Before I jump too deeply into the discussion on how we chose new sails for Yahtzee, I’ll begin with the caveat that I am by no means a sailmaker. That said, as a longtime sailor I’ve tried to follow trends in cloth type and have sailed boats with a variety of different materials and cuts. So when it came time to choose new sails, I had a fairly good idea of what I was looking for.

When we purchased Yahtzee nearly seven years ago I knew her sails needed to be replaced. The heavy offshore-weight Dacron main (with four reefs!) and 140% Dacron genoa were blown out after years of ocean sailing, including a two-year loop from the Pacific Northwest to Mexico, the South Pacific, Hawaii and back. The storm jib, 70% jib and asymmetrical spinnaker were also along for the ride but hadn’t seen nearly as much action.

The old rags were serviceable, but blown out and beyond ready for replacement

Throughout our years of cruising, though, we continually put new sails on the back burner. Our old ones had done the job and carried us safely over many miles, but when we stopped in Seward to work on the boat and fill the cruising kitty, the upgrade became a priority. 

While getting quotes from sailmakers, the first thing we had to do was to honestly assess our sailing goals. Jill and I still wanted to do a race here and there, but we knew that cruising would be our bread and butter, and after Alaska, heading towards the tropics was going to be our next big goal. That meant we skewed towards the performance offshore category.

With that answered, the questions then came down to sail cloth and type. In my dual experience as a racer and cruiser, I knew I wanted sails that would retain their shape and last a long time (or, as long as possible). That’s a clear Goldilocks problem, which is hard to solve, so I enlisted several sailmaker-friends to help narrow the cloth choices down to three.

Dacron – By far the most common sail cloth for coastal and offshore cruising sailors is woven Dacron. From what I could tell, sailmakers’ two favorite types of Dacron are Dimension Polyant AP Blade and Challenge Marblehead. Both cloths have good stretch numbers and do an admirable job accounting for harmful UV rays that break down the cloth over time. Dacron is the least expensive option and while it does last a long time, it will lose shape the fastest.

Closeup of woven Dacron

Cruising Laminate — A common approach for sailors looking to go higher-tech to retain optimum sail shape is to get a cruising laminate that has a Polyester (Dacron) taffeta on the outsides, and Polyester yarn bundles and mylar on the inside. The biggest downside is mildew within the lamination, and though fungicides get put in to combat this, they do leach out over time. What I came to find out is that laminates have a lifespan of about 4 to 5 years, and after that, as one sailmaker put it, “you’re working on borrowed time”. Of course, how/where the sails get used affects this, with the tropics being harder on sails than the Pacific Northwest.

Typical look of a cruising laminate

HydraNet® – Lastly — and this was a cloth I’d heard of but wasn’t all that familiar with — we could go with a higher end woven cloth that is a hybrid material combining Dacron and Dyneema fibers. Dimension Polyant’s version is called HydraNet, and has much lower stretch than Dacron while remaining very strong. Basically what we’d end up with by choosing HydraNet is the performance and shape retention of a cruising laminate and the overall durability of a woven Dacron.  Of course, there is a higher price point for this – usually around 50 percent more than Dacron.

Dimension Polyant’s HydraNet Radial cloth

The Big Decision: After weighing all the options and quotes from various sailmakers, we finally decided to go through sailmaker and friend Jamie Gifford (SV Totem), who works with Zoom Sails. He helped walk us through all our cloth and sail options based on our needs, and then sent detailed measurement worksheets for us to fill out to ensure our sails would be a perfect fit.

What we decided on was a HydraNet radial-cut mainsail with three reefs and a HydraNet radial 115% genoa. I’ve long wanted a smaller working headsail than our big old 140 and the 115 is a solid all-purpose replacement. It will provide the best balance of big enough to get us going in light/moderate winds and small enough to not be overpowering in typical trade winds of 15 to 25 knots, and in squalls of 25 to 50 knots.

To compliment that headsail, we also went with a 160% Cruising Code Zero (CCZ) from Zoom made of Dimension Polyant Polyester on a continuous line furler for reaching and downwind sailing. This a sail I’ve been dreaming about for years and to fly it, we had a local welder build Yahtzee a new removable bowsprit (or prod), which we’ll also be able to fly our asymmetrical spinnaker from. 

Yahtzee “dock sailing” with her new Code Zero.
New removable bowsprit for the Code Zero and spinnaker

While all of this is exciting, we’re still waiting for Alaska’s winter weather to abate enough for us to get the new main and genoa bent on and out for a test sail. We were able to put the new CCZ up when the sprit was finished and I’m happy to say the cut and fit is absolutely perfect.

I’ll put together an updated post when we get everything flying and Yahtzee out for a spin — stay tuned!


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