Equipment Testing : 7m sails

7m sails

7m sails  


Adrian low

Nowadays consumers tend to have an innate sense that if something is complicated or difficult, it must be better than something that is simple.

Take food, for instance. Sat at a table waiting for your jus-drizzled ensemble of painstakingly designed food to arrive, you might believe that you’re at the absolute pinnacle of gastronomic delight. But really, can you honestly say that it gave more satisfaction than the fried egg sandwich they serve at the local cafe after a cold day’s windsurfing? Possibly not.

Empirically, simplicity is often the key to happiness. Keep things simple and they generally work well. Complicate them and even with the best intention and design in the world, more often than not they end up a disappointment. So what’s that got to do with freeride sails? Well, many people make the step to cambered sails because they want a new challenge. They want to go faster and be able to hold on to a bigger sail in stronger winds. Whilst rotational sails have many strengths and virtues over cambers, there’s no doubting that cambered sails offer a sense of glide, stability and speed that rotationals simply can’t match.

Once you’ve resolved to make the step to a cambered sail, you need to decide how far to go. Looking through most brands’ ranges, you’re likely to see a thoroughbred, wide luff-tubed race sail, which will have around five cams. One step down from this and most will offer some kind of ‘detuned’ version of this sail - still sporting that wide luff tube, but trimmed down on the camber inducers to around three. And then at the bottom rung of cambered ranges, most brands offer a narrower luff-tubed ‘entry-level’ cambered sail, most of which are twin-cam.

Whilst it’s easy to be seduced by the full-on race designs’ promise of ultimate top speed, stability and kudos, there are some serious warnings that need to be considered…

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Adrian Jones

Test Editor

Is this sail for you?

Rigging: Twin-cam sails are already considerably more hassle than rigging a rotational. Do you really want five cams and a very wide luff tube to contend with?

Weight: There’s no avoiding the fact that cambered sails are heavier than rotationals thanks to the extra components. Common sense dictates that more cams and battens equals more weight.

Ease of use: Cambered sails aren’t just heavier, they also have a wider luff tube and clunkier rotation thanks to the cams. Going the whole hog to a race sail is one giant step up from a rotational. Twin-cams are a much more manageable step, and still offer great ease of use alongside most of the benefits of their more dedicated siblings.

Ability: It’s not actually a question of being ‘good enough’ to sail a race sail, it’s more about being good enough to get the benefit from it. And, being brutally honest, most people aren’t. You need to sail 1-2m bigger than you would choose in another style of sail, a dedicated board and fin designed to cope with the sail, and the skills to pin it down and hold the power at the limit of control. If you aren’t confident about this, then you will almost certainly get more performance from a twin-cam.

And that brings us nicely onto our fried egg sandwich of flat water sails - the twin-cam or ‘entry-level’ cambered sail. They can’t match the glamour, hype and promise of a thoroughbred race sail, but for most people they will offer a lot more fun (and in fact, performance).

Our test team of Clones took six of the most prominent designs on the market and headed off to Dahab, courtesy of Neilson Holidays. Neilson were fantastic in catering for their every whim and desire - in fact they’ve arrived back home quite the bunch of divas. A massive thankyou to Neilson for all their help during the trip, which far exceeded any of our expectations.

So, finally, before we get to the nitty-gritty of how each sail performed, let’s see what the designers have to say about twin-cams..

POINT-7: Andrea Cucchi (ITA-1), Head of Development
SIMMER: Tomas Persson, Simmer Designer
NORTH SAILS: Raoul Joa, Product Manager
GAASTRA: Daniel Richter, International Brand Manager
TUSHINGHAM: Paul Simmons, UK Brand Manager
NAISH: Nils Rosenblad, Product Designer

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In your opinion, what are the main advantages and disadvantages of a twin-cam compared with a rotational?

Point-7: Normally the twin-cam has better acceleration in gusts and higher speed in lulls, as the profile is fixed and not dependent on wind pressure. Twin-cams are a bit more difficult to waterstart and less forgiving in manoeuvres because of the fixed profile. Rigging can be a bit more complicated, but with the right technique it could be even faster than a rotational sail, as it’s easier to place the mast in the sleeve.

Simmer: Advantage - more stable and better low end. Disadvantage - not as easy to rig and a little bit harder to rotate.

North: You should look at the cam as an ‘extension’ of the batten that struts the tip against the mast. With this in mind you immediately understand the advantages and disadvantages of a cam. Advantages include: improved draft stability (increased v-max) as the batten is braced against the mast, improved aerodynamics (general performance improvement) as the cam makes for a smooth ‘transition’ between the thick mast and the thin batten. Disadvantages: harder / more time consuming to rig, as snapping on the cams is an extra step in the rigging process. Rotation is harder as the batten is ‘connected’ to the mast, and waterstarting is harder as the cams require a slightly wider mast sleeve (more water intake). Long story short, a cam supported profile will give you a wider wind range and higher performance in both directions. Low end performance is improved due to the deeper profile, and high end performance is improved due to the cam support. So you get going earlier and can hold the sail longer as long as you’re a safe gyber and waterstarter.

Gaastra: The draft is stabilised by those two cambers, so you get planing much earlier if you’re more a passive / not so experienced rider. Even more noticeable is that twin-cams plane much longer through lulls, and also go better upwind as the draft doesn’t collapse. They’re faster in low to medium winds (though equal speed at the top end). Twincams are more difficult to rig on the first, let’s say five times. They’re more mast sensitive as the bend curve and the rotation relies on an accurate mast. Uphauling and waterstarting take a bit of getting used to as there’s no real dead point in the draft, so it will want to move in that direction. Also, in a bad gybe where you shift too late the power comes on more or less immediately - although this at least teaches you to get it right, so I’d call that deuce.

Tushingham: A rotational will always be easier to gybe and manoeuvre, but we’ve built the Lightning with the aim of delivering the easiest handling a twin-cam can offer. The more defined foil shape of a twin-cam brings superior low-end power and topend stability with the added benefits of increased aerodynamic efficiency, especially in choppy water and gusty winds.

Naish: The main advantage of a twin-cam is that it planes super-early (since it has a powerful, deep, camber-induced profile), has excellent speed, and is stable and easy to control. Rotationals, on the other hand, tend to be gutless, and usually require additional battens (read ‘weight’) for stability. And as far as weight is concerned, our twin-cam is lighter than most of the slalom-oriented rotationals on the market thanks to ultra-light scrims, just six battens, and features such as the titanium clew ring. Twincams – with their relatively narrow sleeves - also waterstart easily, since the sail holds its shape. The only advantage of a rotational sail is rotation – but the modern cam sails rotate so well that the difference is relatively small.

Why shouldn't a buyer go al the wa to a full slalom/race sail if they decide to step up from a rotational?

Point-7: If a buyer made that decision there would inevitably be a transition period to acclimatise to the rigid feeling of a cambered sail. So, going for a fourcam sail with a very wide sleeve might prove too big a step and not provide the experience which was sought. But if gybing technique is good and the rider has no problem waterstarting, then the intermediate step with a twin-cam or triple-cam sail could be skipped. If a rider seeks more performance than with a rotational, but still wants to have a user-friendly sail, then a twincam is the way to go.

Simmer: Full-on race sails reach ultimate performance when average sailors are using sails of 1-2m smaller. It’s only really good sailors who can handle race sails when they’re in their performance zone, so most people will get more performance out of a twin-cam or a detuned race sail than a full-blooded race machine.

North: I wouldn’t say that this is impossible - I’d prefer to say that it depends. If you’re an advanced sailor you could jump up to a full slalom / race sail, as compared to, say, five years ago these sails are quite easy to sail in a straight line … once they’re out of the water! The question is whether you really want to compete in regattas. If not, then you’re way better off with twincam sails or maybe with a freerace sail like our RAM. Compared to twin-cam sails, full-on slalom / race sails have four to five cams and mega-wide mast sleeves. With this you might get another 10-15% performance gain, but you’ll pay for this with a harder rotation and a nightmare when waterstarting.

Gaastra: They should only do this after a test ride, as a full-on race sail needs a lot of expertise to get the best out of it. My personal experience is that most buy a race / slalom sail a bit too early and underestimate the level that you need to be to benefit from using one. And they’re usually surprised that a race sail doesn’t plane early, but goes faster in a wind range in which they’re accustomed to using sails of at least 1m smaller.

Tushingham: There’s a significant difference in weight and feel between a full-on race sail and a rotational – too big a step for most recreational windsurfers. A twin-cam is the best blasting option for most freeriders; a blend of great performance, easy rigging and easy handling. It should rig as fast as a rotational and it offers most of a race sail’s performance. On the other hand, a race sail is considerably less forgiving and a bit more technical to rig. Importantly, a race sail is built to excel in overpowered conditions, whereas a recreational twincam offers low-end power while retaining a respectable top-end when tuned correctly.

Naish: A full-on slalom / race sail doesn’t make sense for most people, regardless of skill level. They’re optimised for maximum speed in overpowered conditions (the opposite of what most sailors are looking for), they’re heavier and more expensive, and offer little advantage to anyone who isn’t racing. The ultra-wide sleeves of modern race sails also make them difficult to rig and waterstart.

Should sailors be using adjustable to get the best from these sails?

Point-7: Absolutely and without question. Adjustable outhauls should and can be used with anything ranging from freeride to race sails. It’s like going on a race or mountain bike with no gears. At Point-7 we have developed a universal loop-go adjustable outhaul system that fits on any type of boom and requires no tools to mount, so there’s really no excuse for not having this performance enhancement kit as standard on your rig.

Simmer: Adjustable outhauls definitely make it easier to maximise the sail’s performance. It’s a little bit of work to get it set up properly though.

North: Hmm… Outhaul systems are hard to ‘sell’, as they’re a mess to install on the boom and make rigging a bit more complicated. But once you have used it you won’t ever sail without one again. In combination with the Power.XT you can simply expand the full range of your sail on the water rather than sailing back to the beach. With this you’re able to get 130-150% of the wind range you get with one trim only.

Gaastra: Well, no.

Tushingham: Neutral outhaul will always maximise the Lightning’s performance off the wind and a few centimetres of positive makes for crisp upwind work. So if you do a lot of upwind / downwind sailing, then an adjustable outhaul should be a serious consideration. But for freeriders who simply blast back and forth on a reach the sail can remain ‘plug-andplay’ without the hassle of more ropes and pulleys.

Naish: Adjustable outhauls are always a plus since they let you make changes on the fly, and you get instant feedback about whether you’re faster or slower, but they’re not necessary to have a great day’s twin-cam sailing.

How critical is the mast to your sail? Will your sail work on other brands' masts oak, or only on your own?

Point-7: All masts fit all sails, but it’s up to the client whether to have 100% efficiency of the rig using only original parts or not. Point-7 mast curves are very constant. Having a pretty standard mast curve simplifies the choice for everyone to enjoy our sails.

Simmer: Our sails will work on any constant curve mast. But to get the ultimate performance we of course recommend using our masts. There are small differences in bend curves between different brands and different manufacturers, even though it’s a constant curve. Mast diameter is also an issue that will affect ease of rigging and rotation.

North: Honestly, currently the whole industry is lying to customers. Unfortunately our IMCS (mast measuring) system is more than 20 years old, and the bend curve ‘families’ (flex top / constant curve / hard top) which were defined at this time are simply too wide for modern performance sails. A so-called ‘constant curve’ mast edging towards a hard top mast is nothing lika a ‘constant curve’ mast edging towards a flex top mast. There are some brands that have ‘compatible’ masts, but it’s hard to say which. North has tried to initiate reworking the IMCS system to come up with a new industry standard, but unfortunately our attempt failed due to individual brand ‘interests’. Therefore, in the meantime I can only highly recommend that you buy a mast from the same brand as the sail. My favourite comparison is cars. For instance, would you buy a Ferrari chassis with a VW engine?

Gaastra: For sure, in addition to our own masts there a lot of other manufacturers’ masts that will work fine with our sails, but it’s not a realistic proposition for us to measure all the mast brands on the market to discover which are the best ones for our sails. While I can understand that the consumer may be cursing, that’s just the way the situation is.

Tushingham: All masts that are constant curve or flex-top are acceptable, but our extensive mast development programme means there’s nothing better than a Tushingham mast in a Tushingham sail! Cam spacers are supplied with the Lightning to ensure there’s good contact between the cam rollers and whichever brand of mast is being used.

Naish: Our sails are developed with what we call a ‘universal mast curve’, which means they work well with a wide variety of masts. You will always get the absolute best result by using the recommended mast, though.

Some of the sails in this group have very large cutaway clews. Please explain why yours does or doesn't.

Point-7: Our flat-water sail ranges all have cutaway clews. The size of these cut-outs depends on the type of sail and whether or not it will be used in overpowered or lighter wind conditions. The cut-out gives us the ability to control the twist of the sail right from the bottom up.

Simmer: With less clew cut-out we’ll get a little bit more tension on the lower leech, which is preferable for early planing and pointing. You also lose area in the foot with a big clew cut-out, which makes it more difficult to close the gap between board and sail.

North: The cutaway clew leads to a short boom length – the shorter the boom the stiffer it is (so less draft movement). Also the cutaway clew increases the twist in the sail which means improved high end control. If you come up with an extreme cutaway clew this twist transforms into flex. The difference between twist and flex? Simply put, twist means the sail opens and then springs back, flex means the sail just opens like a door but doesn’t spring back. So with flex you get more comfort, whereas with twist you get higher performance. This is the reason our twin-cam sail has a larger cutaway clew than our race sails.

Gaastra: Well, one benefit of the cutaway is obviously a shorter boom, which is nice if you think about the stiffness of aluminium. The story of a more ‘breathing’ open top area on such a sail isn’t really convincing though. Our focus was more on early planing with a very good speed in low to medium wind, with good speed and stability in higher winds. So the top end on such sails wasn’t the main goal. Planing, close the gap, longer boom, area down - it’s not rocket science.

Tushingham: We use a moderately reduced clew. It’s a sail with a huge range of use (larger sizes are often used on raceboards, for example) and we find that reducing the clew too much reduced the rig’s upwind drive. The largest sails in the range have the biggest cutaways to keep them compact feeling and reducing swingweight when gybing.

Naish: Our Indy has a moderate cutaway. This provides a short, comfortable boom length for easy handling, but maintains enough tension in the lower leech area for maximum low-end power and acceleration. If the cutaway is too deep, the lower leech ‘reflexes’, which is great for sailing absolutely maxed out, but useless for early planing.

As these aren't full performance designs, do you make any extra effort to keep the price down on these twin-cam models?

Point-7: We do it on all our range as we’re active windsurfers and want to make the extra effort to give the best quality at a great price.

Simmer: We’re not using any cheaper materials on our twin-cam compared with our race sail, but we use less material as it has a narrower luff sleeve and fewer battens. We’re always trying to reduce material wastage on all our models to keep the price down.

North: Unfortunately (for us!) the raw materials used on our S-Type are very similar to the materials on our Warp, and the time needed to build these sails is similar too. The only way to make the price more attractive is to work with lower margins on the sail - similar to an iPad 16GB being ‘over-artificially’ cheaper than the 64GB version.

Gaastra: Hmm… To say ‘cheap’ sounds a bit too negative to me. I really do believe this is the most undervalued sail type on the market at the moment, but that might change. And to make my point, these are full-on performance sails pitched at the people we make them for, which represents at least 60% of the freeride market. We know it’s price sensitive. It’s a reasonably priced Golf, not a Porsche.

Tushingham: There’s no compromise on materials or build compared to the X-15 race sail, but fewer battens and cams reduces weight and price significantly.

Naish: At Naish we make the best sail we possibly can for this consumer market using lots of exotic scrims and light weight Kevlar reinforcement. The only area where we save money is by having just six battens - but that was a design decision, not a cost-cutting one.

How important is sail weight?

Point-7: Weight is most important when executing manoeuvres. When sailing it’s the board that holds up the weight. Some sails can be very light on the scales but feel heavy on the water due to the performance or lack thereof. Conversely, a sail can feel heavy on land but feel light in the hands once you’re out on the water and blasting. Weight is mainly an issue in manoeuvres and on bigger sail sizes for lighter winds. When developing a sail there are several parameters that come into play when talking about weight, and one of these is of course overall durability. It makes no sense to make a paper-light sail if it won’t last and live up to customer expectations. So going super-light isn’t the best solution, but it needs to be light enough to enjoy the day. A good compromise is normally the best solution and it’s best if the sail is balanced and feels light on the water.

Simmer: It’s very important. And the bigger the sail is the more important it becomes. But there is a trade-off between weight and durability and between weight and stretch / stability. We use more lightweight materials in the top of the sail where it makes a bigger difference due to swing weight. We use stronger materials in the bottom where most sail damage occurs.

North: Again let’s take my favourite example: cars. Lots of people (especially the Germans!) judge a car by its brake horsepower only as it’s a simple number in the specs that you can easily compare. But BHP alone doesn’t say anything about acceleration or v-max. On a sail the weight has become an essential issue since most brands are pushing it. I agree that light weight is nice, but only if it doesn’t affect the sail’s durability. Windsurfing is a luxury sport and this is why North believe that a sail should hold up for at least three to five years (depending how often and hard you use your sail). With some of the super-light sails offered nowadays I doubt that this is the case, because light means you have to reduce reinforcements and film thicknesses (reduced UV resistance). Honestly, I believe the major reason for most of the weight reduced sails out there is to improve margins (as lighter sails are also cheaper to produce due to less material). Finally, physical weight is one thing - but how a sail feels in your hands can easily negate 200-300g of the physical weight. So what we are interested in is the ’apparent weight’ - how light the sail is on the scales combined with how it feels in your hands.

Gaastra: I would love to have a super-light 7.5, but most customers are durability freaks rather than weight watchers!

Tushingham: Weight is always important, for various reasons depending on the discipline and rider. Durability and price are also carefully considered by most customers so we’ve chosen specific laminates in each size for an optimal blend of performance and value for recreational windsurfers.

Naish: Sail weight is critical both for early planing (a lighter sail is easier to pump, and more responsive when you do so) and for handling in general. Plus they are just plain more fun to sail. Our twin-cam isn’t just ‘light’ though - it’s where we’ve taken the weight out that makes all the difference. The titanium clew ring and radial Kevlar clew radically reduce the swing weight for effortless gybing - combined with the ultra-light scrims in the head of the sail, this means that the sail feels more than a kilo lighter, even though the actual weight reduction is more like 0.6kg.

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