Off-Shore Sail and Canvas Preparation


Preparing for a one to three week ocean crossing requires extensive planning and thought to insure that you have the essential gear for all anticipated sailing and breakdown scenarios. We recommend consulting the Off-Shore Racing Counsel Special Regulations ( for must-takes, even if you are cruising.  They have thoroughly researched vital safety gear for boats of all sizes in a variety of sailing situations.   Many additional items fall into the category of extremely-useful-if-not-essential.  These can’t-leave-behinds will be specific to your boat and sailing style and for them you will need to consult your boat builder, your rigger, and your sailmaker. The suggestions in this article pertain to essential sail care and include canvas items that make the trip both safer and more enjoyable.

 Sail Care/Chafe-prevention:

The first several days out of San Francisco are likely to bring a rough and wet beating or close reaching conditions. The rig will get a pounding, requiring runners and inner fore stay to minimize pumping of most masts. The sails will chafe against any rough fittings, requiring inspection at the end of each watch to ensure you have wrapped all clevis pins, cotter keys, shackles, turnbuckles, pulpit and spreader ends to prevent tears. Also, check your main reef lines to prevent chafe to the sailcloth that may be pinched between the line and the boom. Your tack cringle must be held firmly forward and down at the gooseneck to prevent strain on the upper boltrope and/or sliders and to stretch the foot of the sail flat with the clew outhaul. Consider backup ties at both tack and clew to reduce chafe to the reef lines themselves. Once the wind pulls aft, your main will chafe against spreaders and shrouds. Have spreader patches installed and keep an eye on the battens especially.

Have all sails inspected for advised repairs and/or re-cuts. Hand sew the batten pockets closed to retain battens, but take spare battens in case they break. Your sail repair kit should include the following items: palms, needles, cloth, adhesive-backed cloth (various widths and weights), webbing, thread (seaming, light and heavy, and handwork twine), leather, hardware for your specific sails, alcohol, scissors, hot knife, awl, pliers.

Storm sails:
  Carrying a storm trysail and a storm jib is prudent. They should fit within the maximum dimensions recommended by the ORC for your boat. If you have a head foil, your storm jib must have an alternative method of attaching to the forestay. See your sailmaker. Your jib leads will require adjustment for any long heavy-air reach to set proper leech twist. You will most likely need a good reaching jib for the first few days out of San Francisco. A partially furled jib is not adequate. It will have poor performance and may break. Be sure to test the anchor points and leads of all your sails before you leave. Don’t forget to test the storm sail leads even though you think you will never need them. If your jibs or trysail require tack pennants for heavy weather reaching, have them measured and made of appropriate wire by a qualified rigger. Two hundred miles offshore is no time to discover your tack sliding up the head stay or no appropriate sheet lead for the trysail.
  Whether you are racing or cruising, spinnakers will greatly increase your boat's performance and your sailing enjoyment. Learn to use one before you go.  Have a properly fitted sock to handle the sail if you are short-handing.  You will be more likely to use the spinnaker and less concerned about sudden changes in weather if you know you can douse it easily and quickly, as you can with a sock.  (See our .)  Consider a spinnaker net, built to suit your boat’s fore triangle and rig: luff groove, hanks, or furler. These can prevent debilitating spinnaker wraps, especially for short-handed sailors. The ATN spinnaker sock is the most convenient device for taming spinnakers, especially when sailing short-handed. We recommend one for each spinnaker. See our Short-handed Spinnaker Rituals for suggested spinnaker handling.
  Sail numbers are highly recommended for identification of your boat by others. They should be appropriately sized for your boat. Also recommended are emergency sail numbers, deployable by alternate means, for use when no other sail number is set. A cloth with grommets can be tied to the lifelines in case of dismasting and can be carried in your life raft grab bag.  For jacklines to secure your safety harness tethers, consider ORC-approved jack line webbing rather than wire. It will not roll under foot and is available in bright colors for better visibility at night. It should be mounted in a continuous run from stem to stern to eliminate the need to unhook and re-hook around obstacles on deck. Hook in before you are fully on deck as you exit the cabin. Double tethers (short and long) are also helpful for moving around safely.
  The first few days out of San Francisco will most likely bring lots of water on deck which will try to sneak down the companionway hatch. If your navigation station is to leeward, mount a clear vinyl spray curtain on a bolt rope rail fastened to the overhead to prevent drenching your electronics. A companionway curtain will reduce the spray below and provide a light shield to protect the night vision of the on-deck watch. Cloth leeboards hold the off watch in their bunks. Consider mesh with a bolt rope edge that slides into a PVC rail fastened to the bunk. Cockpit line bags organize sheets and control lines. Helpful in daytime, it becomes crucial after dark. Coastal or off-shore Musto weather gear is great for the first few cold, wet days. After that, lighter spray protection is adequate for the warmer weather if you are heading south. Don’t forget your personal flotation. The choices of comfortable options include jacket, vest, or harness.
  Personal boat flags boost  morale and increase dockside smiles both before you leave and at your destination(s). Design something personal, wild, and colorful and have your local loft build it to your specifications. Liven up your harbors with your perhaps not-yet-revealed flamboyance. Crossing an ocean is a big event.
  BEWARE of CHAFE: Check boat for sharp spots that contact sails:
        Pulpits, spreaders, shrouds (jibs and mains) – add protective patches
        Sheets, guys, and halyards: move twice a day to different place.
               Check every watch.
        Boom topping lifts on main leech - replace with centerline vang.
Sail Handling Helps:
  Spinnaker Sock ATN - great for short-handed sets, jibes, dowses
                Must have separate sleeve for control lines; stripe and bell are nice.
Spinnaker Net -
Keeps spin from being eaten by forestay, eliminates wraps.
                Insure fasteners do not bite or chafe spinnaker.
Sail Repair Kit -
Basics: needles, palm, thread, adhesive-backed cloth, and hardware.