Hanging out at the sail loft

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At the end of 2015 we decided it was time for a new mainsail. As you may remember, we did some exhaustive research on the topic.

After talking with all of the sail makers we finally decided to go with Banks Sails, both because they matched the 10% seasonal discount all the other companies were offering  and because they are the only sail loft still doing all the cutting and sewing right here in Kemah.

Trent, Keith and Chris at Banks invited us to watch them cut out and sew our sail, but unfortunately that happened the same week as Mary’s accident, so we had to take a raincheck. However, we finally got a chance to visit and watch them working on some other projects.

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Trent showed us how each sail is designed on the computer. The design is then split into panels, which are plotted onto a roll of sail cloth in a pattern that will minimize waste.

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The seams are marked and the panels are cut out on the big machine at the back of the loft.

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Then the pieces get stitched together. The entire floor of of the loft is raised to table height and the sailmakers sit in pits, which are the actual floor of the building.

We had one tiny issue with our new main. During our second time out, the slug on the clew popped out of the track.

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By the time we got back to the boat the next weekend, Banks had already replaced the slug with a larger one and added a velcro loop just as an extra precaution.

It feels good to support a local business, and we’ve been so happy with their service, they’re now helping us design a new stack pack and bimini for Gimme Shelter.

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Banks will be at the Southwest International Boat Show at South Shore Harbor March 17 – 20, so stop by and ask  Trent his trim secrets. There’s a rumor that if he’s on your boat during a rum race, you’re guaranteed to win.

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What does it cost to replace the mainsail?

Gimme Shelter is a 1982 O’day, and she still has her original mainsail. Yes, our main is 33 years old and so baggy that you could probably cut a storm jib out of it, re-stitch, and never even notice the material was gone.

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Unfortunately there is no cheap way to replace a sail. Sure, you can scour eBay and resale shops for used sails approximately the same size that might be in slightly better condition, but you’re still going to spend several hundred dollars and wind up in the same boat as you were before (both literally and metaphorically).

Therefore, I’ve begun the quest for Mary’s Christmas present by contacting several sail lofts in the area and overseas. Locally I contacted North Sails, Quest Sails, and Banks Sails. We know at least one person who has had sails made by each of those shops. Nobody gave any of them absolutely glowing reviews, but nobody gave them poor reviews. It was generally something like, “Well, I wanted local support and service, so I went with X, but they measured the Y wrong the first time, but they fixed it, and it turned out really nice in the end. I’d use them again.”

Yes, we heard tales of both a strong track being mis-measured by one company and a sail cover being mis-measured by another company. Both companies fixed the issues, but on the sail cover you can definitely see where it originally ended, then they stitched on another 18″ of fabric to make it reach the end of the boom.

To give you perspective of the sail size versus cost, our current sail has a 37’4″ luff, 11’6″ foot and a 39′ leech. A quote request was made to six different sail lofts with the following specs:

  • A new cruising mainsail for an O’day 34
  • P (height of mast from boom) = 38′
  • E (length of boom) = 11.75′
  • 2 reef points
  • Bolt rope foot
  • Logo
  • Sail numbers

Here are the results we got from the local lofts:

Quantum Sails (10% seasonal discount) $2,037.09

Construction: Designed using Quantum’s, iQ suite of computational tools, constructed from Charter 7.0 CC woven polyester. Cross Cut panels are laser cut, and assembled with oversized, tear drop shaped corner and reef patches, wide seams with triple throw stitching, extra layering and extensive reinforcement of high load areas throughout, with multiple webbing straps, stainless steel rings or Rutgerson press rings at head, tack, clew and reefs.

Includes: Hand sewn luff and foot hardware, spreader patches, pre-stretch or high modulus leech and foot cords with cleats and purchase systems as necessary, telltales, draft stripes, cunningham, sail ties, drawstring sailbag, 1 Full, 3 Mid Batten Pockets, RBS Epoxy 15mm Battens, Reefs (2), 2 insignias, 4 sail numbers

North Sails (unspecified seasonal discount) $2,170

2 standard reefs, 1 full batten, 3 leech battens, cunningham, integral foot skirt, insiginia

Banks Sails $2,230 – $2,685

We’d like to thank you for the opportunity to build a new mainsail for your O’Day 34. Our Cruisemate Plus would be great performing sail for your boat. Your sail would be constructed from Dimension Polyant’s OC, CB or AP cloth. This is a superior woven Dacron material that surpasses the longevity and performance of other cloth manufactures. The biggest difference between them is that the AP has more of a UV inhibitor (like sunscreen) to help it last longer, a slightly tighter weave and the highest quality yarns available on the Market. Dimension’s QA procedures grade their yarns in 3 categories (A, B & C). ‘A’ yarns are used in the warp and fill of the AP cloth. Our prices also include custom measurement and design to provide a guaranteed fit to your boat. Additionally, unlike other lofts, you would be welcome to stop by during construction and see your sails being put together. Also, if you have any specific thoughts about the design of your sails you can talk/visit with Trent, our designer, to have input on the sail design to get the exact performance that you desire. Also removal/disposal of your old sails and installation of your new ones are included as well. We are the only loft in the area doing 100% of the work right here in Kemah!

  • Cruisemate Plus Main Sail: Crosscut Cost
  • Mainsail @ 257 sq/ft, 4 Full Battens, and 2 Reef Points
  • 308 OC Cloth @ 7.0 oz (Standard) $2,230.00
  • 301 CB Cloth @ 7.0 oz (Upgrade) $2,415.00
  • 280 AP Cloth @ 6.5 oz (Superior) $2,685.00

Here are the responses from the overseas sailmakers:

Rolly Tasker  $1,570

Standard Mainsail Coastal Cruising                                                   US$

  • 7 oz US Dacron Crosscut                                           1,168.00
  • Luff 38:  Foot 11.75:  Area 250 sq ft 
  • 2 reefs                                                                            180.00
  • Logo (both sides)                                                             60.00
  • 4 numbers both sides                                                       48.00
  • 1 sail UPS door to door USA                                          114.00

Hyde Sails Direct $1,313 – $2,915

Note: The Hyde website has a huge database of vessels, and you can just choose your boat model and then spend hours selecting fabrics and adding all the bells and whistles to your sail. The breakout below was the the Cruising Mainsail (Challenge Hi Modulus Dacron) option with full battens.
Sail Cloth: Challenge Hi Modulus HA 7.3 Dacron
Design: Crosscut
Wind Range: Usually under 20 knots, occasionally to 25
Reefs: 2
Batten Type: Tapered Fiberglass
Battens: 4 full battens
Trim Stripes: Yes
Free Shipping
$1,628.00

Then there was the Do-It-Yourself option. We also got a quote from SailRite for a mainsail kit.

SailRite (10% custom discount) $1,126.48

Obviously the big catch to this option is that Mary would have to sew it together, which means purchasing a much heavier duty sewing machine. I’m not going to make her assemble her own Christmas present, but it is worth noting that if you wanted to make your own sails, the cost of the mainsail kit and a SailRite sewing machine is about the same as having your sails made by a local loft — but when you’re finished you still have a SailRite machine for the rest of your projects.

O’Day 34 Main Kit, 8.4oz SC Dacron, crosscut, two rows of reef points, 2+2 full battens, RBS tapered E-glass batten set, leechline, boltrope on luff and foot, slugs on luff, outhaul slug at clew, P 38’, E 11.75’
Subtotal $1,225, Custom Discount -$122.50, Shipping (UPS Ground) $23.98

As you can see, the difference in price between our local lofts is negligible, $2037 – $2,230. Yes, Banks came in highest, but they bid 4 full battens while the others bid 1 full, 3 leech battens. All of them offer a 1 year warranty on their sails.

However, the mail-order sails do create significant savings — they’re almost as cheap as a SailRite kit. The scary part with the overseas sail lofts is that if it doesn’t fit correctly, I could be looking at hundreds of dollars spent and weeks of waiting to ship it back to them for alterations. On the other hand, if the mail-order sails do fit, we’d have enough money left over for solar panels or a nice chunk of change to put towards upgrading the autopilot. Is it worth the gamble?

I’m continuing my research. I have to decide by Friday if I want 4 full battens, 2 full battens and 2 leech battens, or 1 full batten and 3 leech battens. Then I have to pick a sail loft and pull the trigger.

What would you do?