When film/mylar sails first started making an appearance in the late 1970s, the development of the new materials was heralded as being a breakthrough for sailmaking technology. Despite a few trials and tribulations, most sailmakers soon mastered the new skills needed to work the film based panels, with Mylar sails quickly becoming an exciting option for those forward looking classes who were happy to adopt the new technology. What soon became clear however was that using Mylar was far from simple, as it was not just a case of substituting one material for another. The change to the new material should have brought about a sail making revolution, but the end result was far more a case of cautious evolution, as the sailors themselves would take time to change their understanding of their rigs. What was needed to drive the next step forward was a technique that would allow sailmakers to fully utilise the advances offered by the new generation of materials. The end goal had to be sails that were constructed with panel shapes and thickness dictated by the loadings within the sail itself.
This is just was has happened thanks to a recent development by the team at Speed Sails. Taking inspiration from the way spiders naturally engineer their webs, so that the area of maximum loading at the anchoring points have the greatest concentration of fibres, the developers at Speed have found a way to maximise the inherent strength of a sail whilst using lighter materials. The resulting development, Aero Web. When applying the Aero Web technology, the sail is built up from cross cut panels, onto which are glued a series of load bearing tapes that can be positioned along the paths of the identified stress lines. The tape material can therefore be concentrated at the head, tack and clew, whilst in the middle of the sail, where the loadings are lighter, the construction here can be lighter too. The results seen to date with Aero Web construction suggest that it will produce sails that will be lighter, yet at the same time, significantly stronger.
With their eye firmly on their existing strong position within many of the UK’s popular two man dinghies, to date Speed have applied the new development to a Merlin Rocket jib, GP14 main, Graduate Main, Graduate jib and a Solo main. Speed’s Sailmaker was very upbeat about how the first sails had been received by these very knowledgeable fleets. Looking first at the Merlin jib, pointing out that the high aspect foresail on a Merlin can take something of a hammering when the boats are sailed hard in breeze, so along with Speed Sails, they have been keen to see how the sail would stand up to an accelerated programme of use. He went on to say that the Merlin main, with its extended roach, would benefit greatly from Aero Web technology and with Taxi such a stalwart of the class, the next move would be to complete his sail wardrobe with a new main.
The GP14 main is another interesting development as here the roach area is less and with the class using a lower aspect rig, the immediate benefits will be less apparent. The GP14 rules do not allow for laminate genoas, but he thinks that the mainsail could be an interesting development for the resurgent GP14s who are not only enjoying their 60th anniversary but are seeing growth in depth ahead of the World Championships scheduled for Sri Lanka. He stressed that the key to the development was that it was not just a gimmicky ‘fad’, nor would it be a development that would add significant extra cost to the sails. Indeed, he believes that the opposite may actually be the case, as although there is a great construction cost, there may well be savings from a reduction in the materials bill.
More importantly, he is confident that not only will the tight control of the panel shapes result in sails that are quick, but they will also be lighter. In the past, sailmakers have produced light weight sails, but these have not had a particularly good reputation for longevity. Not so with Aero Web, as the understanding is that these sails will actually last better and hold their shape for longer than the traditional alternatives.
With Speed now looking at creating Aero Web sails for other classes, (expect to see them soon in the single handers that he is often found sailing in) plus other Speed Sails favourites, including the Fireball and Scorpion, Aero Web sails should soon be seen at the front of the fleet in powering many more winning boats.
For more information on Aero Web, www.speedsails.co.uk or by email on email@example.com / phone 0845 50 40 600
Article by Dave Henshall