Tides Marine Sail­track

SAIL - - Boat Works Gear Test -

Grav­ity is an im­por­tant force at work on a sail­boat. It keeps the boat up­right, it makes the an­chor drop to the bot­tom, and it makes the main­sail slide neatly down the mast to be flaked and put away at the end of the day… un­til it doesn’t. In the case of drop­ping the main­sail, the enemy of grav­ity is fric­tion. Full-length bat­tens and modern, stiff sail ma­te­ri­als place forces on tra­di­tional mast grooves and luff slides that were not an­tic­i­pated when these sys­tems were de­vel­oped in the 1960s. The re­sult is ex­ces­sive fric­tion when hoist­ing and low­er­ing the main­sail, as was the case with Misir­lou, my 1963 Cal 40.

There are many fric­tion-re­duc­ing main­sail track op­tions on the mar­ket, some with re­cir­cu­lat­ing ball bear­ings and near-zero fric­tion, but I al­ways fan­cied the Tides Marine Sail Track and Slide Sys­tem for its sim­plic­ity and value. The ex­truded UHMW Poly­eth­yl­ene track is tough, UV re­sis­tant and ex­tremely slip­pery. The cast and pol­ished stain­less steel slides have a large sur­face area to spread out and han­dle large bat­ten and sail loads.

The Tides track is se­cured to the mast by your ex­ist­ing luff groove or ex­ter­nal track. Tides will send you a set of plas­tic gauges you fit into your mast groove to iden­tify which of the over 100 com­bi­na­tions of groove width, lip thick­ness and in­ter­nal flat or round slug shape works with your par­tic­u­lar mast. The web­site also walks you through how to mea­sure your luff length.

Sev­eral styles of slides are avail­able, in­clud­ing nor­mal luff slides, head­board slides and two sizes of bat­ten-end slides with swivels. If you are adapt­ing your ex­ist­ing main­sail to the Tides sys­tem, it is pos­si­ble for the do-it-your­selfer to swap your old slides for new Tides slides, as the lat­ter has a re­mov­able pin for con­nec­tion to your ex­ist­ing web­bing luff loops. (If you have to cut your old slides off, be sure to pre­serve the web­bing loop.) Al­ter­na­tively, your sail­maker can make short work of the job. Our sail­maker (Doyle) even had the Tides hard­ware in stock.

The well-or­ga­nized Tides Marine web­site (tides­ma­rine.com) made it easy to re­search and or­der my new track. Shortly af­ter or­der­ing, a gi­ant 4ft pizza box ar­rived con­tain­ing my rolled-up track and all nec­es­sary hard­ware. Also in­cluded was a short sec­tion of track with a lift­ing ring at­tached for you to run up the mast with the hal­yard to make sure your ex­ist­ing luff groove is free of ob­struc­tions, de­bris or dents that could im­pede in­stal­la­tion. Once a clear path was con­firmed, I re­moved the boom at the goose­neck and fed the Tides track into the luff groove. In­stal­la­tion was a breeze, eas­ily ac­com­plished by two peo­ple in less than an hour.

Our ex­pe­ri­ence with the sys­tem has been very pos­i­tive. In fact, it has even changed the way we han­dle the main­sail. I was raised to be­lieve that un­like spit­ting, rais­ing and low­er­ing the main must al­ways be done while point­ing di­rectly into the wind with the sail flog­ging, lest the slides bind in the luff track. How­ever, with the Tides track, we now find we can lower the sail while mo­tor­ing back to the moor­ing at just about any an­gle where the wind is ahead of the beam, al­low­ing us to luff (but not flog) the sail.

An­other ad­van­tage is re­spon­sive luff ten­sion con­trol. Be­fore in­stalling the Tides track, if we eased the hal­yard or cun­ning­ham for a lit­tle more sail shape in light air, track fric­tion would get us lit­tle puck­ers along the luff on only about one third of the sail un­less we luffed up a bit. With the Tides track, a lit­tle hal­yard ease in light air pro­duces a uni­form spread of “speed wrin­kles” along the luff ’s en­tire length.

Per­haps the best demon­stra­tion of the ben­e­fits of the smooth and slip­pery sail track comes when reef­ing. Be­fore the new mast track, reef­ing meant head­ing up and flog­ging the main, usu­ally with heavy seas break­ing on the bow, soak­ing the crew while wrestling the main down get­ting the new tack hook in. With the Tides track we find we can luff (but again, not flog) the main at al­most any wind an­gle, so long as we are not up against the spread­ers, mean­ing we can now lower the main to the reef point with min­i­mal drama. —Tom Egan

The low-fric­tion sail­track and luff slid­ers ease sail-han­dling

The Tides track will fit most types of mast ex­tru­sion

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