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Proper winter sail care Q & A

Finnair on the Grand River. Fairport Harbor, OH.
Finnair on the Grand River. Fairport Harbor, OH.
Sandy Woodthorpe

Greg Koski, owner of the Ullman Sails Cleveland loft answers questions about proper sail care and winter storage.

Sandy: Greg, why is sail cleaning important and what method(s) should be used?

Greg: Mold and mildew can hurt a sail as it gets inside the laminate or Dacron fibers. Sails are a big investment and cleaning is just one of the ways to ensure that they last as long as possible. We send most sails out for cleaning because the company we use has machinery to do it better than us. We provide this as a service to our customers. If you wish to clean your own sails, you can. The best way is to lay them out on the cleanest, smoothest surface you can find. Make a cleaning solution of mild soap, such as Woolite®, diluted with water. Add some vinegar. Using cold water from a hose to wet the sail, gently scrub with a soft bristle brush. Rinse off. DO NOT use hot water – it can harm sail fabrics. Make sure you dry, fold and put away the sail properly.

Sandy: It’s raining the day I remove my sails. I fold them the best I can and take them home. Now what?

Greg: Rainy days are like the winter. Sails just get shoved down below decks with no ventilation and they start to mildew. Not good! Sailors should try and dry their sails the best they can. One way to do this, if you can’t take the sail home to dry, is to unfold the sail as much as possible and place a dehumidifier in the boat cabin to remove moisture that is in the air. We get a lot of people who store their sails on the boat during the winter and then they hand us the sails in the spring all wet. Sails will de-laminate from this kind of treatment. Always try and put your sails away dry.

Sandy: What specific areas of sails are checked when evaluating overall sail condition?

Greg: We check all the stitching, seams, UV covers, and webbing. We look for missing telltales and check the condition of mainsail slides, slugs, shackles, etc. I hate to sound like a used car salesman, but you have to take your car in for an oil change so why not get your sails looked at? They are the engines of the boat. We store sails here at the Ullman Cleveland loft for free. That makes it easy for our customers to keep their sails in good condition. They drop off their sails in fall and have them looked at and/or cleaned during the winter. Then in spring, they pick them up in good shape for sailing season. It doesn't cost anything for us to look at them. It only costs if there are problems that need attention.

Sandy: What winter prep should be done on roller furling mechanisms?

Greg: Besides caring for your sails, you should make sure all your furling gear works properly. Wipe the parts with a clean cloth dampened with water. Be sure to remove dust, dirt, etc. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and lubrication details. This will ensure your furling unit works for a long time.

Sandy: Please talk about the proper storage conditions for sails.

Greg: After the season of sailing and you decide to keep the sails yourself, I would look them over carefully, paying attention to the stitching on UV covers, seams, making sure all your telltales are there. Be sure you look at the luff tape top and bottom (most people don’t realize or notice that luff tapes rip). If you think the sail is in great shape, fold it up nice or roll it – depends on material. Put your sails away carefully in a warm area for the winter. Don't leave them aboard the boat or stow away in a damp garage, barn or basement. Also, keep in mind those places might have mice – and mice love to nibble on sails.

Bottom line, remember to take care of your sail inventory. The economy isn't helping many of us to get ahead, so do a little preventive action so your sails last until you can get new ones.


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