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North Sails NEWS

Tom Partridge and Susie Plume recount their journey of selecting new sails for their Hylas 46, Adina

© Tom Partridge

Coming from a racing background, we set out with a goal of getting the best from Adina, our Hylas 46. Adina is an outright bluewater cruiser, designed to take on oceans while keeping her crew safe. She has an in-mast furling mainsail system which makes reefing easy and safe from inside the cockpit, something that proved particularly beneficial in big open seas.

Deteriorating sails

Her first set of sails were made from Dacron, the theory being they were sails made to last. The mainsail included full-length vertical battens and when new we were impressed how they helped the sail’s shape; all too often we had seen dacron sails that had lost their shape and the owners suffering inefficient sailing. Our mainsail was soon to go the same route; it wasn’t long before the battens were failing to furl straight, slowly but surely twisting. What shape there was also disappeared, the draft moving aft. Our genoa we struggled to trim effectively, telltales would dance in different directions no matter what we tried.

After constant sailing in the tropics the sun was taking its toll and much to our horror our mainsail was starting to get tears in it. We’d repair them but more and more appeared. The leech started to deteriorate, and we knew the sail’s days were numbered.

Selecting new sails

Like most sailors we reached out to various sail makers, considering the different options. North Sails was quick to respond, asking relevant questions about the conditions we sailed in, what we saw as important in a sail, making us think and helping us choose the right sails for our needs. We were curious but slightly nervous about laminates. We’d heard they had a good reputation for shape and performance, but we weren’t sure about their longevity in the harsh sunshine we typically sail in. North Sails encouraged us to go this route, saying their NPL TOUR product is designed to last longer and would give us superior performance. This would tick both of our ‘most wanted’ boxes – performance and durability.

Measuring up

We had heard many a tale from fellow cruisers of having to make their own measurements with no comeback and costly adjustments having to be made if there were errors. Not so with North Sails; they had experts come on board taking what felt like over one hundred measurements, checking, re-checking, filling in forms and also happy to share information with us as they went. An in-mast furling laminate mainsail is a complex sail and measurements needed to be spot on. The right size genoa for our boat was designed from scratch and we have a stay sail that we planned to use not just in strong winds but light winds too.

Fitting

Delivery day dawned and a North Sails representative arrived with our shiny new sails – it felt like Christmas, we were so excited. Time was taken to fit them and check them. The representative added value, stitching up batten pockets to ensure they would stay in place on the long ocean passages ahead before we took a test sail to make sure everything looked good and in order.

© Tom Partridge

Immediate performance

We’ll never forget our first passage from Thailand to Sri Lanka. We left on a moderate wind day and we were able to get all the sails hoisted. Suddenly Adina was off. The difference was immediate and electrifying. It was almost as though she had sensed she had a new set of clothes and she wanted to give of her best, we couldn’t stop smiling.

Lightweight strength from laminates

The sails certainly delivered on shape and there was no doubt our performance was boosted but there were additional surprises too. The lighter laminate sails were so much easier to control than our old chunky sails; furling and unfurling the genoa became so much easier, no longer lots of grinding, trimming was a joy. The mainsail, with its short battens, furled away effortlessly, working in the cockpit was easy. With the carbon fiber, you can see the strength in the sails; the shape in our main was spot on, the draft in the right position. In fact, the sails had so much power we later opted to replace our outhaul with a Dyneema line to hold the sail better; new running rigging is something people should consider when buying new sails.

Benefits in both light and strong winds

We learned some new tricks. In really light winds going upwind, we’d get the stay sail out in addition to the genoa, which would give us an extra knot of boat speed. Leaving the Maldives for Chagos in the company of friends on other boats, they were all impressed as Adina literally took off. In strong winds too, the sails still held their shape and, if anything, were more powerful; we pay more attention to reefing. And it is this power that got us through open seas with Adina carving through the waves – just what you want.

Being a heavy ocean boat, upwind we’ve always needed 7 knots of wind to get moving and 10 knots of wind downwind. We now find we can sail quite nicely in just 5 knots of breeze upwind and downwind we can move in 7 knots, albeit slowly. That’s a big difference for long passages where saving fuel is key. Our Chagos to Seychelles passage was just over seven days and winds were light, sailing in the doldrums. We knew we had only four days’ worth of fuel and weather forecasts were unreliable so we had to sail as much as possible in the early part of the passage. With winds of 7-9 knots we could still keep moving and even if it was just 3 knots SOG it kept us going – we were delighted.

Testing in all conditions

Our sails carried us safely down and around the bottom of Africa to Cape Town. By then it had been just under a year in which we had covered around 6700 nautical miles, putting them through several tough passages in the Indian Ocean; they were due for their one year service. Our only issue had been a small section on the foot of the genoa where the UV strip had pulled up from the base seam with the main body of the sail; this was duly replaced with a slightly heavier UV strip. Other than that not a single fault, all of the sails were still in excellent condition and ready to take on further duty.

Excellence all around

Looking back over the past fifteen months sailing with our North Sails NPL TOUR, we could not be happier. We have been struck by the extra performance they have given us and the ease of handling. Other cruisers who notice the laminates have questioned us and we can do nothing but sing their praises and recommend them for cruisers seeking performance.  And as for the North Sails service, as can be expected with quality sails it has been nothing short of excellent.

In their next waterlog Tom and Susie share some tips on how to get the best out of your sails and techniques for open ocean cruising.

© Tom Partridge