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North Sails Has An Option For Every Type Of Cruiser

A few months ago, North Materials Expert Tom Davis wrote an article titled “What are the Best Sails for Club Racing?” It only seems logical to have a companion piece that focuses on cruising, so you can better understand about the differences between club racing sails and cruising sails and all the options you have.

Are club racing sails and cruising sails the same? No. Club racing is narrow in scope compared to the wide world of sailboat cruising. So, unlike the club race article (where sail size and shape were discussed), here we will cover all of North’s cruising sail materials. Once you know your own cruising goals, you can narrow down what will be best. If you have any questions about a particular material, remember your nearest North expert is just a click away and ready to help you make the best selection.

Which sail cloth should I choose for cruising? 

For upwind paneled sails on cruising boats, we offer fill-oriented NPC CROSS-CUT, NPC RADIAN, NPL SPORT, and NPL TOUR. We also have 3Di cruising sails to consider. Our 3Di OCEAN product line consists of three types of 3Di materials, made for different sized boats: OCEAN 330, OCEAN 370, and OCEAN 700. The 3Di ENDURANCE line represents a “crossover” zone, with sails well suited to both cruising and racing.

For downwind, there are woven nylons, Code laminates, and 3Di Downwind options to choose from. You’ll also need to decide between an asymmetric or symmetric spinnaker.

A 22-foot pocket cruiser and a 22-meter ocean going yacht can each be successfully matched to the ideal material because there are too many options for either. The trick is to work with your sailmaker to quickly narrow-down the choices of sail material to perhaps two sensible options based on your requirements. Then relax and enjoy the whole process of deciding exactly what is best for you in material, LP%/roach profile, batten configuration, number of reefs, color, and so on. This can and should be fun.

Things you should consider when narrowing down your options:

  • Your budget
  • Your expectation for how long a sail should last
  • Your expectation for how “perfect” a sail’s flying shape needs to be as the sail ages
  • Your desire to have the sail weigh as little as possible while meeting the above criteria




North Paneled Cloth

Sticking with upwind sail materials for now, and beginning with paneled sails (i.e. where sailcloth panels are cut from rolls of material) the starting point is woven polyester, often called “Dacron”. Polyester yarn is a good all-round performer on small to mid-size boats. It resists damage from environmental exposure. It is reasonably strong, and not excessively stretchy. And the price of a Dacron sail is at the low end of the range. Let’s summarize in bullet point form:

NPC CROSS-CUT – A Fill Oriented Cross-Cut Dacron Sail

Budget: when price has to be as low as possible, a NPC Cross-Cut sail is the right choice.
Durability: these sails stay in one piece, even after many seasons of hard use.
Sailshape Perfection: Decent when new, but flying shape will change a lot with age.
Weight: Not light. Less of a problem on smaller boats, but very noticeable as LOA goes up.

cruising dacron sail

NPC RADIAN – Radian Warp-Oriented Dacron Sail

NPC RADIAN is an enhanced version of the paneled dacron sail. Panels can be radially oriented in these sails which confers a measurable improvement in sail shape-holding.

Budget: Still relatively low in price, Radian prices just a bit higher than fill-oriented NorDac.
Durability: These sails stay in one piece, even after many seasons of hard use.
Sailshape Perfection: Quite good when new, but expect some shape change with age.
Weight: Not light – but lighter than a crosscut Dacron sail. Not available for longer LOAs.

North Paneled Laminates

Staying with upwind sail materials and paneled sails, the next tier of materials is laminated cloth (in Northspeak, NorLam). Laminates present the opportunity to reduce sail weight, improve shape holding, and incorporate high modulus (low stretch) and high tenacity (strong) fibers, along with polyester in both yarn and film form. When designed and manufactured correctly, laminated sailcloth is very durable, while helping keep sail weight reasonable, and resulting in very good sailshape performance.


Xi Cruise styles are aimed at mid-size cruising boats looking for both moderate price and enhanced sailing performance. Xi Cruise styles feature polyester woven outer plies surrounding polyester film and aramid (high modulus) fiber on the inside. The outer layers protect the aramid yarn, while the aramid high modulus content reduces bulk and stretch.

Budget: Medium price level.
Durability: Not quite as long lifespan as woven dacron, but ages gracefully.
Sailshape Perfection: Very good when new, with moderate change over time.
Weight: Medium – On bigger boats, the weight savings are very welcome compared to dacron.


Ultra X styles are available for mid-size through super-size cruising boats. The key difference between Xi Cruise described above and Ultra X is the use of UltraPE fiber in Ultra X. UltraPE offers near ideal fiber performance, with very high modulus and tenacity, along with remarkable toughness and environmental resilience. In laminated cloth, we weave the UltraPE, and we pack a lot of this fiber into the cloth. That’s not a low-cost approach, but it does result in enhanced performance and extended sail life.

Budget: Higher price level.
Durability: Excellent.
Sailshape Perfection: Very good, because there is a lot of UltraPE in the material.
Weight: Medium.

NPL SPORT – NorLam Ultra XC

Take everything noted above about Ultra X, and add carbon fiber. I’m going to assume everyone knows about carbon fiber these days given its ubiquity in race cars, bicycles that seem to weigh almost nothing, 80-foot boats that seem to weigh almost nothing, and pretty much every cool high-performance product that seems to weigh almost nothing. North Sails has been laminating UltraPE and carbon fiber together in cruising sailcloth for bigger boats for more than twenty-five years; and the results are still remarkable.

Budget: High price level.
Durability: Excellent.
Sailshape Perfection: Very good, approaching excellent.
Weight: Medium (Lighter than Ultra X, but you still need to pack-in a lot of fiber for the long haul).

And Now… in 3D!

We recently codified a full line of 3Di products made expressly for cruising boats under the OCEAN group name. A key piece of identifying this line was the introduction of a new 3Di “material” type – 3Di OCEAN 370. Let’s dig a little deeper into what makes 3Di OCEAN ideally suited to cruising, in a similar materials based context to the paneled sail information above.

First though, if you’re not clear on the differences between 3Di and paneled sails (or 3Di and “string membrane” products), please take a look at our material page for more information on the difference in sail material types. 3Di represents a technology step-change in sailmaking. It is a more complex, and therefore more costly way to advance sailmaking.

For cruisers, this complexity has straightforward benefits: better shape-holding in lighter weight sails with no decline in durability. Should every cruising sailor, therefore, forget about paneled sails as an option, given the engineered superiority of 3Di? No. Paneled sails remain a viable choice for all the reasons noted above; and depending on your priorities and budget remain a good option for many sailors.

3Di OCEAN 330

Retain the benefits of NORDAC polyester as described above, and enhance them with the technology of 3Di – that’s OCEAN 330. Originally called 3Di NORDAC, OCEAN 330 makes the most of polyester fiber in upwind sails.

Budget: Medium price level by “dacron” sail standards, low by 3Di standards.
Durability: Excellent.
Sailshape Perfection: Good (very good, if not excellent, by woven polyester sail standards).
Weight: Medium (not light, a lot of fiber in filament form is packed into these sails).

3Di OCEAN 370

OCEAN 370 brings UltraPE into the mix along with polyester, significantly boosting strength, while improving stretch performance. There’s a size/load point with 100% polyester sails where the sails become just too bulky, and weight aloft really starts hurting boat performance. The sails are difficult to handle and store. OCEAN 370 steps up where OCEAN 330 is not viable – doing so cost effectively, while nicely balancing the attributes of sailing performance and extended lifespan.

Budget: Medium.
Durability: Excellent.
Sailshape Perfection: Very Good compared to directly competing cruising sail options.
Weight: Medium.

3Di OCEAN 700

OCEAN 700 is an ideal performance cruising solution for bigger boats with higher load sails. UltraPE is the primary filament/fiber type, with aramid judiciously introduced in maximum load zones of the sail. Tough, low in stretch, and engineered to provide many years of service, OCEAN 700 is the cruising reference standard for mid-size to superyacht scale boats.

Budget: Medium.
Durability: Excellent.
Sailshape Perfection: Very Good.
Weight: Medium.

That describes our full lineup of upwind cruising sail choices. North Sails representatives have the expertise to guide you to the exact right sail from within this broad range. If your plans include a share of racing along with cruising, 3Di ENDURANCE series sails cross over into the sail shape/sail weight performance envelope that racers require. And our hardcore race product line, 3Di RAW, delivers speed like no other sail type can. Stay tuned for an update on best material choices for downwind/reaching sails, whether cruising or racing.



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