Preparing to sail on a fine warm sunny day on Western Port Bay, Victoria, we decided to wash the mainsail which had become home to a family of nesting starlings a few weeks previously. You can see from the shot here that in a short space of a few weeks they had made quite a mess.
Fortunately, the mixture of nesting material and droppings lodged in the flake of the sail, washed away quite easily.
There was virtually no breeze at the time, so we were able to hoist the main and shake a good deal of it out. With the water from the dock and a soft brush the remainder came away without any additional cleaning agent - it could have been much worse.
As the main was up we hosed down both sides of the rest of the sail, bringing it back to an almost new appearance. If time had permitted we should have dropped it completely, removed it from the boat and washed it thoroughly on the dock.
Washing of your sails regularly is an important component of your sail maintenance.
Salt builds up over time in the weave of the fabric and being hygroscopic it alternatively absorbs moisture, then crystalises when dry. This action over time will shorten the life of your sails, particularly when you add flaking(main) and rolling(genoa) into the equation. Along with ultra violet rays, these are the two worst enemies of your sails. In addition, salt encrusted sails are harder to handle.
Hence, washing them down with fresh water periodically(read regularly) rinses out the salt and leaves them both feeling and looking fresh - your sails will love this little bit of tlc. and you will notice the difference the first time you hank on following your washing.
You can of course have your sails washed commercially, but it is good to do this job yourself as part of your ongoing boat maintenance programme and becoming familiar with your boat and what needs to be done regularly. You will also gain satisfaction from completing another job yourself.
For more stubborn stains such as grease, rust etc. there are a number of cleaning agents available - be sure to read all instructions carefully and never be heavy handed for fear of damaging the sail fibres - better to try it gently two or three times than scrub the life out of the sail!
Always rinse thoroughly after applying any cleaning agent
We are talking about polyester(Dacron) sails here, which for cruising sailboats is still the main fabric of choice used today. For more high tech sail fabrics such as Kevlar, Mylar etc. more sophisticated methods and cleaning agents may be required.
You can go to Doyle Sailmakers website http://www.doylesails.com/ for more detailed information and cleaning agents that may be used.
We spent half an hour or so cleaning and washing the sail that day and then set off for a days sailing on the fantastic waters of southern Victoria - time well spent.
You can read more about sailboat maintenance in my ebook 'Voyage of the Little Ship 'Tere Moana' downloadable from my website http://www.sailboat2adventure.com/