Monday, October 21, 2013

How to Make Your Own Tyvek Sails

If you've inherited an old sailboat as I did and discovered that the sails were pretty deteriorated, you may have been stunned at what new ones cost if you looked it up. New sails can cost you more than the price of the boat. Fortunately, there's a solution if you care more about saving money and sailing than you do about looking yacht club smart. There is an affordable material that actually lends itself to making sails that you can pick up down at the lumber yard. It's Tyvek™, the amazingly tough and resilient material you see builders wrap around the frames of houses.  Here's how to do it.

Materials You Need:

  • Large enough Tyvek sheets to make the sails.  If you have exceptionally large sails you may have to put two pieces together with a seam.
  • Double sided Tyvek tape or carpet tape.  Try to get the widest tape you can find.
  • Very sharp scissors
  • Tape measure
  • Very long straightedge or yardstick
  • Chalk line

  • Use the old sails to make a pattern for the new sails.  You can trace the pattern
    directly on the Tyvek or trace it out in chalk on a large flat
    floor or concrete patio or driveway.  Add 12 inches of extra material along all sides of the sails. This allows you to trim the sail as you work to fit it to the right size. You'll need at least four inches where the sail attaches attach to the spar and the mainmast. The extra allows you to recover from measurement errors, especially along the spar and mainmast. You will be wrapping a rope into the edges for attaching the sail to the spar and mainmast if your boat uses that type of sail mount.
  • Cut out the Tyvek with scissors.  Tyvek is very resilient. It's made not to puncture, so it may be difficult to cut. Make sure your cutting implement is very sharp.  
  • If you need a seam to put two pieces together, make it parallel to the leach of the sail (the hypotenuse of the right triangle of the sail).  This reduces pressure on the seam. 

  • Tape the sail to the floor with duct tape to hold it down.  
  • Apply one double sided tape to the edges and any seams.  Lay the tape just outside
    the sail pattern mark and on the extra overlap material.  Only expose one sticky side. Leave the other side covered for when you make the seams.  Work slowly.  Tyvek is stretchy, so don't pull on it or you'll get wrinkles and puckers in the seams. 
  • When you get to the corners, trim them as shown in the picture above to avoid creating lumps of tape where the seams come together.
  • Now pull off the protective paper on the other side of the tape as you work along
    Grommet hole reinforcement patch
    the seams, pressing down the material as you remove the paper.  If you did your cuts properly, any seams and edges should line up. If they don't, you can always trim off the excess.  Do any internal seams first and then work around the edges.  Cut off excess Tyvek at the edges so you get a two to four inch overlap for strength. The overlap needs to be wide enough to cover the seam tape.
  • Do not tape the foot or the mainmast side of the sail if you need to fold a rope into the foot to attach to the spar or mast.

    Reinforced grommet hole
  • Reinforce each point on the sail where you will attach a slide, grommet or reef point.  For grommeted points, do this.  Cut a square piece of Tyvek large enough to wrap over the edge and cover the grommet hole on both sides. Round the edges as shown
  • Cover one side with double sided tape. Stick the square of Tyvek to the double-sided tape and then fold it over the edge so the edge runs diagonally across the patch as shown. Place another piece of double-sided tape under the folded Tyvek so the Tyvek patch covers both side.  
  • Next, follow the instructions that came with the grommet kit, Cut the hole in the center of the reinforced area. Make sure the hole is the correct size, then install the grommet halves on either side of the sale.  Pound the two halves of the grommet together and you have a grommeted attachment point.

  • Check the thickness of the rope in the foot. First prepare the foot and luff of your
    Spar and luff edges
    sail where it slides into the spar or mast.  You’ll have to wrap up a rope of appropriate size into the foot or leach of the sail. 
  • Again, lay double-sided tape along the inside of the edge mark you made for your sail. Lay the rope along the edge where the sail material will be folded over. You may want to secure the rope by coating it with epoxy or sealant before laying it in place.  Then fold over the extra sail material and cut off the excess Tyvek once the edge is folded over and fully adhered to the double-sided tape.  

  • Because of the pressure the sail will put on the sail, where it attaches to the spar and mainmast, you'll need to strengthen the edges around the rope core. With a very sharp upholstery needle, stitch along the seam just above the rope. You want the stitching to help secure the rope in place. Next apply a sealer or epoxy to cover the exposed threads at the seams to protect them from hard wear.

You will undoubtedly have to tweak the design a little as you go to make it work. Like any boat owner, you'll need a little creativity and imagination to make this work for your particular boat, but it's not hard to do if you have even a modicum of skill with tools.

Tyvek makes some surprisingly good sails.  Tyvek is typically a bit stretchier than regular sailcloth, but it's very tough and once you learn to handle the new sailing characteristics of your boat, your Tyvek sails may prove to be even faster and tougher than store-bought sails.

The biggest drawback of using Tyvek is that it often comes with the manufacturer's name printed on it and can make your boat look like a seriously redneck vessel.  But do not despair. There are some paints and colored tapes that stick to Tyvek and a few broad stripes may be all you need to not only disguise the manufacturer's marks, but also to brighten up your new sails.

© 2013 by Tom King

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