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Hurricane Design Philosophy

Douglas Van Zandt, Hurricane Sails founder, sail designer and sailmaker has held tight to his sailmaker father’s advice; “since you can’t make the sail the right shape for all conditions, you have to make it adjustable to meet all conditions.”

Douglas points out that a lions’ share of the products on the market have adjustability designed into them. Cars offer variable-speed wipers, high and low beam headlights, multiple-speed transmissions, adjustment knobs for the stereo, or to move the seats forward or back, of the gas pedal.

The performance characteristics’ a sailboat or sailboarder needs in their sails depends on many factors such as vessel size and type, sailing style and the sailor’s weight and ability. Critical also is the current wind-speed and if the vessel is pointing upwind, or on a beam reach across the wind, or on the fastest-point-of-sail, a broad reach, or heading straight downwind. 

Sailboats going downwind make sail adjustments such as hoisting spinnakers, bagging out the mainsail (creating maximum projected area) and letting the headsails way out. Why? Because the resulting force of the wind hitting the sails is (roughly) calculated as; wind-speed minus boat-speed. With slower wind-speeds sails need far more lift, shape and power to give the vessel the most speed out of the lighter conditions. 

When pointing upwind, sails are pulled in tight and the force of the wind that hits the sail is then calculated as wind-speed plus a portion of boat-speed. The wind going across the sail is traveling much faster (the apparent wind) than going downwind. In these two scenarios, what is needed for sail types and sail trim is at either end of the sail tuning spectrum.

Most windsurfing sails are not adjusted while the sailor is out on the water, race sails are an exception, however Hurricane is focused on non-race sails. So windsurfing sails must deliver all-around performance in whatever setting the sailor has tuned them to, regardless of the point of sail they are on.

How does one design a sail with such broad-ranged performance and what characteristics must be balanced to achieve this best overall performance?

First, you set that as your goal and since 1988 Hurricane Sails have been specifically designed for the variable and powerful conditions in the Columbia River Gorge where heavy winds help form big swells and there are huge differences in wind speed between the lull and the gusts. These huge swells are created by wind blowing opposite the direction of the water flow. This is fundamentally different from most sailing spots in the windsurfing world such as Maui where, once on the wave, the sailor can surf all the way to the beach as both the wave and water energy are focused together pushing to the beach. 

The Gorge is really different. Why? 

In the Gorge, on the biggest west-wind days, it sometimes can be hard to get to the bottom of a swell even when the sailor is fully powered. While (wind) surfing down that swell you are actually surfing down an up-escalator, as the water is not going in the direction of the swell. The flow of water is heading west, or opposite direction, even if the swell your riding looks like it is heading east. This wind/water direction anomaly makes a huge difference in how sails are designed to give optimal performance in the Gorge conditions.

What are the characteristics that guide the Hurricane design philosophy and how have the sails been designed to sail “down the up” escalator? 

Sails need to: 

  • Turn with incredible ease; we like to say our sails “Live for the Turn”,

  • Perform comfortably in variable wind-speeds from nuclear gusts to the lulls,

  • Be tune-able to work exceptionally well for a wide-range of sailor-weights and heights,

  • Help sustain board-speed when heading off the wind while surfing swells,

  • Make spectacular, quick turns or make 20-plus effortless turns in a row ,

  • Comfortably drag race your sailing buddy – and beat them,

  • Be able to point high into the wind - to have good windward ability,

  • Be extremely durable,

  • Have a large window that retains its clarity over time,

  • Be forgiving,

  • Be light in hand while sailing.

That is a long list of desirable sail characteristics; so how is it possible for a sail design to deliver exceptional performance on all of them?

Douglas Van Zandt has been driven to build the finest windsurf sails that deliver, point-by-point, on the above list. To achieve that goal, Douglas chose to not follow conventional wisdom followed by many other sail designers and employ his own freethinking and, as a result, Hurricane Sails are “Different by Design.” The Super-Nuker, Hurricane Sails main sail line from 1988 through 1999 did many things that the conventional wisdom said they could not.

Sails are complex and how to maximize their performance in the wind is the combination of well-tested design, coupled with thoughtful construction, using quality materials and how it all melds together to deliver the overall performance.

The Super-Nuker has many sail design elements that were very different from its industry competitors. Two of the major design elements used in the making of the Super-Nuker was an extra large vinyl window with anti-stretch load strips and a generous amount of broad seaming or shape.

The Hurricane Eldorado shares many of the unique design features with The Super-Nuker including the same large vinyl window with anti-stretch load strips and a generous amount of broad seaming or shape and many more, as well as new features.

It is nearly impossible to have the generous shaping in a windsurfing sail without the vinyl window. “Why not?” is a logical question to ask? Have you ever jibed a sail and had it go “POW” or remain on the other tack till you gave it a hard yank on the booms or bump it with your knee? Most windsurfers have. This is mainly the result of generous shaping below the booms creating that scenario. It is also a characteristic of a sail that has a film or film-laminate window area. While being very stiff and performance oriented it has zero give, flexibility, or forgiveness. To get rid of the “POW” one might downhaul the sail more and/or add more outhaul or, for a sail designer, remove shape and or luff curve.

If, however, that same sail had a large vinyl window, more than likely the “POW” would not have ever happened. The attributes of a vinyl window are; it stretches, it’s forgiving and its incredibly resistant to scratching. The forgiving and scratch resistance characteristics are really beneficial, however the stretching part is not so much. If the stretch is not controlled the sail can gain draft depth and the draft will generally migrate aft.

All Hurricane Sails built since 1988 have had some type of load-strip(s) going through the vinyl window to eliminate the stretch. Full disclosure; it took about a month of testing sails in the Gorge to figure out how much stretch the vinyl window affected the performance of the sail. Once we determined this, we came up with a solution all prior sails made were retrofitted.

As with the Hurricane Super-Nuker, the Eldorado’s is built with a large vinyl window, and anti stretch load strips, made of the most durable window material which:

  • Provides for long term visibility 

  • Provides for smooth sail-rotation even when sail is tuned to full power setting which is generally less downhaul and little outhaul (aka bagged out),

  • Allows for more seam shaping, 

  • Ensures stable draft with the help of the window load-strip,

  • Helps to smooth out the affects of bumpy, choppy water,

  • Acts like a full-suspension bike vs. a hard tail – smoothes out the ride,

  • Allows for the power in the sail to come on gradually,

  • Provides performance characteristics that other sail designers, that use film or film-laminate windows, just cannot match.

Battens are an important element and function of a sail to help keep the draft or shape that is designed into a sail from moving around. Batten pockets can be seen and battens can be felt under the batten pockets, but it is generally hard to know much about the batten. Is it tapered? How stiff is it and what are the characteristics of the material that it is made out of? Is it epoxy or polyester and if it is epoxy, what is the ratio between the epoxy resin and the fiberglass? All epoxy battens are not created equal and there are many really good reasons why most major sailboat sailmakers use Robichaud Batten System (RBS) battens in the sails they make. As with most products there is a trade off between performance, weight and price. 

Douglas started using RBS battens back in 1986 or so and has used their battens exclusively ever since. RBS has always been the best of the best batten manufacturer. The best of anything generally comes with a price and many major windsurf sailmakers have considered using RBS battens, but choose not to in large part because they are too expensive. RBS is now located in the Port of Hood River – about as local as a business can get – and they make all the tapered epoxy battens for the Hurricane Eldorado. Every batten for every sail is custom with its width, thickness, draft placement and taper dimensions specific for each batten in each sail. There are cheaper battens available, but Hurricane has always chosen RBS for its sails. 

Draft stability vs. forgiveness: race and speed sails need massive wind-range and draft stability. Many wave sails on the market today only have a few full-length battens so they can have a soft feel doing maneuvers on the face of a wave and for freestyle tricks. So why has Douglas chosen the 5-batten set up for the Eldorado? 

Note: the Eldorado has 5-battens for sails 3.4 and above. The tiny sails are 4-battens. To answer this one needs to go back up to the beginning of this piece and read the list of things that Douglas feels the sails need to deliver. 

Douglas wants Hurricane sails to be your best friend on the water allowing you to do what you want, without constraints, while sailing. When you are regularly experiencing a 20-knot difference between the lull and the gust you need draft stability. Too much locked-in draft is great in a straight line, but will impede on maneuverability and forgiveness when turning.

For the sails above 3.4 Douglas believes that using 4-battens sacrifices draft stability and range. Yes, it will allow for the sail to be a little bit lighter and cheaper to build. Unfortunately, if the sail sacrifices draft stability then it will feel much heavier in the upper reaches of the wind-range and the sailor will feel they are fighting the sail as the draft begins to move forward and aft in the gusts. The lighter 4-batten sail will start to get unmanageable and feel heavier. The Eldorado feels light in-hand when you are sailing and that is the most important place over feeling light in the parking lot.

Weight  - A lightweight sail is great until it is not. A saying in the sailing world is that a collision at sea can ruin your whole day. While it is true for sure with a boat, sail failure while one is out windsurfing can be a bummer at a minimum but can also be life threatening. Knowing that Hurricane customers are on a truly durable sail is something of a driver behind Douglas’ design philosophy. 

It is often argued that a 4-batten sail is much easier to waterstart than a 5-batten sail. This argument appears to have merit till one really thinks about the proper way to waterstart. 

There is a link to a waterstart instruction that can be found HERE or in the support section of the Hurricane Website

To waterstart the board-sailor needs to get air under the sail to get it to fly on its own and most of the challenge is breaking the bond between the water and the sail. To achieve this one needs to position the mast reasonably close to being perpendicular to the wind, then move towards the upper section of the mast and pull the mast towards the wind while lifting up to get wind under it. Once the bond between the water and the sail is broken the sail is flying on its own and the wind is keeping it up. Four battens over five is not going to make any measurable difference in a person’s speed and ability to waterstart. Five battens over four will make a HUGE difference in delivering draft stability and a light feel in hand while sailing. There is more discussion on the weight of sails in the “Sails” navigation tab.

Douglas works with his sailcloth manufacturers and suppliers to specify the proper material in every part of the sail and Hurricane sails are legendary for their durability. On the surface one may think that durability means heavy. It does not. Hurricane sails have always been designed to balance weight, performance and durability.

A good example of how things can be deceiving is the monofilm or laminated film material in other sails. It is clear, but just because it is clear provides you with limited information on how thick it is or how much it weighs. Think of a 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood. If you were standing in the middle of it, you would not have enough information to know how heavy it was. Was it ¼” thick or ¾” thick? One would be 3 times heavier than the other, but from where you are standing one cannot tell.

The same goes for a monofilm window. Is it 5-mil thick or 7-mill thick? One is 40% heavier than the other yet just looking at them they both are clear and have no real look of weight. How thick is the film on either side of the X-ply in your sail versus another sail? Is the total film thickness 2-mill or 5-mill. They both look the same but one is 250% heavier than the other. What are the trade-offs between the 5-mill or 7-mill window or a thicker or thinner film on your X-ply? How much adhesive is on the two pieces of film to make the X-ply laminate? Is there adhesive on both pieces of film or just one? Why would that matter? What are the tradeoffs between the two options? It would be a long conversation to properly discuss the pros and cons for each choice.

Clearly there are multiple design options in sailcloth and there are pros and cons associated with each option. Just looking at sailcloth or a finished sail does not tell you how heavy the sail is or how it will behave on the water. As they say, it is hard to tell a book by its cove

Sails designed with film or film laminate (X-ply) in the window area are generally cut flatter for a number of reasons and there are tradeoffs. Flatter cut sails have a smaller tune-able range and therefore generally a smaller wind range. Sails made with film or film laminate (x-ply) windows have to be designed to be flatter because having the window area rub up against the booms is not good. First, and foremost, the abrasion will “sand” the film and make it hard to see through. Second, the film window hitting the boom can crease the film or film laminate, which can weaken the material and shorten its life. Third, it may “pop” when you jibe or tack or be hard to rotate. Hurricane Sails are made with vinyl windows and it’s harder to scratch or crease vinyl. 

Hurricane Sails builds its sails around a vinyl window. To counteract the natural elasticity in the vinyl and lock in draft stability a load strip goes from the tack of the sail to the batten above the window. The load strip material is constructed with Dimension–Polyant’s Twisted X-PLY® incorporating Ultra-PE fibers and has unidirectional Technora fibers on either side of the load-strip. The X-PLY® in the clew and below the booms is based around Dimension-Polyant’s Twisted X-PLY® incorporating Ultra-PE and polyester fibers laminated between two layers of polyester film which creates significantly improved tear and impact resistance vs standard X-PLY® and even more so over monofilm for the most demanding applications. The X-PLY® above the long batten is also a Dimension-Polyant laminate and has a much improved resistance to tear and UV degradation.

A Dacron colored luff panel is used to offer a forgiving feel to the sail during transitions. To ensure long-term performance, load funnels are installed under the batten pockets where they cross the Dacron luff. Additionally, a 2-ply of a Mylar/Dacron laminate is sewn to the forward edge of the colored Dacron luff to distribute the load going up the leading edge of the sail. 

To protect against damage from big crashes and other unplanned events, unidirectional Technora fibers are installed around the foot and leech of the sail.

The twist profile of the sail is designed to work dynamically with the conditions in the Gorge. Many sail designers have designed their sails with more twist than Douglas feels works in the Gorge. There are other aspects of the sail design that help Hurricanes' work with the conditions the Gorge offers with out having excessive twist.

Hurricane sails vast color options for sails are unique from the beginning. The color swoosh incorporated in the Eldorado’s design is more than just art, it is functional as well. The colored insignia cloth used for the swoosh helps reinforce the upper section of the sail where, even with Hurricane’s, flutter can occur. While Douglas does not like a soft leech that flutters, a characteristic of many sails, there are certain times where small amounts of softness or flutter can occur and the insignia cloth reinforces the sail in that area.

Design and color: Hurricane Sails has always offered the largest selection of color options of any sailmaker in The Gorge and maybe anywhere. That was true in 1988 and is true again. The panel layout of the sails has fashion and practicality interwoven to deliver a sail that works exceptionally well and looks beautiful and unique on the beach and on the water. 

At the end of the day Douglas wants to deliver to you a custom built sail, built to your specifications and color that is durable, “loves to turn” and is your best friend on the water – the sail that allows you to step-up your sailing game. 

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