Sunday, January 6, 2013

Diary of a Sail Bag

 ...or, The Third Time's a Charm 

We left Seattle over a year ago with a brand new stays'l from the inestimable Port Townsend Sails. Ever since then, we have been trying to house it properly. Our stays'l is one of just a couple of hank-on sails that we have on board; that being the case, we wanted to stow it in a deck bag from which it could be readily deployed.

Our saga begins in La Paz, Mexico, where we made the first of three foredeck bags for the stays'l using a pattern from a canvas worker's book. We used a pattern for a 200 sq. foot working sail. Since our sail is only 160 sq. feet, we figured the finished bag would fit fine. Our first attempt looked nice but after all our hard work, didn't fit the sail! In the end, neither the length or sail stack height dimensions fit our stays'l. Part of the problem is that our stays'l  was built to be as "bullet proof" as possible so the fabric is much heavier than most sails of that size, and the reinforcements at the clew for example, are also far heavier than typical production loft sails. We decided to either use the first sail bag for our storm stays'l or recycle the fabric into another sewing project.

In Nuevo Vallarta, just before setting off on our Pacific crossing, we made a second foredeck bag. This time we used a pattern from an online vendor of sewing materials, Sailrite. Our second sail bag turned out ugly as sin but just fit the sail (if you worked hard at it.) We were a bit disheartened after our experiences making two sail bags, neither of which we were satisfied with, and realized we should have made our own pattern instead of using pre-printed plans from a book or the web.

Our second foredeck bag made from Sunbrella

In practice we found the second bag was more trouble than it was worth as it required the sail to be folded perfectly to fit . We finally resorted to removing the stays'l after each use and stowing it in its original bag.

One of the projects that Patrick has completed in New Zealand while I've been in San Diego is to make the third iteration of our foredeck bag. Patrick relied on a tried and true method to make a pattern which he had successfully used on his former trimaran, Bacchanal

First, he hanked on the stays'l and folded it the way we would fold it when stowing it. Then, Patrick took an old blue tarp and folded it to fit around the folded sail, taping, pinning, and stapling it along the areas of future edges and closures. He used the pattern fashioned from the blue tarp to cut out the pieces of fabric for the foredeck bag, which he then stitched together on our sewing machine. As with the other two sail bags we made, he cut out a panel of fabric at the bottom and replaced it with mesh so that the sail can drain when stowed. His results are absolutely beautiful:

Patrick also added some nice detail work to the sail bag, including chafe protection where the bag comes in contact with the stay.

Our new foredeck bag can be swung up and out of the way when using the windlass or for routine maintenance on the bow.

There are a few lessons we will remember from our experience making our foredeck bag. First, even a pattern that appears reasonable may not fit the sail at hand, and we should always make our own measurements and create our own pattern. Second, the trite but true adage that if you persevere at something, you will eventually get it right, also held true in this case. Finally, we realized that we weren't wrong to go off on passage without everything on our project list finished and completely checked off to our liking. Although it's important to be able to distinguish between which projects are essential to the operation of the boat and which are simply "nice to do," in the end, leaving with some projects left to do along the way beats  the paralysis of never leaving.     


  1. Beautiful job Patrick. I really admire folks who can do tight canvas work. The process to measure and build seems so wishy-washy, but when it comes out right it's like art. Nice!
    SV Eclipse

  2. Third time was the charm! We have a 140% genoa for which we need to make a sail bag. We like your design, including the mesh bottom. Do you have more images of the bag?

  3. Patrick may get around to publishing more images, but in the meantime: You can actually see the mesh panel on the bottom of the bag in the image in which the sail bag is swung up on the lifelines. It is fairly narrow and does not extend the entire length of the bottom of the bag (black mesh). The loop you can see on the side of the bag in this image and its match on the other side are tie-down loops to keep the bag from sliding back and forth across the deck to prevent chafe. Even so, we found we recently had to add some PVC panels to the front of the bag and the windlass cover for chafe protection where they rub against each other. Maybe that's why most stays'l bags are elevated; however, we like the improved visibility with ours.