighter-weight large genoa. A removable inner forestay outfitted with a small, low cut, heavier-weight staysail is much easier on the boat and certainly will save your genoa for a longer life. A removable inner forestay, to be used with a heavier weight staysail, will need a chain plate attachment below the deck and running backstays to keep the mast in column when the staysail is in use.

Don’t forget to protect your headsail as well! First, make sure that you properly furl the sail so that none of the Dacron is showing. Don’t be lazy! For even more protection, I now have a new item that goes protects my genoa beyond the normal UV-protective Sunbrella leech and foot coverings. The easy-to-install Genoa Sleeve from ATN also protects the stitching and the Sunbrella cover. It’s another great way to protect your sail and have it last for many years.

Protect your sails from UV deterioration, keep an eye on the stitching, and use the appropriate weight and size sails during heavy weather conditions, and they will give you years of performance. My next column will have an in-depth description on the installation and use of the heavy-weather sailing removable inner forestay.

Pam Wall spent more than 10 years as an outfitting specialist for West Marine, and she now provides her expertise as a cruising consultant and seminar presenter at boat shows around the country. Pam has cruised under sail extensively, including a circumnavigation with her family aboard their 39-foot sloop, Kandarik. Check out her website at

Mainsail Cover

Mainsail Cover

A mainsail cover that doesn't go around the mast may protect your sail even better in the long run and make it easier to access the winches.Pam Wall
Kandarik with an ATN Genoa Sleeve

Kandarik with an ATN Genoa Sleeve

Pam Wall