Making Sails for Pearl
by Sandra Leinweber 

We had to wait until our boat Pearl was out of the shop to make our sails. We needed the floor space to spread out the 20 by 30 foot tarp we had purchased from the Polysails company. I was a bit dubious about making our sails out of a tarp, but the cost of having sails made was not in the budget. The kit from Polysails included all the peripherals – double sticky tape, rope for the edges, and grommets. We did have to buy extra tape, rope and grommets because we were building two sails from a kit intended to build only one.

The sail design came from the designer of our boat, Jim Michalak. We followed his plans closely, curving some edges out and some edges in, cutting darts to add shape to the surface of the sail. The mainsail is a lug sail–an irregular trapezoid that allows the mast to be shorter than if our sail was a triangular sail. The smaller mizzen sail is a simple triangle.

Pearl at Rend Lake messabout

Taping the boltropes

After cutting out the mainsail, we first sewed the darts. We used nylon upholstery thread in my ancient sewing machine. With a little help getting started, it handled the heavy tarp fabric just fine. Then we went to work on the edges. From here on out, the instructions received from Polysails were followed. The double sticky tape is laid along the edge of the sail. 1/4 inch nylon rope is laid along the inside edge of the tape. The taped area is then folded to the inside, capturing the rope to form what is now the edge of the sail.
Special attention is needed at the corners. (See photo) The corners will take a good bit of the stress when Pearl is under sail, and the extra fabric adds strength. Once the sail was taped and our knees had recovered, I sewed all the way around twice, once next to the rope, and once about one inch in from the rope. I found that I had to run the machine manually when I hit the thickest areas in the corners. All of the above was repeated for the mizzen sail. I set up the sewing machine in the middle of a large open space which helped with the handling of the large quantities of material.

Extra reinforcement for the corners

Grommets were the final step. Chuck showed me how they worked, and I only messed up one or two before getting the hang of it. We have been talking about reef points, but have yet to add them. We can’t decide where they should be installed percentage-wise. 

Ghosting at Lake Buchannon

The real test was Pearl’s maiden voyage. We had a beautiful day at Lake Buchanan. The wind was light, but picked up now and then, heeling us over just a bit. The rigging still needed some fine tuning, but the sails did exactly what they were supposed to do. Moving almost silently through the water is like magic. The only sound is the small one that the ripples of our wake throw up. I’ve since been left reluctantly on shore when Pearl went out, and can report that from even a small distance the sails fit the boat perfectly (at least to my eye), and do not look the least bit “tarpish”. 


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