I wrote another article recently on how to buy a windsurf sail. In it I focused on what to keep in mind when buying a new sail. Now however I will focus on the things that you need to look out for when buying a used windsurf sail. There are a few which you might not have thought about or imagined had an impact on the sails performance if you saw them.
How to Buy a Used Windsurf Sail
Most of the time we will be buying second hand gear, specially if it is our first board or sail. There are a couple of things you should be aware of when determining the quality of a sail if it has already been used a lot.
Is the monofilm dry and brittle?
Most sails have a large transparent panel on boom height. This is to allow you to see what is going on on the other side of the sail so you don’t accidentally hit someone that is downwind of you.
With use, this transparent surface will get scratched and worn. The surface becomes “milky”. The first place to suffer is the area where the harness lines touch the sail when they swing about (another reason why you might want stiff harness lines).
Aside from that, the suns UV rays have a highly deteriorating effect on the sails material. The material of a new sail has a little elasticity to it. This means that if you fall on it it will give way a little bit and not break.
Over time however, the sun causes the material to become stiff and brittle which means that it can break much more easily. It also becomes much more dangerous if you break it with your body as you can easily cut yourself.
In short, you should be able to see through a sail easily. If the mono-film is too “milky” you increase the likelihood of causing an accident, breaking the sail and of cutting yourself in the process.
Are there dings in the sail?
Any sail that has been used some time has dents in it. Some will be bigger which usually come from major crashes. The most common however are from falls on the sail with the hook of the harness. These small dents are not a big deal unless you are going for high end speed performance. The only thing a few dents in the sail tell you is that its owner has had a few catapults and that you should inspect the sail carefully for bigger damages or repairs.
The most obvious thing to look out for. When the material of the sail has been broken, it is very difficult to repair in a way that the performance is not impacted negatively. Only a very skilled sail repairer can stitch or patch a sail in a way that maintains the original profile and performance of the sail.
The area at boom height is usually the most likely to get damaged. Firstly it is where we fall into when we catapult and it is usually the most fragile as it is normally not reinforced as much since we have to be able to see through it. The problem with repairs here is that it means an additional thread line and material that is heavier. All this adds weight to the sail.
These are usually caused by people getting pulled over and onto the sail by an unexpected gust. A lame catapult if you will. There is usually quite a lot of tension in this part of the sail and to repair it properly is very difficult. The performance may not suffer that much but the possibility of the sail breaking there is always increased.
Sail top (from other boards fins or mast foot)
One of the most frustrating ways to break a sail is when carrying the kit to the beach, laying it down and without realising, putting the sail down on someone else’s board. It can be either the mast foot pin or the fin. Repairs in the top of the sail are usually not too big of a deal though.
Thread wear between mono-film panels
The thread between panels is composed of either strong stitching for robust sails, or less stitching and glue for lighter sails. In some cases the glue either is not as strong as it should be, it loses its stickiness in the heat on the beach or some other reason. The point is that if the glue is not reliable, the panels start to get pulled apart when the sail is tensed with power. The stitches pull open holes in the mono-film panels and you have a broken sail.
This is something I have only come across recently and should usually be covered by the manufacturers warranty. Just be sure to check the thread of the sail so that you aren’t stuck with a faulty sail. As a second hand buyer you don’t get to fall back on the warranty.
Mast sleeve scrapes
Tears in the cloth of the mast sleeve are often overlooked when people are looking at a second hand sail to buy. These tears usually come from pulling the sail over a rough surface. This can be in storage spaces where there is sand on the ground or on asphalt. Dragging the sail over this is like scraping it with sandpaper. Another place where this can occur is when having to enter or exit the water over rocks.
The problem with these holes is twofold. First off, when we insert the mast into the mast sleeve to rig the sail, we can by accident hit the edge of the hole and tear it more. Secondly, the real downside, is that the cloth will get pulled around the mast which means that the profile of the sail is changed. In other words it will lose efficiency.
These holes can be repaired easily and without much negative impact on the sails performance so it is definitely not a deal-breaker.
Vario top band
The variable mast option has one downside and that is that if we change the setting often, the band that adjusts the position of the mast-top plug will wear. If this band snaps at some point you will suddenly have the sail crumple towards the boom like an accordion while the mast is pointing out of the top.
Luckily it takes a few years for the band to wear enough to become a problem. Even so, check that the band is not worn out and if it is, replace it or have it replaced.
Last but not least let’s look at what we need to be aware of when it comes to battens. Battens create the profile for the sail so it is very important that they are not broken.
Are the battens intact?
In order to make the rigs lighter, manufacturers use lighter materials such as carbon for booms,
masts and battens. However, for battens there is another way of making them lighter and that is to make them hollow. The problem with lighter material however is that it is also usually more fragile.
Slalom and free-ride sails are usually pretty big so keeping them light is always a challenge. Usually sturdiness is sacrificed to get the weight down and so these sail types are most prone to having broken battens. Especially if you have to use them in waves.
If a wave breaks on one of these fragile battens it is likely that they snap easily. While replacing a windsurf sail batten is not a big deal, it is usually tough to find a batten of the same length and the same flexing properties. Each brand uses battens of different stiffness (and stiffness distribution) to get the exact profile they are looking for. This means that replacing a broken batten with one that is of a different brand (or even different model) will negatively impact the performance of the sail. At the surf center we are fortunate that we have all our sails of the same brand and if we ever have a customer destroy a sail beyond repair we always make sure to salvage the battens as they can be used in the future when another sails’ batten is snapped.
In terms of buying a sail. If it has a broken batten, know that you can’t/shouldn’t sail with it until it is fixed.
Are the battens poking into sleeve?
Another thing that happens is that, each time that the batten changes from one side on to the other when we change tacks, the cloth gets worn a little bit. Do this a few thousand times and there will be a hole on the inside of the mast sleeve with the batten pushing through.
You can identify this by creases along the batten which appear because there in no longer tension on the batten.
There are two reasons why this reduces the performance of the sail:
Firstly, the creases along the sail profile cause the flow of air to not be smooth and therefore slow us down. Secondly, the batten can no longer change sides of the mast and we have a wing-style profile only in one direction. In the other direction this profile can only be used inverted which defeats the purpose of having a sail profile in the first place.
In this case the batten has to be taken out, the mast sleeve (and batten pocket) has to be repaired and the batten inserted again. The repair has no impact on the sail. Just add this batten observation to the list of things to look out for when buying a windsurf sail second hand.
This has been my checklist for buying a sail second hand. If there are any other things that you think should be added I would love to hear them in the comments below.