PolySail International

High Performance/Low Cost Sails for the Quintessential Sailor

Sail Library/Archive




















































If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.



Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do... Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Mark Twain,


One ship drives east and the other drives west by the self same winds that blow.

It's the set of the sails and not the gales that determines the way they go.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox


We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.

German Proverb


PolySail International

High Performance/Low Cost Sails for Small Sailboats





By Dave Gray

All Rights Reserved




PolySail International

2291 SE Gaslight St., Port St. Lucie, FL 34952-7332

Email polysail@polysail.com or call Dave Gray at 317 385-3444

PolySails–Sold on the Web since 1996. Customers in all 50 states and around the globe.


This page updated on 7/28/13




White polytarp sails or PolySails are inexpensive polyethylene sails that are simple to construct and nearly indistinguishable from traditional sails in looks and performance. Using one of our White PolySail Kits and the following simple construction process, even a novice can create a taped PolySail within a few hours. Most customers are able to make a sail in the morning and be on the water by afternoon. Allow additional time for constructing and rigging multiple sails, large complex sails, and sewn sails.


Here’s what you need:



·         A PolySail Kit (available from Dave Gray at PolySail International (317) 385-3444 or on our Products Pages).


·         A large, clean, dry, and open work space inside or out, e.g., lawns (but not with wet or freshly mowed grass), garages (but not with oily or dirty floors), clean driveways, large decks, gym floors, etc.


·         A long, fairly stiff steel measuring tape to lay out the sail plan. You will also need heavy weights for holding down the material, such as half concrete blocks. Outside you can use narrow tent stakes or large pole barn nails for stretching out the material on a lawn.



PolySails are constructed to take advantage of the materials’s strength, stretch, and resiliency. Polytarp or polyethylene is all around us today in everything from those flimsy-looking plastic grocery bags that still manage to hold a gallon of milk safely to Waste Management’s Bagster that holds 3300 lbs. of remodeling trash. And, like most of today’s sails, it is a light, strong synthetic that can be shaped without paneling into a high-performing sail. These instructions are based upon over 16 years of experience in constructing hundreds of PolySails. Simply follow the steps below to become a believer.

1Lay Out the Material

Unfold the polytarp material and stake or weight the corners and edges.

Michalak Piccup Pram Lug Sail 006P

Bolger Leg O' Mutton Build 009


2 Lay Out the Sail Plan

Mark out the rough dimensions of the sail on the polytarp material with the kit’s dry-erase marker. If at all possible, orient the leech or back edge of the sail along the long side of the polytarp. This approach will allow the sail to stretch more where it needs to—along the luff—and help prevent the leech from stretching too much and flapping in the wind. Use a steel tape measure to make a straight line of dots between each corner marking a dot at each foot of measured length


SCAMP Lug 003


3 Mark the Edge Curves and Insert V-Darts (If Needed)

Follow the designer’s sail plan to shape the sail’s edges. After you have marked the dotted baselines, use your tape measure or a long batten to mark a fair curve to the outside of the luff and foot baselines as shown in the illustrations below. These dashed lines are usually about 3”-5” from the baselines at the apex of the curve, at least

for smaller sails up to 80 sq. ft. For larger sails, this rounding can be 6’ or more. Once the dashed “rounding” lines are in place, run double-faced tape along these curved lines in the luff and foot and along the outside of the straight or hollowed line in the leech. The diagrams below outline this procedure. Follow a similar procedure for 4-sided sails.





Notes on the illustrations:


The illustrations shows a 3" cutoff at the head and tack of a triangular sail. The lower cutoff allows you to insert a V-Dart in the tack of the sail. The cutoff at the head simply allows the tape to be folded over properly. Instructions for forming V-Darts are included near the end of these instructions.


Certain triangular sails, such as the leg o’ mutton and lateen sails, do not require a V-Dart at the tack to function well. The combination of the edge rounding, rope reinforcing in the edges, the natural “wrinkles” in the body of the polytarp material, and the tendency of polytarp to stretch diagonally provide a natural wing shape to the sail.


4 Cut Out the Sail Shape


  • Use the outside edges of the double-faced tape as a guide for cutting. Just open the scissors part way and run them along the outside edge of the tape to make a clean, quick cut.
  • Fold and tape any V-Darts before cutting out your final sail shape. Note that finished V-darts will affect both the edge shape and edge dimensions.

Starting from any corner of the sail, work your way counterclockwise around the outside edge of the tape cutting out the sail shape with a pair of sharp shears.


Bolger Leg O' Mutton Build 023

5 Tape in the Reinforcing Rope

Once the sail shape has been cut out, fold up the excess material and remove it. Make certain that you have a clean place to work, then stretch out and weight or stake the sail at all the corners. Install the reinforcing line at the inside edge of the tape in all sail edges working with one sail edge at a time. Tension the line and sail edges using the weights. Remove the tape backing along one edge and fold the taped edge back over the reinforcing line. TIP: Use less tension on the line in the leech to keep the leech from “hooking.” Double up the line on both sides at the head of the sail by leaving the backing on a small section of the tape on either side of the head until all the other edges have been taped. Finish by positioning the two ends of the line next to each other and sewing them together.


6 Fold Over the Edges

Secure the overlaps by running the handles of the scissors along the taped overlaps. Some tape experts even suggest hammering down the tape with a rubber mallet for better adhesion. Acrylic-backed tapes such as those in our NO-SEW kit will especially benefit from the resulting tight bond. If the adhesive loosens, run a zigzag stitch around the perimeter of the sail along the inner edge of the overlap to assure long lasting durability.


New Sails 004









7 Tape the Corners



After the rope is covered and the overlaps folded down, reinforce the corners as shown in the diagram and photos. Add double-faced tape to the heavy tarp edge material to form 1 ˝” wide strips of reinforcing material and place one of these strips in each corner of the sail and in reef corners. After positioning these reinforcing strips, the corners can be further reinforced with vinyl tape and with stitching. White vinyl tape is the standard, but colored vinyl tape is popular for customizing a sail to match a boat’s color scheme. Unlike polytarp sails with corner patches of polytarp material, this well-tested reinforcement technique prevents corner and reef grommeta from tearing out and results in very strong corners for our sails. Our finished and custom sails use larger rolled rim spur grommets in the corners for even more strength.


Note: Rubber-backed carpet tape alone will normally last for a few uses without sewn reinforcement, but this adhesive eventually dries out and loosens from the slippery polytarp surface. Double-faced acrylic tapes tend to bond better with polytarp since the bond improves over time. If acrylic tapes loosen, they can usually be re-stuck.to the material. These more expensive tapes are used in our NO-SEW PolySail Kit.


Lego with Window 009

Weight test on sails 014

Tacking Sail 003


TIP: Hold the sail corner to the light to make certain that the corner components match those on the opposite side of the sail.





8 Add Grommets

Set grommets at regular spacing in each edge of the sail that will be attached to a mast, boom, or spar. These grommets also help hold the tape and internal reinforcing rope firmly in place and provide a means of varying the "belly" of the sail. Grommets should be spaced no more than 18" apart on a PolySail to avoid overstressing the material. Separate instructions for setting grommets in the sail are included with the grommet kit that is a part of each PolySail Kit.


9 Attach the Sail to the Mast and Boom

Once the grommets are installed, you can attach the sail to the mast, boom, or spars in a number of ways. Our kits contain plastic cable ties rated at 75 lbs. or more that can have you out on the water quickly. If attached very loosely, these plastic ties will slide up and down the mast with a pull on your halyard. Later, you can replace these temporary ties with wood mast hoops, rope mast hoops, or one of the lashing methods shown below. We recommend the Bolger/PolySail non-binding luff tie system shown at the left with zip ties used to hold the lines together in front of the mast.


Schuster's Sail Lacings Illustration



Below is a picture of a finished jib-headed, sprit boom PolySail (also called a leg o’ mutton) on my former test boat Essence. Only edge rounding and a single small V-Dart in the tack were used to create shape in this sail, but note the nice curvature and lack of twist in this simple sail as the boat ghosts along a sheltered canal in almost no wind. For additional instructions on making specific sail types, visit our PolySail Library and sail database at http://polysail.com



Happy PolySailing!






Dave Gray, Owner

PolySail International

2291 SE Gaslight St.

Port St. Lucie, FL 34952

317 385-3444 (mobile)

Email: polysail@polysail.com






Tacking Sail 002

Ghost 001


Wa’apa Tacking Sail

Ghost: 70 sq. ft. 2.2 lb.Racing Leg O’ Mutton

Balanced Lug with 2 Reinforced Reef Lines

Oldshoe Sails 008

Battened Lug 003

Biplane Legos 010

Bolger Oldshoe Leg O’ Mutton Main and Mizzen

Fully Battened Balanced Lug Sail

Twin Cruising Leg O’ Muttons With Windows















Sail Database

NOTE: We are updating our sail database to provide simplified sail construction and rigging advice consistent with our most current procedures for making each type of sail from polytarp. As we complete each construction guide, we will re-post the link to that sail type here and feature that sail guide elsewhere on our web pages and PolySail International Facebook Page.


Our thanks to Raven, AKA the Sail Doctor, who writes a column in Small Craft Advisor and is also known as Emiliano Marino, author of The Sailmaker’s Apprentice, for his edits and advice for reconstructing this sail database.


We also thank all the customers who have provided us feedback, photos, videos and other data on the performance, durability, and appearance of different types of PolySails. We especially thank the person who provided the corrected  version of the Basic Sailing Rigs at the right. If you were that individual, please email me, and I will mention you here by name.



This sail is also known as a jib-headed, sprit boomed sail.


Button 22

You can find the dimensions for most popular sails on this site. Enter the name of your boat or the name of a designer in the “search” box. Once you locate the boat, click on “Sailplan Measurements” to get the dimensions. To return to this page after checking any sail dimensions or size, click your back arrow or button until this page comes up.









PolySail International

2291 SE Gaslight Street

Port Saint Lucie, FL 34952

 Email polysail@polysail.com or call Dave Gray at 317 385-3444


PolySails–Sold on the Web since 1996. Customers in all 50 states and around the globe.

Listed in Dunn & Bradstreet


web stats

This page last updated 7/28/2013