Restoring sails

Hi brand new to forum today. I have an old but sound mirror and am busy refurbing the interior. My question is regarding the sails. They have somewhat to a less than bright red and wondered if there was a way of restoring their colour and vibrancy.

Secondly as they are old are they likely to have stretched etc and become inefficient. Once I get going I am quite a competitive and want to race as well as I can so I am wondering if I am best investing in a new set

All comments and advice welcomed

Welcome to the Forum. Regarding the sails the color would only be an aesthetic factor. I don't know if they can be safely dyed or not. However, considering that they are very old and you are very competitive I would think a new set of sails are appropriate.

sail_and_oar's picture

Hello Martin,

Racing is great while it remains fun. Once winning becomes a major objective it can get a bit soul destroying. If you sail in a pursuit race timed over 50 minutes and average 2.5 knots but the winning boat is one twentieth of a knot faster, he'll be 67 metres ahead at the end and you'll be an also ran probably in the middle of the field. A decent set of sails may well yield a twentieth of a knot over an old set. The best foils are faster than plywood ones and a hull spray painted is faster than one full of brush marks and dead insects. It all adds up. It's just a bit unfortunate. Once I stopped seeing much improvement in my racing I quit. I didn't have the money to win. The best I managed was 3rd over all in a race series at a local club. I went and found other types of sailing which were fulfilling for other reasons.

There's a lot you can do to make some pretty lousy sails quite useful but first I'll talk about the differences between old and new sails.

Most of the old Mirror sails you see here in the UK were made by Jeckalls in the 70's and 80's. The sailcloth is very soft and stretchy and the jibs were cut with a high clew so you can see under it. The jib fairleads were originally on the gunwales but it is faster if you move them inboard onto the side tanks. The sail battens are usually wooden. As these sails age the luff rope will fluff up and get shorter and you'll no longer be able to pull the luff tight.

A set of new racing sails will be made from a more stable sailcloth which after weaving would have been impregnated with resin (glue). The jibs are cut with a low clew and will usually have a window which is too small and in the wrong place. The jib fairleads will be on the thwart. Battens are fibreglass and tapered. The modern sailcloth seems to fade faster than the old types but when new is a very bright red.

You can do a lot to help your old sails. Peg them them out on a lawn by their corners pulling them tight. If the luff rope of the mainsail is tight but the sailcloth next to it is slack then the rope has shrunk. Unpick the stitching at the tack of the sail where the sail is sewn to the rope. Pull the sailcloth tight and resew. If it was badly shrunk this will make a big difference to how the boat feels.

If the leech flutters badly you can tighten it. Carefully mark the sail where the panels join at the leech and unpick the stitching about 6" into the sail. Using double sided sticky tape reassemble this seam so the panels overlap a bit more (you will be making the leech shorter) It should be a smooth taper with the overlap about a quarter inch bigger at the leech on each seam. Re sew the seam and the leech tabling where you unpicked it.

Replace at least the top batten with a tapered fibreglass one. The battens go into the pockets thin end first. You can lift the top batten pocket and put a patch under the forward end then sew it all down again. This will help to prevent the sailcloth from stretching. Make sure the battens can't escape. sew or tape the batten pockets shut. Check all stitching. Replace broken threads. Patch any tears.

That's about all you can do for old sails. You can keep them going pretty well for years like this until they have faded to a dirty pink. The wind is colour blind. I like brown sails. They don't show the rust or blood.

Above all enjoy your boat and keep your eyes open for some newer sails.


Cliff thanks for taking the time to respond in such depth. I take on board your comments on all the factors affect marginal improvents in speed. I will refurb the existing sails as per your suggestions and look to gain more sailing experience first
Thanks for your time and sharing your experience

sail_and_oar's picture

Martin didn't actually specify how much dinghy sailing he has done. I may be wrong but I get the feeling he is quite new to it. My memories of learning to sail (which I did in my Mirror) involved quite a lot of damage to the boat in the first few months including ripping a batten pocket off my mainsail. Brand new sails would have been a mistake. After a year of racing I realised a Mirror was not ideal for the lake where I raced as everyone else sailed faster boats. I bought an Enterprise and enjoyed it for 3 or 4 years. Again new sails for the Mirror would have been a mistake. I kept the Mirror anyway and after I was starting to get frustrated with pond racing I began to sail the Mirror on tidal waters. I had in the meantime been given some very nice Jeckalls sails. They served me well for 10 years. Another set of very nice old sails came my way and I replaced the worn set I had been using.

I think this kind of situation is common when we start out. Now that I've a pretty good idea how to sail a Mirror and how to set it up I realise I don't need really good gear. My wooden mast, plywood rudder blade and old style sails are good enough. If I was racing the investment in better stuff would be worthwhile.

At Hawley Lake, one of the old boys won the club championship 9 times in a 50 year old GP14 fitted out with some pretty lousy gear. He'd tuned the boat to near perfection and he really did know how to sail. Despite the club rules demanding wetsuit or drysuit in the winter he never bothered. In the time I sailed with him he only capsized once.

That's experience.


There's a Facebook page called something like "Dinghies and dinghy bits for sale" - ask there if anyone's selling Mirror sails, because there may be people active in that group who still have some abandoned in their loft years after their old hull rotted away in the garden. There's little point in buying brand new sails if you can get some that are nearly as good for a fraction of the price. A lot of people have also switched to using the Bermudan mast (which doesn't need a gaff), and they'll likely have got new sails to use with it because the jibs are a different shape, and fusspots will want a main without eyelets down the luff too. You may still have to buy a new jib though if you plan to sheet it to the thwart, because the old design isn't cut the right shape for using that position - it will distort the sail if you try.