Ah, battens. What the hell are battens anyway? That’s the question I asked when a boatyard neighbor helped me to rig up my mainsail over a week ago. I’ve since learned what they are. Some type of rigid material, usually fiberglass but traditionally wood, that goes into little pockets on your sail that keep the leech of your sail (i.e. the outside part of the triangle) supported. It makes the sail stiff (er) rather than all floppy. They make for better performance. They’re imperative, apparently.
I didn’t have any and I wasn’t so convinced I needed them, even though my neighbor insisted. I wasn’t sure if had them somewhere on the boat, or if maybe I’d thrown them away in my heap of cleaning when I first arrived, not knowing what they were. I found one stowed away in a locker after that, and it turns out the previous owner only ever had the one batten, despite the sail being designed for four.
My list of stuff to do to the boat was growing, I didn’t want to have to find these elusive battens in addition to everything else. I needed a second opinion.
So I have this friend, we’ve never met, but he’s kind of my sailing pen pal. He’s a sailing instructor, competitive racer, and has over 3,000 blue water miles. You know what they say, ask two different sailors the same question and get two different answers–but not this time.
He also said I needed them, and even told me how to make them if I couldn’t buy them somewhere. When I argued against it all he said, “Sail without battens and you’ll look like a hack.”
I don’t need any help looking like an idiot considering my remedial status as a sailor. I was going to find some battens.
Finding them was easy. I had my headsail repaired by the local sailmaker and he threw in some batten material for free. I just had to measure the batten pockets, cut the battens to size, sand the edges so they wouldn’t rip the sail, insert them and go sailing. Easy.
Except somehow I measured the batten pockets wrong and my battens wound up being a few inches too short. Rendering them, “useless,” according to my friend.
I don’t have enough material to cut new battens, the sailmaker is too far to reach and I’m running out of time. My launch is scheduled for Tuesday morning with a list of things to do between now and then, as well as a 3-day forecast of rain.
Even though my sailor friend was literally appalled that I managed to cut them wrong (frankly I’m appalled, too), we’ve come up with a solution. Apparently the battens will still work, they just need to be secured with a little sewing. He even drew me a diagram. What could possibly go wrong, right? I have written instructions from a sailing instructor…