Tanbark sails

Am planning to replace Itchen’s old functional but increasingly baggy mainsail and will probably go with full battens. Our present inventory of headsails is a mix of tanbark and dacron, so either white dacron or tanbark would be ok for the new main so far as appearance goes. Tanbark has that nice traditional look and is better for offshore visibility, but my sailmaker says that the currently available tanbark is less UV-resistant and is generally lower quality than the best modern dacron. So I probably will take his advice, but any experience-based opinions to the contrary will be welcome!

Scott, I have a full batten on Shanti. My biggest complaint is the need for slides that rotate so they don’t bind when going up/down. I will be installing a Tides Marine track to solve that problem.
The problem with “the best modern Dacron” is it is as stiff as a board. I have Marblehead and it is rated as one of the best. But it is damn near impossible to flake nicely.
I have really enjoyed the performance with the full batten sail. But if I was to buy anther sail at this point I think I would stick with a battenless main in a softer cloth. Problem with that is you need a sailmaker who can build without a hook in the leech. That is the main reason I went to full batten.

From what I understand, tan bark sails were originally made to fight UV damage. The colored cloth does not allow the UV to penetrate the cloth as deeply, thus lasting longer. Do some research at the manufacturers of sail cloth.

Good luck. Let us know what you decide.

Hello Scott,

I will relay a comment from my sail maker of over 30 years re: Tanbark material.

" If you go into a restaurant and order a steak well done, don’t expect them to select the best cut"

He has always found the Tanbark offered is never the best sailcloth available and will not weather or wear as well.

Best to you
SV Seabird , Francis 26

I thought the purpose of tanbark was to reduce glare off the sail - a little easier on the eyes so to speak?

My understanding is that tanbark imitates the old fishing vessels who treated their sails with codfish guts and blood to make them perform and last longer, I thought it was just an aesthetic thing.
My sailmaker says the new material is equal to standard 7oz sail material, same ratings…

Matt, Fiddlers Green

Historically, tanbark sails were dipped in tannins, usually derived from tree bark. White or cream cotton sails deteriorate rapidly in sunlight; tanning the sail was believed to make it last longer.

That is why you have sacrificial material on a furled jib; it protects white dacron from the sun. The darker the sacrificial material, the longer it will last.


Check out Oceanis, https://www.contendersailcloth.com/product/oceanus/ , I was in Pt Townsend at the WBF, racing a little Folkboat which had a set of sails made of it.  I'm used to stiff racing cloth and was quite impressed, it had a great feel and held its shape well.  Very easy on the eyes too.  We led a little 24' Hess Cutter, and a couple T-Birds until we had to go home.

S/V Vixen

I made my new main in the Egyptian Cream color, it looks really nice and traditional but not over the top, more subtle and old fashioned. Rolly Tasker Sails out of Florida (National Sail Supply) and the cost was about $1600 full offshore construction, battens, reefs, leathered etc…