Since our start to the first Race in the Lagoon City Regatta was so poor, I got to thinking of ways to improve performance. The glaring issue was that when we gybed, the battens in the foresail got hung up on the forestay, hourglassing the sail (OK, that will sound cryptic to non-sailors - sorry). I wondered why we had the battens up there and made some calls.
Battens are put in a sail to stiffen a section of it, and flatten out the shape of the sail. They are flat sticks that fit into pockets of the sail, and can be tensioned so they have just a tiny amount of curvature to them.
I was sure that the battens were in the luff (leading edge of the sail), and couldn't figure out why a sail would have been built that way. A sail is supposed to have a shape like an airplane's wing:
With battens at the front of the "wing" shape, the sail would be forced flat at the spot where it is supposed to be the most rounded, negating its shape. Also, the battens tended to get hung up on the forestay, and when you tried to unwind them after the inevitable hourglassing, the battens would just flex, refusing to be pulled back in place.
I started asking around to see if anyone had seen this before. I asked everyone at Lagoon City, then tried the crowd at my home club, posting the question our club's email board. After that I asked at the Catalina Forums and emailed a local sailmaker. Finally in desperation I phoned 3 separate offices of the people who built the sails hoping they would have an answer for why I had sails with such a crappy design.
The sailmakers suggested that I go to the boat and take pictures to send them. I thought that sounded like a good idea, so off to the boat I went, camera in hand. The sail was hoisted the camera pointed out - and the battens were in the leech (trailing edge, flat part of the sail) where you would expect them to be.
The sail was wrapped be cause the sailor was doing a poor job, not because of the design at all. D'oh!