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Performance cruising around New Zealand with Contender Sailcloth – Paul Stock Feb 2023
When the time came to upgrade the 20+ year old sails on their 1980s Laurie Davidson designed 13m performance cruising boat “Spitfire”, Paul called sailcloth specialist Alastair Robertson from Contender New Zealand to discuss.
Anticipating vigorous use of the sails with lots of reefing and planning a circumnavigation of New Zealand, Paul commented that a cloth that addressed the dilemma of woven dacron cloth stretch, and reduced durability of laminates compared to woven cloth would be good. “Yes, Contender Fibercon® ; Pro Hybrid” he said. Simple as that.
The Fibercon® Pro Hybrid is a version of the woven Fibercon® Contender cloth with Dyneema yarn woven into the cloth and a special finish applied. It is available for radial cut sails. Stretch is reduced significantly and the cloth is especially tenacious, a common choice for performance cruising boats where long life and durability are key considerations.
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They ordered a new Fibercon® Pro Hybrid radial cut full batten mainsail (9.65 oz) and roller no.2 headsail (8.65oz) from Willis Sails in Kerikeri, New Zealand. Craig Gunnel heads Willis sails and Al Robertson and Paul had sailed with Craig back in the 90s.
Willis Sails specialise in panel sail construction and have made several large multihull mainsails in hybrid cloth for international clients, and they have a sail design service and CNC plotter/cutter onsite.
As well as the new mainsail and no.2 headsail, Paul needed a sail for heavy weather that could be set without removing the roller furler sail. They decided on a hank-on staysail to enable quick sail area reduction achieved by rolling away the no.2 and hoisting the pre hanked-on staysail.
Paul had a lug welded into the mast for the new staysail stay and used a DM20 (super low creep) Dyneema stay that could be removed easily when tacking with the no.2. On deck, folding pad eyes were bolted back-to-back through the deck with a tie stay on the underside to the forward frame in the bow. A 3:1 tackle for tensioning the stay was led aft along the side deck like a furler line to a clutch enabling tension from the Starboard cockpit auxiliary/running backstay winch. The check stays/running backstays were upgraded to hold the staysail luff tight and prevent the mast over bending.
The staysail cloth supplied by Al Robertson was Fibercon® Pro Radial with a finished weight of 9.5oz made by Willis Sails in a radial cut with bronze hanks. The staysail sail is not much larger than a storm jib and designed to be good for over 30 knots, so a woven cloth was recommended as most suitable. As an aside the staysail was intended to add a bit of speed close reaching when used in conjunction with the no.2. and MPS/gennaker.
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After breaking the sails in and testing they set off on their mainly 2 handed trip clockwise around New Zealand from Auckland to Auckland, 2,500 miles including bays over six weeks in December/January 2022/2023.
So how did it go?
They used the 1st and 2nd reef in the main without problems. The third deep reef wasn’t needed but we had it set up. The reefing floppy’s (tack rings) supplied by Willis sails were lashed using Dyneema and were long enough to hook over the rabbit’s ears without having to drop out luff slides. We dropped the mainsail slides out of the mast track a couple of times a year and rub candle wax on them so the main always came down smoothly. Our usual step down in sail area was to put one reef in the main, furl the headsail and hoist the staysail. This configuration was used close reaching in the Castlepoint area out from Cook Strait on the way down the east coast in 22-30kn wind and confused seas and worked really well, especially considering we were on autopilot almost all the time.
Paul used the staysail with reefed main configuration on the trip from Whangaruru to Westhaven on the day before the Auckland floods in a building ENE breeze of up to 35kn, but with 2 reefs. The wind ranged from cracked sheets to aft of the beam as the wind backed slightly and their course changed. The configuration felt snug and fast. Having the headsail centre of effort further aft than a sail on the forestay and low centre of effort in the double reefed main balanced the boat with a perfect amount of weather helm for windward sailing or reaching. The low-down drive in the sail plan combined with small size sail area took the heel off the boat nicely as well.
Paul also used the staysail:
In conjunction with full main and roller furler in relatively variable conditions where the wind was too far forward for the gennaker on the way up the North Island west coast from Nelson. The staysail increased the power in the sail plan, but the effective wind angle was quite small – from about 44-65 degrees apparent. In conjunction with the MPS/Gennaker for most of a day on the top of the South Island west coast at about 80 degrees apparent.
The roller furling number 2 headsail stayed on the foil the whole trip and worked well including partially reefing it downwind in windy conditions up to 30kn.
Another mode that they used extensively for cruising was sail assist motoring when the wind was below about 10 knots and under 5 or 6kn. They ran the motor at low to moderate speed when needed but didn’t stop sailing. With sail assist motoring the apparent wind is dragged forward exponentially more as the wind lightens. The sails will be sheeted in quite tight with the apparent wind sometimes 50-60 degrees forward of the true wind. This was generally adding approximately a knot to our boat speed while steadying the boat. It’s like a hybrid car with electric motor/petrol motors self-adjusting.
For example, a gust increases speed automatically, fuel burn is reduced, time to port is faster. The sail assist “hybrid” mode works especially well when used in conjunction with a good autopilot set on apparent wind mode. Downwind sail assist can be used to bring apparent wind forward to prevent risk of gybing so you can sail lower towards destination. In waves we used true wind mode on the autopilot when sailing or sail assist motoring downwind.
What would they do next time?
Leave the #4 behind – redundant as the staysail does a better job. Put the staysail on a permanent roller furler with wire stay and with UV strip on the sail. The hassle of tacking the number 2 around the staysail stay was minor compared to the following advantages:
No sail on the deck to get in the way, get washed away.
Sail ready to go.
Sail out of the way when furled.
No need to stow staysail down below.
Able to part reef the staysail to storm jib size in wind above 35kn without sail changes.
In summary, the three new Contender Sailcloth/Willis sails performed flawlessly, the cloth is still like new and with their MPS are all they need for most of the time cruising.
Paul is a prominent boatbuilder, yacht designer, and marine vessel surveyor Wainui Marine, NZ.
Willis Sails is an offshore cruising and racing loft in Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, NZ.
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