THOUGHTS ON DEVON YAWL SAILS by Chris Scanes of Sails and Canvas

THOUGHTS ON DEVON YAWL SAILS by Chris Scanes of Sails and Canvas 

The Topsham Sailing Club Devon Yawl fleet started 5 or 6 years ago to fill members needs for a ‘Geriatric One Design’, (G.O.D.). Many members had successfully raced dinghies in their youth, and wanted to get back to small boat one design racing, to complement their cruiser sailing. In addition, they wanted a family boat, good for knocking around with the kids, or going to the pub. So the Devon Yawl was the obvious choice. 

Right from the establishment of this fleet, I, as the local sailmaker, was invited to make suggestions regarding the sails, and then to produce them for the fleet. My brief was to produce sails of conservative cut and modest price, suitable for both racing and family cruising. In other words to stay entirely within the spirit and ethos of the class. 

Most of my sailmaking experience has been with larger boats, and in particular, keel boats. So I applied this thinking to Devon Yawl sails. I consider, because of its’ weight, that the Yawl has more in common with small keel boats than dinghies. Flattish sails are therefore required. Because she is a heavy boat, sails cut full, dinghy fashion, would only increase heeling moment, not acceleration. The flatter sails help windward performance, especially in tidal river conditions. In addition, because of the one-design restrictions, there are inadequate controls to gain benefit from full sails, (e.g. mainsheet travellers and mast rams etc.). My thinking has proved right. These flat sails mean the boat is manageable at all times, especially with light crews and the sails have proved to be fast. 

Since the early days, the Topsham Fleet has moved forward, expanding to over 30 boats, and racing is extremely hotly contested. Even so the original shape sails I designed are still used with virtually no modifications. 

Early in the fleet’s development the aluminium extrusion jib furling systems were discarded. This was because it was not possible to obtain good luff tension with them. More sophisticated furling systems have been adopted, where you can get the jib luff really tight. This makes an enormous improvement to windward performance. This prompted a minor adjustment to the jib size. When the large roller-furling drums were discarded, the jib was set lower, closer to the bowsprit end. This effectively lowered the clew of the sail to the point where you could not get the leech to trim property. As a consequence I now cut the jib clews 2″ higher than is allowed by the rules. 

This year Challenge Sail Cloth, an American product, has become available in this country. This has enabled me to upgrade the sailcloth without really affecting the price of the sails. I now use Challenge High Modulus Dacron, 4.9 oz for the jib, and 5.9 oz for the mainsail and mizzen, I reckon this sailcloth is as good as you will get, keeping the price of the sails within bounds. Also it is not particularly stiff in finish, which is important from a handling point of view, when the Yawl is in knocking about mode! 

Some Yawl sailors have contested my views on their sails. Everyone has different views on sails: that is what makes them such a good topic for debate. Nevertheless, the Topsham Devon Yawl fleet has now used the same cut of sails competitively for several years, and in the two National Championships held to date, have convincingly won the day, in a wide variety of conditions. 

Ed’s note: Apologies to Chris for the delay in this article appearing in print. Chris now has another new cloth called Pentex, which he says will give even better performance for the weight. Technical