Struc­tural sails

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An area that most sail­mak­ers are de­vel­op­ing is code sails – fast, flat, furling­ca­pable of­fwind sails gen­er­ally de­fined as hav­ing a mid-girth mea­sure­ment be­tween 50%-75% of the foot length.

Mike San­der­son, the Kiwi Volvo Ocean Race skip­per and for­mer win­ner, last year took over Doyle In­ter­na­tional with David Duff and Richard Bouzaid, and the new man­age­ment team has big plans.

I spoke to San­der­son while he was rac­ing aboard Mari Cha IV, the maxi on which he once bagged the mono­hull transat­lantic record. He says rig­ging devel­op­ments are chang­ing how we think of sails and de­sign.

“Go­ing for­ward, there aren’t re­ally any lim­its,” he says. “When Mari Cha was de­signed we thought the limit was how big we could build a rac­ing main­sail and that was a big part of the 140ft size. But bat­ten cars, hal­yard locks, square top main­sails, out­hauls and boom claws have changed that.”

But just as rac­ing tech­nol­ogy is ‘trick­ling up’ to big yacht sizes, it’s set, he be­lieves, to come down to av­er­age yachts. He points in par­tic­u­lar to the cable-less Code 0. That, San­der­son says, is “a big idea.”

“You can have one down­wind sail for light airs, tight reach­ing to down­wind. You can ease the hal­yard and it turns into a gen­naker.”

Cable-less sails, which re­place the luff cable with full-length ver­ti­cal car­bon-mix pan­els, of­fer po­ten­tial ad­van­tages, San­der­son ex­plains, as “struc­tural sails”. Un­der luff ten­sion they help to re­duce forestay sag. “If you use that tech­nol­ogy for su­pery­achts, for ex­am­ple, you have a gain in mast com­pres­sion. It takes load off the forestay and dis­perses it through the sail. The load is taken back on the nat­u­ral load lines of the sail.”

At the elite end of the sport us­ing wing­masts, where it can be a strug­gle to get the forestay tight enough, cable-less sails of­fer just such a ben­e­fit.

“We are just scratch­ing the sur­face,” he says. “If you were brave, you’d make lighter, cheaper masts with less com­pres­sion loads that per­form bet­ter be­cause of it. There are de­vel­op­ment sails out there, jibs that are steal­ing the load off the forestay and con­tribut­ing to hold­ing the mast up.”

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