The quality and durability of big race sails and matching rig components.
Some findings and the feed back process.
The race rigs has evolved to be pretty expensive, but unfortunately the problems with durability and function haven't diminished accordingly to the rising prices. On the contrary.
Consequently there are good reasons to take a closer look at different brands and models, before you spend at lot of money for a new (or used) rig.
What follows are indeed subjective, personal reflections, and you are all free to doubt the the statistic value of these impressions. The findings are primarily based on personal experiences with different sails - but I've also incorporated the wise talking taken place on the local beach when the wind refuse to cooperate. And to get a good idea, if the findings are valid tendencies, of course I've also noticed the interesting discussions in the various internet windsurf forums.
Of course, not all faults have the same degree of seriousness, so that you can't just kind of accumulate the figures of defects and flaws of the single sail model to evaluate, which sails are worst and which are best. For instance, a tendency for a model to crack or burst in the luff (Neil Pryde RS4) is more serious than a tendency to breakings or failures in the batten tension devices (Maui Sails TR1).
As you see, only a few sail brands are included - but these in turn are some of the most used brands in my area. Because of the very bad experience with the function and durability of the race sails from the last couple of years, for 2006 some "new" brands has been introduced at this place (North, Gun ...), and as we get wiser on these brands they shall be judged too.
Please notice, that this is an abbreviation and a translation of an article in Danish. If anything seem to be a little foggy, it might be a result of this change in language and contents.
Generally about the sails.
As to sailing performance, Neil Pryde has always made very good sails, that are easy to trim well. With the original masts the sails most often show a very deep profile in the bottom sections, and for the same reason perhaps the sails are best for a little heavier sailors.
The (relatively) large production numbers have made it possible for Pryde to choose pretty complete, well finalized and expensive solutions in the details. That goes for differentiated film- and sailcloth quality, batten tension devices, batten pockets in the mast sleeve (plastics instead of webbing), battens with different diameter tubes, plastics quality of the camber inducers ... etc.
Neil Pryde is on the edge in innovation and use of new stuff and designs, but often the solutions don't seem to be thoroughly tested as to durability. This has often initiated some very good sails as to sailing performance - but also very often sails that are so vulnerable that for long periods of time you can't get on the water ...
The marketing department (or the marketing culture?) at Pryde has created a lot of unproductive gimmicks (Shear Tip, Batwing ...). Unfortunately the company also from time to time (from selling purpose?) has launched information, that are pure fraud - for instance the detailed information on the stiffness and bend curve of their race masts in their international website and their (now closed) forum. And by the way, perhaps the closure of their international forum is the best (worst) showcase of the Neil Pryde marketing culture?
Older race sails.
The "Shear Tip" on the Z1 do (perhaps) rotate the first time on the water. But very soon the shear tip develop to be a stick in the top of the sai,l always pointing backwards, and in no way supporting the twist of the sail.
The RX1 and the RX2 might crack - quite unprovoked - in the bigger windows. Probably it is caused by the monofilm used or some uneven load of the film, connected with the very deep drafts (the V8s from the same years show the same defects).
The RX2 needs to have the mechanism holding the shear tip shifted ones or twice a month(!). At least if you want to avoid the top of the sail flopping pointless in the wind.
Newer race sails.
The RS1, RS2 ("Racing") and RS3 show a tendency to crack unprovoked in the monofilm in the bigger windows. However the problem doesn't seem to have quite the proportions as the RX1 and the RX2 sails. If the problem is caused by a bad monofilm or an uneven load is not known (at this place).
The RS4 (all of them) delaminates high up the mast sleeve - most often within the first couple of months.
The RS4 cracks in the luff (that is inside the mast sleeve), most often just above the boom cut out. It probably doesn't happen as soon as the cracking of the mast sleeve, but it nevertheless happens sooner or later. If you don't recognize the damage very quickly, it is almost inevitably that the sail suddenly splits through the big windows. A sure sign that the luff cracking is imminent, is that the sleeve shows some horizontal, small cracks - or that you for every rigging have to apply more downhaul(!).
Quite a few of the bigger RS4s tear and split in the webbing holding the downhaul pulleys.
Some RS5s tear and split in the webbing in the top of the sail - letting the mast poke out of the sail.
The all new RS6 has started its career by breaking the part of the battens nearest to the cambers - especially low down in the sail. Neil Pryde seem to acknowledge the problem, and probably Neil Pryde shall replace the extreme part of broken battens. If Pryde expect the customers themselves to replace the parts by means of a heat pistol, epoxy and glass-/carbon weave, remains to be seen.
The sails in the RS4 - RS5 range using masts in the 460 - 580 cm range are extremely hard to the masts. The X9 masts are renowned for their tendency to break (se lower down) - but this is not the whole story. Very (most?) often when you try to rig the RS4 - RS6s with masts from other brands, these masts break too - even though they haven't showed any weaknesses when used with other sails.
Generally the race masts of Neil Pryde are very specialized (pretty soft in the tops), and the masts don't match most other sail brands.
The top of the pop mast (the X9), which was introduced a little before the introduction of the RS4 for the 2004 season, simply breaks. And for the subsequent 2 years the (very unhappy) customers have been listening to nebulous talk and "explanations", such as "... the X9 mast is the strongest mast in the industry, if just you handle it with care ...".
Then, all of a sudden (in the autumn of 2005), the X9 mast and the carbon extension were removed from the assortment. More than half a year later we saw the replacement (the X9 Ultra), which wasn't strong enough either - and now Neil Pryde has promised to introduce a new "X9 Ultra", manufactured in an other plant. It remains to be seen, if Pryde is capably of delivering a durable race mast at all!
Almost synchronously with the mast problems Neil Pryde for a couple of years haven't had an extension durable enough for the big race sails. The alu-extensions "only" bend, but all of the carbon extensions - especially combined with a 10.7 race sail and the recommended 530 mast (that is well over 40 cm extension!) just break. And until now the company hasn't presented a solution for their costumers.
In fact the X6 mast isn't Neil Prydes race mast, but in their desperation to sail at all many sailors are forced to use it. Unfortunately it hasn't till now been made in lengths over 520 cm (a 550 cm X6 mast is probably coming soon). This means that for the very popular 10.7 m RS4 - RS6 size you'll have to use a very long (well over 50 cm) and very vulnerable extension in connection with the X6 520 cm mast. The X6 mast is close to the X9 mast in bend curve, but it is, however, relatively a little softer in the top (that is more Flex Top, which means a little looser in the sail top or a little deeper draft low down in the sail). Generally it is not satisfying to have to use a (in essence) a freeride mast together with a performance race sail.
For many years Neil Pryde has sold carbon booms (from Fiberspar) with tubes connected with a separate boom head (first made from aluminum, later made from carbon). In 2004 they presented an all new X9 carbon boom with "endless" tubes. While earlier a Neil Pryde carbon boom with separate boom head would last 40-50 hours, to-day there are lots of examples of X9 carbon booms with more than 200 hours of use. The X9 boom might have a tendency to slip down the mast during sailing, the glue holding the boom covering in place is a little week, and some people ask for a wider boom tail. But the most important - the stiffness and the durability of the X9 carbon boom - seem to be very good.
Generally about the sails.
After their working for Neil Pryde came to a halt in 1999, Barry Spanier and Phil McGain were responsible for the sail design at Gaastra between 2000 and 2004 (they were asked to leave Gaastra around the New Year 2004/2005, presumably because of a too conservative approach). During the Spanier/McGain reign the Gaastra race sails have shown the most shallow draft in the industry - and consequently the sails that can best be sailed by very good sailors. The flat design is helped very much by very specialized, top stiff masts. The sails pretty often show some odd functions (cambers that don't touch the mast, pronounced asymmetric profile (starboard contra port tack), very inaccurate measures for downhaul and outhaul ... etc.) - strange things that can almost only be explained by lack of accuracy in the Gaastra plant in China.
From around New Year 2005-06 the designing work has been done by Dan Kaseler, who came from Naish Sails. Here he had, among other things, great success with the world record sail from the autumn 2004. Kaseler is a strong proponent for wide mast sleeves (called wide-sock in his terminology), and this is reflected in the 2006 Gaastra race sail (Vapor).
The 2000-'05 sails, Nitro 1-5 og Neutron.
The sails have a very shallow draft - and apparently also shallower than Barry Spanier intended. Anyhow, at a time he recommended to try solving the problem by a gentle polishing of the extreme ends of the battens (20 - 40 cm (?) of the rod section nearest the cambers).
The sails have en tendency to be asymmetric as to the camber rotation and draft - worst with the earlier Nitros (1-3). You can check if the sail is asymmetric by examining if the openings of the cambers (where the battens and the webbing are placed in the cambers) are worn on one side.
The connection of the batten pockets with the cambers (nylon webbing), the battens themselves and the cambers (poor plastic quality) are all pretty cheap solutions. This is only partly counterbalanced with the clever (but less essential) details, such as a outhaul devise (instead of an ordinary eyelet) and a "strap-on" elastic cord in the later sails (Nitro 4 - Neutron).
In the Spanier/McGain period generally there have been a lot of variations in the sails (sloppy sewing?). For instance in some sails the cambers are very reluctant (or impossible!) to rotate, while other cambers don't touch the mast at all, completely loosing their purpose.
Some Neutrons (at least the 11.0!) cannot be rigged to function at all - but as to mast breaking and luff cracking "qualities" they are world class (probably caused by too much curve in the luff and mast sleeve. The sad genesis of the Neutron (the designers were fired during the presentation process) might perhaps explain the characteristics of some Neutron sizes as a kind of semi-manufactured articles.
The battens of the Neutron fall apart, when they are pulled out of the batten pocket - which is necessary, when you are urged to modify the cambers.
Often it is even necessary to replace the new designed cambers of the Neutron with the old ones from the Nitros - among other things because the lack of wall thickness of the cambers doesn't allow modification.
2006 sejl, that is the Vapor.
The lowest batten of the 2006 Vapor has an angle, a rigidity and a lack of padding, that sooner or later cause damage to the deck of the board. Some sailors shorten the batten and wrap up the extreme end better, others replace it with an old, softer batten, and others again simply remove it - apparently without any noticeable effects for the performance of the sail. Seemingly the problematic lowest batten shall be removed (or have another angle) in the 2007 sail.
Generally the masts are very specialized (top stiff), and they don't fit into race sails from other brands (except Maui Sails).
The early '05 Gaastra Race 100 masts (former "Ignition") break when used with the Neutron sails.
Based on the measuring of one (1) mast there is a strong indication, that the 2006 version of the 550 cm race mast has grown quite a lot softer than earlier varsions - even if the specified stiffness is stated to be the same. The bend curve (top stiff) remains the same as earlier. The mast referred to is the one strengthened with aramid ("Kevlar") in the boom area.
Generally about the sails.
The two first generations of Maui Sails' race sails were to some degree a continuation of the old Gaastra tradition with flat sails that are comparatively difficult to sail competitively.
The sails are built with relatively conservative choice of materials. That's probably one of the reasons, why the risk of sudden, quickly enlarging cracks with catastrophic consequences for the sail isn't as high as (say) the Neil Pryde race sails.
Barry Spanier and Phil McGain have so far had the mantra, that they are not willing to accept the wide mast sleeve philosophy. The fact that sails with wide mast sleeves have done so well in formula competition, Spanier/McGain haven't explained (or have explained it pretty foggy). Now, the 2007 race sail (the TR3) is introduced with a wide mast sleeve, and in the Maui Sails forum the swallowing of the wide mast sleeve concept is explained with the better possibility to make cambers, that do both rotate and press hard against the mast (a week point in both Maui Sails and older Gaastra race sails). However, in their 2007 brochure the company admits, that the wide mast sleeve in fact produce better bottom power and more stability in stronger winds.
The 2005 sejl (TR1).
The TR1 is almost identical with the Gaastra Neutron - but the TR1 has lower quality fittings.
Generally the battens seem to be so raw manufactured and often crooked and pre-bend that competition sailors have to start the tuning of the sail by sanding or changing them with better ones. Further more the battens show a tendency to collapse between the batten parts (they get "telescopic"). And when trying to pull the battens out for repair, they just fall apart.
The batten tension devices all fall apart, and probably the best thing to do is to replace them with Gaastra tension devices.
The nylon webbing in the top and in the bottom (for the downhaul pulleys) often slip in the seams. Probably the problem is caused by a common fault from the North Sails' plant in Sri Lanka, where the Maui Sails are manufactured (the North Sails own race sails seem to have had the same problem in this period).
The sails have a tendency to be asymmetric as to camber rotation (an old Gaastra weakness). If the sail is asymmetric can be checked by looking if the openings of the cambers (where the battens and the webbing are placed in the cambers) are worn on one side.
The cambers almost always have to either be filed/shortened or put on spacers (recommended made from cooler hose!), just to rotate/press properly against the mast. Just to be able to rig the sails by yourself (without help from your buddy) for some sail sizes (for instance the 7.0) it's necessary to cut off the upper 1-2 cambers - apparently without noticeable consequences for the sailing performance.
As to the slalom sizes, because of the narrow mast sleeve the sails have to be rigged in the old fashioned way - that is the cambers are pulled down over the mast. As always with this way of rigging the repeatedly foldings of the mast sleeve, the luff and the foremost part of the windows, the monofolm very quickly gets a devastated look.
Because of the bad reputation on the TR1, pretty few TR2s were sold at this place - and only a little knowledge as to problems and durability of the TR2 has spread. The general impression, however, is that the TR2 is a somewhat better, more reliable and better finished sail than the TR1.
We windsurfers are a merciful people, and at the moment it looks like the TR3 (with wide mast sleeve!) shall be the most used race sail at this place in the 2007 season. The experiences shall be taken down and made public here as they come in.
Generally the masts are very specialized (top stiff), and they don't fit in the race sails of other sail brands (except Gaastra). Because of the influence of Spanier/McGain (both at Gaastra and at Maui Sails), both companies share the same (odd) mast curve of their race masts. The very first Maui Sails SRS masts were identical with the Gaastra Race 100 masts - and they broke just as often. However, very quickly the SRS masts were beefed up.
Early in 2006 Maui Sails presented some long carbon booms with wide tail piece and big tube diameter at the back. If you forget that the strings from the outhaul trim device to the pulleys at the tail piece are not spread enough to avoid interference with the tack of the sail the boom appear to be a hit. The experience from more 3/4 year of use has not shaken this very positive impression.
Generally about the sails.
North has always been well known for manufacturing quality sails - but also sails that might appear some uninspiring and heavy to sail. Quality costs, and (at least in Denmark) for 2006 a North race sail easily costs 25% more than race sails from other brand (indeed, the other companies has caught up for 2007!).
The following is based on one (1) North Warp 2006 11.0 m sail:
North Warp 2006 11.0.
The sail is very tough built, and with pretty advanced materials. The draft is deep down low in the sail with a very sudden (and pretty ugly) transition to the loose top - in fact all pretty Neil Pryde wise. Both on the beach (static) and on the water (dynamic) the feeling of the sail is some heavy and without much "finesse". If you downhaul the sail, so that the loose area passes the markings for max. downhaul with 5-10 cm, then the Warp 11.0 can take a good breeze - if you are heavy! Sailors below the 85 kg mark shall probably profit from a somewhat softer mast than the recommended (and in practice rather stiff) Platinum 550 cm mast.
Quality and function:
The cambers are made from pretty soft plastics, and they quickly get deformed, where the battens intrude the cambers.
The two zippers in the mast sleeve have a tendency to loose the fasteners, so that the zippers can't be closed. If you for a start fix the ends of the zippers (with sewing thread or some staples ... etc.), the fasteners shall stay put on the zippers.
If the sail for one or another reason lie in the water for a little time (for instance after a blown jibe), it is almost impossible to pull up the sail again. Probably this is because there isn't any drainage channels in the mast sleeve - and the solution is pretty obvious: If you carefully puncture the adhesive between the mast sleeve and the intruding batten pockets, the vast volume of water from the sleeve relatively quickly disappear.
Early in the 2006 season some rumours about broken battens (the lowest ones) - caused by just letting loose the downhaul - were heard. If you wait a little time before removing the boom during the rigging down process, you shall probably observe no problems.
As indicated, the Platinum 550 cm mast is spot on the specified stiffness (the masts from other brands in practice most often are a little softer than specified). It seems to be very strong, and it doesn't show the tendency to pre-bend, so common these days. The Platinum 550 mast is one of the very few race masts from the bigger companies, that is placed very close to the label "Constant Curve". Consequently it shall probably be usable with the race sails from some of the lesser known sail companies (Aerotech, Sailworks, Naish, Hansen Sails ... etc.). And it shall probably also be usable with with Neil Pryde race sails above the 10.7, as the North Platinum 550 is pretty close to the Neil Pryde X9 580 (which stand out as an almost Constant Curve mast).
About sail development and feed back.
From most new industrial products we are used to expect, that the products are tested thoroughly before entering the market. And should eventually a few products with defects slip through to the consumers, we normally expect a kind of feed back, so that the flaws shall be corrected in the running process of manufacturing.
Concerning the windsurf industry, we accept, that the products are far from tested to the same degree, before the products hit the consumers (/the windsurfers) - and we also accept, that for manufacturing-technical reasons it is most impossible to work in the feed back of the consumers in a running manufacturing process.
Opposite to the testing of most other industrial products windsurf sails can't be tested in an controlled (artificial) environment (that is wind and waves) - and if the natural environment don't cooperate in the short time available before deadline, you probably have to make some qualified guesses about the performance, durability etc. of the new sails. You might speculate if the brands from time to time are forced to "interpolate" the specifications from the (few?) tested sails to the not-tested sizes in the often very long series of sizes. If that's your speculation, you are probably not wrong. Some of the horrible bad race sails you see from time to time simply can't be explained in another way. And it is obvious, that such a pretty casual test program (not by purpose, of course) shall not be the most effective to catch up some of the defects, that only materialize after several hours on the water.
All this might perhaps be acceptable (the concept after all keep the prizes relatively low and the development pace up) if the defects that penetrate to the consumers at once are corrected and adopted in a running manufacturing process. But as far as I know the manufacturing process of race sails are exactly not a running process (with the all Neil Pryde RS7 as a possible exception). To my knowledge normally the whole production of a year of the whole sail series are manufactured just before the season - and consequently it's not possible to correct the production according to the reports from the consumers.
But - if defects can't be corrected during a running production, the least we can expect is, that the companies collect the experiences during the season, so that the defects are not repeated for the sail series of the coming seasons. And for that purpose we must expect, that the companies have a strong team of supporters to help the customers with the worst of our frustrations. And of course there have to be a logical and transparent kind of warranty to help removing the insoluble problems from the shoulders of the costumers.
Especially in windsurfing there's a lot of valuation involved in finding out, what is the windsurfers responsibility for a defect and what is the companies responsibility - but for the windsurfer on the local beach the warranty often is perceived very "random" and very dependent of the temporary morale of the single company. And even if it oughtn't be so, the morale seem to be closely connected with how consolidated the company is - or what demand to earning the company has. Hopelessly, this often effects, that companies are not too willing to accept warranty claims for general defects, that hits a large quantity of customers (for instance the Neil Pryde X9 mast breakings or the RS4 luff bursts), while the companies are more co-operative when it comes to kind of rarer defects.
Better race sails: Participation of the customers in the internet.
All serious windsurf companies have a homepage, and some of these have a kind of forum attached. Some of these forums with their (ideally) absence of restraint are not only very suitable to answer questions and to help sailors help with frustrations. At least as important, the forums could function as a kind of listening post, allowing the companies to take part in the experiences of the customers. With a little sensitivity from the companies this could be a invaluable help in developing products for the coming year - and in this way avoiding old flaws from being repeated from year to year..
You might understand this as an invitation to take part in the discussions in the forums. In doing so you in fact underline the responsibility of the companies for their own products, so that in the future we can wish for better and more reliable race sails and rig components.
There are some contributors, who hinder the forums to be a free and transparent "market" for experiences and solutions. Among the more irritation persons are arrogant/teflon-like administrators/moderators, who encapsulate any problems in denials or "hype". And from the opposite point of view these irritating administrators are opposed by the (just as irritating/spoiling) trifle costumers, who only talk about their own very small problems without an obligation to ad just a little universal validity to their writings. The two parts can't live without each other, and in their self-understanding the writings and the position of their opponent legitimate their own - just as unproductive - writing and position.
However, the biggest problem in the forums is the over-loyal team sailors, who (mis-)understand their assignment to be to close the discussions about problems concerning the products of their sponsors - rather than understand their job to be to help in solving the same problems. Of course the team sailors exist to represent their sponsors for us, the ordinary sailors - but this in turn don't excuse them for doing some moral considerations. To be taken seriously by the sailors/customers that they try to influence the team sailors must show very clearly, that they weigh their personal integrity over the loyalty to their sponsors. The opposite would be prostitution! Put in an other way, it shall be obvious, that the team sailor first and foremost is part of the windsurf community - and first secondly is part of the team around NN company. For instance, it's both stupid and unacceptable, when the team sailors - against better knowledge - claim, that they have never had any problems with the mast sleeve/luff in the NP RS4 sails, with the camber rotation in the Gaastra Neutron sails, with the nylon webbing/cambers in the Severne SSR sails, with the nylon webbing in the top plug or downhaul pulley in the North Warp sails, with the batten tension devices in the Maui Sails, with the camber rotation in the Naish Stealth sails, etc., etc. Or (even worse) when a team sailor after shifting sponsor "suddenly" accepts and knows a lot about the defects of the products from his former sponsor. Certain sponsored sailors may perhaps think about, that their value for their sponsor shall always be dependent, that we, the ordinary sailors/costumers, value their credibility very high.
A little in the same playing field as the shady team sailors are the customers/sailors, that apparently hope for at future profitable relationship with NN company by intervening in any discussion with contributions like "... I don't understand your problem, now I have sailed NN company sails for 127 years without ever finding any defects with their products ..." Unfortunately, such
"unconscious" contributors often succeed in stopping otherwise interesting discussions - detrimental to people with real problems, and eventually also harmful for the collection of experiences of the companies.
In spite of these filters on the exchange of experiences on the forums you might wonder why the companies don't make much more use of this golden opportunity to follow closely the testing of their equipment by the consumers. With insisting and constructive contributions with universal validity we (the sailors/costumers) can urge the companies to incorporate this necessary feed-back in their future sail making - to the benefit of the companies (even if they don't always think so) and to the benefit of ourselves.