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FAQ: Sails and Stuff

I have looked at about a dozen 34's so far, mostly 87-89's everybody says their sails are in good shape, and I gather they are all original. I'm having trouble believing that a supposedly poorly cut 10 year old sail is in good shape? Or perhaps they just mean it doesn't have any holes in it since Dacron lasts a long time. Ok, am I nuts or am I missing something? Since my sails are mine main propulsion method, and since good sails will point better and be faster on all points of sail, I think this is an important consideration. What do you think?

My perspective is that of a relative novice who purchased a 1988 C34 and has spent two years getting to know this boat (and sailing). In other words, I'm a couple of years down the road from where you are right now. My sailmaker (Quantum in Deltaville, VA) says that the sails provided with ANY production sailboat can't be expected to last more than 8 to 10 years without getting "blown out," or too baggy. You might be able to get 15 years out of a very high quality custom sail. Still, this depends on how much the boat was used, and under what conditions. My main point is this: Juliana's original sails really were "OK" and really quite adequate for my purposes in learning how to sail. Only after a couple of years of sailing did I realize that I could get better performance out of my boat. Prior to that, I was so inept at sail trim (and everything else) that I doubt better sails would have made any difference. Moreover, Juliana's stock sails did not prevent my master sailing instructor from extracting performance out of our boat that he himself stated was nothing short of spectacular. C34s are easy to sail, very forgiving, and make the most of modest sails. Once you've got the basics down, though, the finer points come into focus. Baggy sails make the boat "tender," that is, more likely to heel and round up if you're overpowered. It's more difficult to flatten the sails and, in consequence, harder to beat to weather. You get less lift (therefore less forward propulsion) and more lateral force (therefore more heeling). This is only a concern if:

  • You often encounter winds of 18-25 kts
  • You often sail to weather

Frankly, most of the cruising sailors on the Rappahannock don't sail to weather -- they MOTOR! The basic seems to be: Load up the boat with Corona, get to the anchorage ASAP, and party. If you can get the sails up occasionally, well, fine. So my point is, get your C34 with the stock sails, learn to sail, and assess your needs. You might very well be quite happy with the stock sails -- many people are! (Bryan Pfaffenberger, Juliana, #680).

Some history--If you review early (1987-89) MAINSHEET articles, you can get a taste of owner displeasure with Catalina Factory sails because the early C34s came with a main that only had one set of reef points, a hanked on 110 lapper, and were poorly cut (you had to pay extra for roller furling and a larger sail). On the Chesapeake, some dealers started to contact local sail lofts to fill their customers needs. A few years back, the Catalina Factory got the message and they are now producing a good grade of sails, not to say that you can't get a bargain shopping around. Bryan is correct--Any sail purchased 8 to 10 years ago is an old sail. It may not be baggy or blown out, but the thread has been weakened by the strain of wind and UV of the sun depending on use. My old 150 blew out the leach and was recut to a 135. A UV dacron protective strip (like I had) will not afford the UV protection of a Sunbrella strip even though it may look nicer and weigh less. Two years ago I purchased a 150 biradial cut laminate genoa and a full battened dacron main. I contacted five major lofts, listened to their pitches, and got their bids. Four of their prices were remarkably close, between $3780 and $3900. The fifth was $4410. What was amazing was that they all recommended a slightly different weight cloth (between 7.25 and 8 ounces) for the main and only two had the same square footage for the jib and all had different footages for the main. All agreed on dacron and a full batten for a cruising main, but all differed on the material and cut for a cruising jib. They all had different ideas for the full batten track cars. Two other variables were sales tax and shipping--some did and some didn't. So you can shop around, but do some brushing up on sail design and sail cloth first. By the way, the UV strip on the new head sail is Sunbrella. The bi-radial cut with a foam luff is truly a reefable sail. To complement this reefability though, you really need to install a movable  genoa car system (MAINSHEET NOV 93). This is probably one of the best sailing modifications (after a backstay adjuster) and reasonably priced items I got from Garhauer. The sailmaker I chose was Gary Gleason of Hilton Head, SC (not the cheapest). It was amazing how his sails changed the performance of my boat. I thought I had a different boat (for the better)! The original  sails were not Catalina, but were from a reputable loft. Fair winds (Ron Hill, Apache, #788)

Last modified by Phil Imhof, Wednesday, August 11, 2004 . Copyright 2001 by Catalina 34 International Association.  All rights reserved.