We have reached the point in our trip that we need to do some major sail repair. Since we are enjoying Zihuatanejo so much and there are some minor resources here (fabric store, small fishing shops with some boating items and other cruisers) now seemed as good a time as any. So here we go with the second sewing blog post in a row. I apologize and promise more variety in the future, really.
Secondary only to the hull which keeps the water at bay, our sails are the most important item on the boat and they take a beating. Some might think that sailing in heavy winds is what causes sails to wear out. Although heavy winds can cause dramatic blow-outs as well as general wear and tear, in our experience it has been sailing in a lot of light wind that has taken a greater toll. On a sailboat the sails help to stabilize the boat especially in rolling seas. This only works correctly when the wind is strong enough to keep the sails full. Here in Mexico we have had a lot of "sailing" days where this is not the case and instead of smoothly sailing towards our destination we wind up bobbing about at the whim of the waves. The sails flop back and forth as we madly try to keep the boom on one side of the boat and figure out how to move faster than the current can pull us. As they flop, the sails have any number of things that they can bang on and they do this over and over and over again. Chafe and rust, enemies number one and two on the fiberglass sailing vessel. Sails can have problems with corrosion at all of their metal fastenings, but this we addressed before we left Seattle by replacing many of the old grommets. However, the vibration as the wind rushes over the sail, the degrading UV rays from the sun and all of this flopping around has brought about the need for a sail repair session.
As I mentioned in my last post we do not have a sewing machine. Instead we have four hands, two sail-maker's palms (even a lefty one for me!), some very large needles, various types of cloth, a roll of thick, waxed polyester thread and a couple of brewskies to keep us going. Most of our knowledge about sail repair comes from our friend Marty at Ballard Sails. Before we left Seattle she gave us a number of valuable lessons in sail repair that have served us well on our trip. We cannot thank her enough! On board we also have two books with information about sail repair. One is a general repair book about all of the systems on the boat and has about five pages on the most common types of repairs sailors have to make. Everything we have had to do has been in that book so they definitely picked the right topics, however, their is a serious paucity of information and most of the advice assumes that you have an industrial sewing machine handy. The other book we have is like a cook book that tells you have to slaughter the cow rather than just season the stew. No matter how pretty they might be I am not interested in making Chinese junk (a type of boat) sails from natural canvas, by hand. Also, there is no way that the index in that book was written by anyone who ever had to repair sails. So, like many of our boat projects, when it comes to sail repair we often feel like we are making it up as we go.
We wanted every sail on the boat examined and ready to sail with. This includes the spare sails. We carry one asymmetrical spinnaker, two (very old) main sails, a trisail, a 130% genoa, a 100% jib and a storm jib. Here is some more information if you are not familiar with the names of these sails:
Spinnaker - These are the colorful sails that you often see on the fronts of sailboats. Ours is kind of rainbow colored: red, orange, yellow and purple stripes.
Main - Just as the name implies, this is the primary sail on the boat that goes up the mast and along the boom
Genoa - A large sail that runs from the front of the boat back towards the mast. This is really just a large jib.
Jib - The typical kind of foresail on a boat, running from the bow back towards the mast.
Storm jib/trisail - These are our storm sails. They are much smaller than our normal sails, and we can put them up in heavy winds to help us more easily control the boat.
If you are keeping count that makes seven sails. Right now we are three down, four to go! However, it is definitely the genoa and main that need the most work. We use those two sails and the spinnaker most often, especially since most of our trip so far has been traveling down wind. Today my hands feel like a pincushion. I think every finger has been stuck at least once. I spent most of the last four days sitting under our harbor awning in my bathing suit pushing the needle back and forth using a sailmaker's palm and a pair of pliers. I don't think I have to say how much I would appreciate a sewing machine right now. However, it does feel like quite an accomplishment when I look at the finished product. Our genoa now has a new, functional, leach line and a repaired, leather-wrapped clew, two things that will improve our ability to sail well and safely. How I acquired the leather is a story for another day. Adam keeps telling me that if the whole doctor thing doesn't work out I can always fall back on sail-making but I don't think my fingers would like that very much.
Sorry no pictures right now because of our low reserve of data. However, if you are interested in seeing Zihuatanejo in real life we would love some visitors! We will probably be here for at least the next two weeks. This week Zihuatanejo is having a wonderful International Guitar Festival and we can hear the music from the boat! Check it out here: www.zihuafest.info