View Full Version : Availability of Tanbark sail fabric

Irv Mac Dowell
12-30-2011, 12:52 PM
I am having a Caledonia built by Tom Regan at Grapeview Point Boat Works in Washington this spring. My original thought was to use vertical cut tanbark sails. Tom tells me that his two sail makers have both had trouble getting suitable tanbark material. Thread tension and reliability and consistency of the dye seems to be the trouble. Has anyone else heard of this issue?


Best regards,


Gold Rock
12-30-2011, 01:05 PM
Try a 'second opinion' from Port Townsend Sails http://porttownsendsails.com/ . Carol Hasse has as deep an awareness of cruising sails (and all things related thereto) as anyone you'll run into.

Gold Rock
12-30-2011, 01:08 PM
Cool choice on Grapeview Pt. Btwks. by the way. I've met those folks and seen their products and aside from being good peeps and making excellent stuff, anyone who can hang out a shingle in a nifty little Berg like Grapeview WA and make a go of it has to be above and beyond.

Irv Mac Dowell
12-30-2011, 01:13 PM
Thanks, Chuck.

Best regards,


Todd Bradshaw
12-31-2011, 01:01 PM
I haven't had much trouble getting tanbark Dacron this year. Since Dacron is difficult to dye, it can tend to be a bit streaky at times, and always has been, but the answer to that problem is to send it back if you get a streaky batch and have the manufacturer replace it. I've never met with any resistance when doing this, though the US distributors don't usually keep tons of it around and sometimes you may have to wait a few weeks for them to get a new roll of that weight. I sent one roll back this year for streaks, they didn't have more of that weight in stock, so I got a refund and bought a different brand. Sailmakers can order as few as 5-10 yards, or a whole roll from all the suppliers, so it doesn't take a big financial commitment to get what they need.

Color-wise, the most consistent and streak-free tends to be the tanbark from Challenge Sailcloth. It's also the best value here because it's made in wider widths and it's not imported, so you're not paying to have it shipped across the ocean. It's a medium brown color when back-lit and looks like the dark stripes on this sail.

Contender Sailcloth's tanbark is a much darker, burgundy brown that's an interesting color out on the water. It's narrower and more expensive (comes here from europe). It's a bit more difficult to work with because it's so dark that you can't see through it when working over a lofting, but it makes really distinctive sails and looks like this.

My favorite has always been Richard Hayward tanbark from England, mostly because it has less surface resin and tends to look less plastic-coated up close, but the US distributor recently told me that Hayward's parent company (a big industrial company with a lot of other interests that probably generate more profit) is getting out of the sailcloth business. If somebody had a roll left over, it would also make a great sail. The color is medium brown and looks like this when you light it up from behind.

Dimension Polyant is also making a medium brown tanbark Dacron. I used to use a lot of their kevlar and Technore/mylar laminates and a few of their woven Dacrons when I was making modern radial sails, but haven't used their tanbark, mostly because I didn't really need another source for it. The current samples that I have look pretty similar in finish and color to the Challenge fabric, but tend to cost more because it's imported. If I needed to for some reason, I wouldn't hesitate to use it.

Since the original barking formulas for cotton sails were home-brews and contained a variety of ingredients, their colors varied dramatically. There is no "correct" shade of tanbark in terms of historical accuracy and they can range from red, through the browns and nearly to black. Interestingly, there were also treatments that yielded yellow sails, green sails, and blue sails, though the modern Dacron colors for these tend to be so bright that the look might not be terribly believable. For tanbark though, you can pretty much pick the shade you like best from the various manufacturers and there shouldn't be much trouble getting decent cloth to work with. Keep in mind though, that the cuffs and collars should match. If you want it to be a half-way believable tanbark sail, the luff tape, foot tape and even the thread should match, as sails were barked after they were finished. Nothing looks more out of place than a tanbark sail with bright white luff tapes, simply because the sailmaker can buy them pre-cut on a roll and is too lazy to cut them from the proper color.

12-31-2011, 05:23 PM
Todd, are there ivory sailcloths these days?
Years ago, we bought some nice 6.5 oz. stuff from Ratsey, IOW for Magic's mainsail. The look was right and the sail held up well (23 years).

Todd Bradshaw
12-31-2011, 07:34 PM
I don't know if I would exactly call it ivory, but the Egyptian Cream shades (made to look like cotton) are pretty close and usually available in the same weaves and weights as the tanbarks. There is a little bit of color variation in the cream fabrics from manufacturer to manufacturer, but it's not much compared to the variation in the tanbark offerings. Some tend to be slightly more gray-ish, some a little warmer and pinker, but out in the sun they all light up to something pretty similar to these. Nice stuff. I haven't built anything in white Dacron over the last fifteen years or so unless we had to match other sails on the boat. Everything is usually either tanbark, Egyptian Cream or a mix of the two that we jokingly call the "Viking Stripe". I even did one once for a lady that was a mixture of Egyptian Cream and powder blue stripes. I wasn't terribly hot on the idea to start with, but it was actually very neat out on the water. If I had to build white sails all the time, I'd quit and go work at MacDonalds instead. The pay is better and it's less boring.

I've always loved this first picture. A sloop rig, hung from a tree with a couple hunks of rope and stretched out by other hunks tied to screwdrivers stuck in the lawn. Not a spar or wire in sight, yet the sailshape is excellent! Once in a while we get lucky.:d


Viking Stripe - cream and Hayward tanbark.


12-31-2011, 10:54 PM
I've had lots of problems getting Tanbark Dacron. Carol Hasse has had an order from Challenge in since February. Contender is available, but too dark. Challenge sent one sample in June that had dye problems, but nothing else has come in so far. (Challenge may have some available early this year-we'll see) PT Sails also checked Dimension Polyant, and they have Tanbark Dacron available. We may go with that if Challenge doesn't come through.


12-31-2011, 11:26 PM
[QUOTE=Todd Bradshaw;If you want it to be a half-way believable tanbark sail, the luff tape, foot tape and even the thread should match, as sails were barked after they were finished. QUOTE]

Todd were the sails actually dyed with bark tannin as opposed to other forms of dye? If so do you know what kind of mordant would have been used to make it colour fast? I have about ten gallons of concentrated wattle bark tannin I collected from trees I cut down, intending to use it to tan wild goat hides that I bowhunt, but the last few hides I did were braintan- a far superior product. So the tannin waits for another project:) JayInOz

Nicholas Carey
01-01-2012, 12:16 AM
Tanning sails properly requires the dyestuff (cutch), fermented urine (usually horse), dung, and few other oddments. Not something you really want to do in this age of rotproof synthetics.