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Sail Weight

No batten film sail
5 batten sail
2 batten sail
Race sail

Douglas has been on a mission to deliver the perfect balance between performance, weight, and durability in every Hurricane Sail he builds. “The primary goal” says Douglas, is to have the sail feel "light-in-hand" throughout the entire wind range while sailing.

How to determine the effective weight of a sail? In a few words, it is through careful, repeated testing of sail designs on the water where it matters most. Just weighing a sail dry on land would give a static weight in pounds and ounces however, how heavy or light a sail “feels” once it is flying, full of wind and you are on the water, is much more important. 

The dry weight of a sail on land is certainly a good place to start, however, a super lightweight sail can be great until it is not. What is meant by that? Hurricane could build the lightest sail on the market, but you probably would not like it as durability, draft-stability, wind range and many other desirable sail design features are only gained by adding weight. 

A pure 5-mill mono-film sail with no battens would, in theory, be as light as one could reasonably build, however, no windsurf sail-maker offers a sail built like that and for good reason. In most conditions it would fail to meet the needs of the sailor in both performance and durability, among other things. 

The single heaviest part in any sail is the battens with 15% to 30% of the weight due to the weight of sail battens. Tapered battens add draft stability to a sail and help define the shape and keep it from moving around. Using short battens in the leech really stiffens up the leech and keeps it from fluttering. The head batten allows the sail maker to make a fatter head which allows for twist and, among other tings, the sail can be rigged on a shorter mast.

Not all tapered battens are created equal. RBS tapered epoxy battens deliver the best performance with the least weight, but are really expensive. Lesser quality battens are likely heavier while not as stiff and don’t offer the precise, consistent tapering that RBS battens deliver. The proprietary process behind the RBS battens produces an optimal epoxy resin-to-fiberglass ratio that delivers the highest quality batten available and are virtually unbreakable. Hurricane Sails uses only the best RBS battens in their construction as other battens are heavier and deliver less performance.

A sail with stable draft (lets say 5 battens) will feel much lighter and more stable than one that only has two battens when sailing anywhere outside of its design range. The 2-batten version will feel super light between the car and when the sailor gets sailing and in wave maneuvers. 

A 2-batten sail will show excellent performance in its small wind range, but as the wind and gusts increase, so will the draft migration resulting in a sail that feels heavier with less control. This can lead to a frustrating fight for the sailor as they get progressively more and more overpowered.

A 5-batten sail will weigh more, but the extra battens will keep the draft locked-in and stable. A 5-batten sail will feel much lighter in-hand throughout a much larger wind range than a sail with less battens.

Race sails may have seven or more full-length battens, multiple camber inducers and many short battens. They need all those battens, and the associated weight, to get the incredible range and draft stability the sailor requires from race sails. They are heavy on the beach, but much lighter

 in-hand while sailing because the draft is so stable.

Battens and cambers add draft stability and define the sails shape in conjunction with the design. The more battens you add increases weight and, at the same time, draft stability. Building sails with fewer battens reduces weight and allows the sail to be more forgiving and offer quicker maneuverability, but also decreases the draft stability. In essence, it is very much like a volume knob on your stereo; if you want more draft stability and wind range, then turn up the volume by adding more battens. 

Conversely, to increase forgiveness and maneuverability in sail construction you turn down the volume by building sails with fewer battens. Finding the perfect balance of forgiveness, maneuverability, range and draft-stability is the premium goal of the sail-maker.

Durability and weight

Over the decades Douglas has repaired thousands of sails giving him a vast foundation of knowledge through seeing, first-hand, what material choices regularly fail and why. He found that just making everything heavier does not always solve the durability issue and the sail designer needs to know where sails regularly fail and why. In the Columbia River harness hooks and knees do the most sail damage and generally do their dirty work below the booms. Strategic design elements and reinforcing in the right places can deliver enhanced durability with minimal weight increase. 

Hurricane builds sails with reinforcing around the perimeter and Hurricane also reinforces seams properly and uses laminated sailcloth with imbedded fibers. This all adds some weight, but also durability and the carefully achieved balance is what makes Hurricane Sails so durable yet


Sail weight and waterstarting

To help understand this topic I have added a link to a waterstart video, which can be accessed HERE or in the media navigation tab. In watching the video you will notice that the instructor does not suggest that the sail be lifted out of the water. That would be basically impossible because of the bond between the sail and the water. One needs to position the sail approximately across or perpendicular to the wind, then push up on the mast, above the booms, to get the wind under it and get some lift.

As that is happening, move the mast towards the wind to complete the process of separating the sail from the water, With the sail separated from the water and now flying, the wind will be holding it up. Proper technique is the best way to water-start and having a sail that is 200 grams lighter is not going to make a difference- as much as we wish it would.

Weight and where it is located

Where weight in a sail is located makes a huge difference. While carrying the sail to the beach any weight will be felt, however once the sail is attached to the board in the water and filled with wind, all that changes. Any weight below the booms is hard to feel and above the booms the weight is more apparent, but changes incrementally as one moves up the mast. How can that be, a pound is a pound right? 

On the surface that would seem to be right, but add “variable leverage” to the equation and things change and are not so simple

Think about a nail hammered into a 2 x 4. You cannot pull it out with your hand, but use a crowbar and it comes out easily because of leverage. If you filled your adjustable mast base up with 50 pounds of lead your board would sure feel it, but if you were in the water holding onto the tip of your mast you could not tell whether it was there or not. Why? Because the weight is right at the hinged universal joint and you are holding on to the other end of the mast. You have say, 370 cm. of leverage on the 50 pounds. Now remove the 50 pounds from the mast base and put it at boom height. The mast tip would feel heavier, but not 50 pounds heavier. 

Why? Because you still have, say, 270 cm. of leverage on the 50 pounds. If you move it halfway between boom height and the top of the mast, you would sure feel it, but still not the full 50 pounds because you still have, 120 cm. of leverage.

Sails are most likely to be damaged below the booms, so this is a place that one can add reinforcing materials and it will be hard for the sailor to feel the extra weight because leverage is on your side. 

As an example of putting weight where its most needed, Hurricane Sails are built with a metal downhaul pulley. Some sail brands have two grommets instead of a pulley and the two grommets are lighter than the pulley, but grommets save only a small amount of weight in a place that you cannot feel it. Building sails with only two downhaul grommets requires two lines be fed through one of the grommets. The lines will rub against each other, creating resistance making down-hauling harder. In contrast, with the heavier pulley whe laced properly, the lines should not rub making for easier down-hauling.

Film window versus vinyl window

Depending on the thickness and weight of either vinyl or film, the film window will be lighter because its lighter per square yard than the vinyl. That said, film seams need additional material, generally known as insignia cloth on each side of the seam to properly construct the seam, which add a small amount of weight.

With vinyl windows the added material is not needed and the weight is in the bottom third of the sail so, at least as far as the ease of water-starting goes, the weight increase will be close to negligible.

Monofilm or x-ply film-laminate scratch very easily even from bouncing harness lines and, other than taking care not to scratch the sail, there is little that can be done to stop film from being scratched. Vinyl does not have this problem and if you apply a vinyl protectant or polish the window will be near good as new, even years later. 

Sails with film windows start loosing clarity from day-one and avid sailors may need to replace them every two years if they want to be able to see through the film window. In Douglas’ 40 years of sail making and repairing, he says he has NEVER had to replace a vinyl window because it was scratched and could not be seen through.


Vinyl is a stretchy material with “good memory” as it always returns to its original shape; while film, to the contrary, does not stretch and, if it does, it will stay stretched as film lacks memory. Utilizing the combined material characteristics of both vinyl and film Hurricane Sails have a hi-tech load strip made of film, UHMW-PE (think Spectra ®) and Technora®  to completely eliminate any stretch issues that cause draft migration. 


Monofilm or laminated film with an x-ply can be somewhat durable; that is, until a harness hook or a knee comes in abrupt contact. This is especially true if the impact is near a seam between the film and other materials as this is a real weak point. Vinyl is much more durable than film and there are no issues with seam-strength with vinyl. 

Sail design and performance

Vinyl’s middle name should be “forgiveness” and that’s one reason Hurricane Sails have vinyl windows. Another is there are sail design and shaping elements that can be accomplished by building the sail with a vinyl window that cannot be done using film. There is also a huge difference between how a sail built with a vinyl window feels over one with a film window. Why? The vinyl’s forgiveness and that means Hurricane sails jibe smoothly and quietly regardless of how much power is tuned into the sail. 

Sails with film window, if rigged with a lot of power, may be hard to rotate and could cause a “POW” when the sail goes from one tack to the other. Some film windowed sails may even require a subtle nudge with the knee to get it to rotate, this is not optimum. Film sails can deliver a lot of power when coming out of a jibe or when powering up and that sounds perfect,


Hurricane sails, with their vinyl window, power up a bit more gradually. Think a volume knob (for vinyl) versus an on/off switch for a film window.  This is easier on the sailor’s body. Additionally, when the sailor is sailing across chop, a sail with a film window will feel much harsher because of that crisp power, where the Hurricane sail will feel much smoother and well mannered. One Hurricane customer told Douglas that they would never sail again with a sail that did not have a vinyl window.

A client, who is very accomplished mountain bike racer, said it was like the difference between a hard-tail bike with only front suspension, and a full-suspension bike. He likes the smooth forgiving ride of full-suspension especially when racing as the harsh ride was just not worth it to them

At the end of the day, having a light sail can be truly advantageous, but there are trade-offs that need to be weighed (no pun intended). 

As mentioned, since the beginning of his sail-making career, Douglas has always strived for the perfect balance between performance, weight, and durability in every Hurricane Sail he builds. Hurricane Sales feel smooth and "light in hand", throughout a broad wind range and are exceptionally durable.

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