Mainsail Upgrade

We have crossed back to the mainland after our trip to Corsica, and everything went really well with our new headsails. We had ordered a new mainsail before we left, but it got held up in customs so it didn’t arrive in time to fit before we had to leave, so we have returned to Marseille to get the new sail installed and setup on the boat.

Replacing the mainsail was the last item on our project list, and it’s also made it really clear just how much difference there is between standard cruising sails and the new high performance molded sails. Any sailboat racer will tell you that your sails are the primary engine on the boat, and if you want to win races, you need a great engine. I really respect and admire the racing folks, but it’s just not my thing. I like being out at sea, with long distances between course changes, and feeling the freedom and peace that comes from a well trimmed boat sliding through the water, so I didn’t really consider buying high performance sails when we purchased Wildling.

But as with many other activities, advances in technology used on the racecourse lead to new possibilities for regular folks, and what North Sails is doing with their new 3Di molding process is truly revolutionary. These next generation sails are almost half the weight, deliver more drive and speed, are easier to raise, trim and reef, and are as durable as traditional cruising sails. They really do provide the best of all worlds! Just like it no longer makes sense to install anything other than lithium batteries in a cruising boat, I think we’re approaching the time when the same can be said for installing anything other than molded sails.

The mainsail we ordered from the factory when we purchased the boat was just the base option (Incidences hydranet fabric with an area of 124 sq. meters). I’ve talked in previous posts about how we had problems with the top batten attachment fitting breaking on the sail, but we also had trouble with the sail holding it’s shape in light winds. The top battens would fold backwards when the sail is tacked and the upper roach section of the sail would flop over to leeward, which essentially eliminates the power from the top section of the sail. It’s not until apparent wind speeds increase to 10-12 knots that the sail will tack the top battens properly and take the correct shape. I’m not sure what’s causing this, but my guess is that a sail this size in hydranet fabric is too heavy to work properly in light air, and the weight also requires a lot more effort to hoist, reef, and stow. The video below shows what I mean about the hydranet sail deforming.

I was so impressed with the North 3Di headsails that we purchased, that I took Philippe from North Sails, Marseille out on Wildling in light winds to show him the problem we were having with our mainsail. Philippe promised me that North could build us a 3Di mainsail of the same size, that would hold shape when tacking in light winds, would generate more power and would be significantly lighter than our hydranet sail, while still being a very durable world cruising sail.

North offers a range of options in their 3Di sail line, and we ordered the North 3Di Endurance 760 sail which is high performance but optimized for durability for cruising. They have other sails that are more racing oriented for the folks that want to go in that direction.

The new sail was delivered to the boat and fitted, and we went out for a test. I’m happy to report that Philippe and North definitely delivered on their promise! No problem with sail shape, noticeably more power and drive, and the sail is MUCH lighter and easier to handle. We haven’t weighed the old sail yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the 3Di sail is half the weight of the hydranet sail. (I’ll report back with comparison numbers when I have them.)

We still have some adjustments to make to the batten tension and we have to re-position the reefing line attachment points, which the North guys will take care of, and then Wildling will be ready to cross the Atlantic ocean on the first leg of our voyage back to Australia!

I was a bit too busy sailing the boat and checking all the details of the new sail to take many photos, so I will just post a few previews for now. What I can say for sure is we are definitely faster with the new mainsail. Although it has the same area as the old one, there’s a lot more drive in the 3Di sail, and you can feel the acceleration due to slight changes in the wind speed much more than the old sail!

The first thing you notice about the sail (aside from the stealth-fighter gray color) is how thin the material is!

The battens are rectangular section carbon fiber with a Dyneema sleeve. Very light and strong.

The new sail stacked on the boom, it looks about half the size of the old one.

Reinstalling the track gate on the mast after all the luff cars have been fitted

The leech reefing lines run through titanium rings, with additional guide rings to prevent them from chafing the sail edge

The new sail almost fully hoisted

One thing I was quite surprised with regarding the 3Di sail is how sensitive it is to traveler position compared to the old sail. We put the boat on a close reach and as soon as we eased the traveler down, the boat just took off. On the old sail, the traveler position has much less effect. Because of the rigid airfoil of the 3Di, it’s very obvious when the sail is trimmed correctly, which makes traveler and twist adjustments much more precise. It makes the boat feel quite a bit different, and I’m really looking forward to spending time on the water with the new sail to get to know it!

17 thoughts on “Mainsail Upgrade

  1. Hi Doug, I am considering the purchase of an ITA 14.99 and have been shopping sails. I have been working with a North rep here in the San Francisco bay but considering that the boat will be delivered in Italy I am thinking of working with a rep closer to the boat. Can you provide me with the contact information of the person you worked with? Thanks


    • I’m really not sure of the exact difference because the original mainsail price was included in the base price of the boat, it wasn’t broken out by Outremer. I did hear (not confirmed so may not be accurate) that the new North 3Di Nordac (molded dacron) sail costs around 10% more than a standard dacron cruising sail. I think it’s only available in luff lengths up to 16 meters at present, but at that price it would be a no brainer to buy molded.

  2. It looks like the problem with the old sail was to much roach near the tip and batten tension? not that it matters now because you’ve got your new sails but were the old battens adjustable in tension? or set in pockets? the shorter battens possibly should have been a lighter section material that may help, i know when i used to race dingys with fully battened mains in light airs when we tacked i would grab the boom to give it a sharp shake to flop all the battens over to the new tack.
    The big Atlantic trip ahead eh! be good to see Wildling sailing in OZ, have a great voyage Doug.

    • Hi Mal, your advice about batten tension and batten material is good, I bet if we played around with that a bit we could improve the sail a lot. The tension isn’t adjustable, you have to change the length of the batten to adjust it, but that’s not too hard with small battens like these.

  3. That sail looks great ! I was just wondering, on the North site they put three colors available for 3di endurance, for the 760 option is the “creamy almost white” color also available, or is this grey color the only one ?

    • When I purchased my sails from North there was no choice of colors in the 3Di cruising sail models. Since they use a laminated layer on top of the spectra fibers, it seems reasonable that could make other colors. Best to ask you local North dealer what is available.


      • Thanks a lot for the answer, they really look great anyway, and it will be really interesting to know about durability. I’m thinking about a TS42 these days (marsaudon composite), and it looks like 3Di endurance i really the way to go. In terms of weight, what is the percentage compared to Hydranet ?

      • The weight difference is massive! Our 3Di mainsail weighs 40% less than the hydranet sail we replaced. I agree, 3Di is the way to go on a TS42. That is a very fast boat, and it would be a shame to spoil it with low performance sails. The only issue with 3Di sails is they are not as tough as hydranet, so you have to take more care with them, but the performance gains are impressive.

      • Wow, that’s indeed impressive.
        On a non related subject, would you say that the rotating mast can help in reefing the main in tricky conditions ? Or it does not make much difference on this aspect ?

      • The rotating mast does help with reefing, but I’ve never sailed a 5X with a fixed mast, so I can’t really say how much difference it makes. The big benefit of the rotating mast is when reaching in light conditions, it gives a noticeable boost in speed.

  4. Hello. We’ve finally launched our new Cat (self built), and are considering 3di sails. I wondered if you could give me an update, as to how they’re wearing, or not wearing. Have you had any issues?

    Thanks for your time.

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