Sails and sailmaking is a fascinating and increasingly complex subject. It's a combination of art, science, history, and mystery. Many sailors enjoy these complexities and spend days, sometimes weeks, even years studying the subject and using it to their advantage either on the race course, on a bluewater passage, or while out for a weekend cruise. Others find that it has become too complicated, too unwieldy, and far too difficult to understand. They feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the subject and view it as a large, kindly uncle whom they would like to know better, but whose presence is so imposing they don't make even the first attempt at getting acquainted. This book is designed to be your bridge between that unfamiliar world and your desire to know more about this important aspect of something you love. I feel strongly that an understanding of sails and the way they work is a part of basic seamanship and therefore important to all sailors.
While the weight of this book and depth of the topic might make you less inclined than ever to come to grips with the subject, the book is designed to lead you step-by-step through the process, making the journey as simple as possible. It's not necessary to read every word in each chapter. In fact, much of what is written might already be familiar to you, in which case you can skim those areas. It's also not absolutely necessary to read each chapter in order. You might find a particular part of the book that interests you, and if so I suggest you start the book at that point.
On the other hand, the book was written and laid out with a definite plan in mind, and if you start at page one and work your way through to the end a lot of what once seemed difficult to understand or too technical to grasp should become clear. It is possible to become a good sail trimmer without understanding the theory behind lift and drag, but you will definitely be a better trimmer if you understand how a boat sails and all the other nuances of sail design and handling. At the very least it will make you popular back at the yacht club. Who else bellying up to the bar will know about circulation, boundary layers, and lift, to say nothing of finite element analysis and how to carry out the perfect float drop at the leeward mark?
Maximum Sail Power is divided into a number of sections plus an appendix:
Chapter 1 is a hypothetical visit to a sailmaker. This chapter goes hand-in-hand with Chapter 14, which includes a series of questions that you might want to ask your sailmaker once you have a greater understanding of the subject.
Chapters 2-7 are the real meat of the book. They describe the process of creating a sail, starting with the raw materials and working through each step until the finished product is ready for use. The chapters cover everything from the basic properties of different kinds of fibers and the construction and engineering of fabric to the design and construction of different kinds of sails, including the latest molded sails.
Chapters 8-10 look at three important areas: downwind sails, storm sails, and sail inventories in general.
Chapters 11-12 are a comprehensive look at sail trim and sail handling.
Chapter 13 looks at sail repair.
Chapter 14, as already mentioned, is a question-and-answer section with all the questions you might possibly want to ask your sailmaker.
Chapter 15 examines the theory behind how boats sail, including an in-depth look at the aerodynamic and hydrodynamic theory behind how foils work and how a sailboat can sail close to the wind.
Again, you may choose to read only one or more sections of the book, although I urge you to make an effort to read them all, including the last chapter on sailing theory. I also encourage you to attempt to come to grips with some of the more complicated sail-handling maneuvers covered near the end of the book since the more you know about handling your sails the better sailor you will be. I have tried throughout the book to keep an even balance between racing and cruising. Rather than separate the two groups and address their specific needs independently, I thought it was important to keep them together, since cruising sailors can always
Photo by Mark Pepper, Marinepics
Photo by Mark Pepper, Marinepics
Bernard Stamm turned in an impressive performance aboard Bobst Group Armor lux in the 2002/03 Around Alone.
learn something from the racers and vice versa. If in parts of the book it appears that I am heading off on a subject that is not interesting to you as a cruising sailor, humor me and stick with it. You may learn something that can be applied to your cruising. Same too for racers. The experience of cruising sailors has contributed greatly to the sailmaking industry and as a racing sailor you might just learn something about durability and fabric engineering that can help you out on the racecourse. In its entirety, the subject of sails and sailmaking is fascinating. I hope that this book will give you a greater understanding of the topic and that you will derive more enjoyment out of your sails, and by extension, your sailing.
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