Much of this article is based on information from Brian Hancock’s Maximum Sail Power.
Sails serve a lot of purposes. Due to this there are a variety of manufacturing methods and cloth options. An inland daysailor will have different needs than a grand prix offshore racer. This article discusses the different cloths that are available.
The types of sail cloth fall into certain categories. These categories are defined and then specifc fabrics are discussed.
Liquid Crystal Polymers- A liquid in which the molecules are oriented parallel to each other resulting in birefringence and interference patterns visible in polarizing light. The polymer is the high molecular weight structure embedded in the liquid.
Vectran-Fits in below techonra in strength and stretch. Has a higher cost than Kevloar or Spectra.
PBO- The worst in handling UV it is the best in resisting stretch. This product is used in top end, top price racing sails.
Carbon Fiber- A manufacturer calls it “an extreme performance laminate”. In summation it is very good, very expensive and very fragile.
Aramids which are, “A manufactured fiber in which the fiber-forming material is a long chain synthetic polyamide having at least 85% of its amide linkages (-NH-CO-) attached directly to two aromatic rings .”
Technora- Stronger than kevelar although a bit more stretchy. You’ll recognize technora for it’s black color. The black is the UV shield. Trivial but interesting: technora is 8 times as strong as steel.
Kevlar- The height of tech at one time, now a notch or two down from carbon fiber or PBO. Light weight and low stretch, used mainly in racing sails.
Nylon- Mainly used for Spinnakers. It’s light weight but has problems with stretch.
Dacron/Polyester- Dupont originated Dacron and took sailmaking from using flax and cotton. This is a woven cloth. The cloth of choice for most sails.
Polyethelenes- A type of plastic.
Spectra- High strength, low stretch and resists UV well. Used successfully for applications such as the Vendee Globe and Around Alone.
Pentex- A low stretch version of Dacron, often used in laminates with other cloths. This is a polyethelene, as listed above.
If you’re not a racing sailor, then the woven cloths maybe sufficient. If you’re an offshore cruiser then you may want to look at some of the polyethelenes. The aramids and liquid crystal polymers will be of interest mainly to racing sailors. Further infomration can be gleaned by using the links below.
You can combine this cloth knowledge along wit specific manufcaturing techniques such as 3DL Fusion, Ultra and D4 for racers. If you are a cruiser products like Vision, Stackpack Passagemaker or Norlam maybe your sweet spot.
Sail Cloth information & Sailmaking Encyclopedia
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