Per the class rules, starting January 1st 2013, all jibs must be constructed out of a cloth that weighs 160 grams per meter square (g/m^2). The reason for the new rule is to hopefully add durability to the jib. Currently, all jibs are made from Dimension/Polyant Sailcloth’s 130 Square Weave (which weighs 130 g/m^2).
When the new rule was first decided, we manufactured a test sail out of Dimension/ Polyant 165 square. We build many other sails out of this cloth and it has similar stretch to the 130 utilized now. At first, we kept the same design shape to test the cloth change only. This eliminates variables in the testing process. We did photo analysis of the 130 vs. the 165 in a range of conditions and quantified the results. Then we competed in regattas with the new sail to find where its real world strengths and weaknesses are.
We were pleased with the durability compared to the current sails. However, the new sail did have a loss in light air performance, particularly downwind.
With this actual on the water experience, we went back into the loft to refine the next step in development. In our case, we are working with cloth suppliers to find a different fabric that will meet the rule and not give as much light air performance away to the existing sails which will be used for many regattas in the future. The process for developing new cloth and testing takes lots of time! So at this stage, I think most sailmakers will utilize the 165 square for the time being.
In the short term, what Snipe sailors will see is a tendency for people to use the older lightweight jibs in light air regattas, and the new sails in medium to heavy air. This will go on until all of the light jibs are no longer competitive (3-4 years depending on usage). If you bought a new jib in 2012, I suggest you only use it in very important, light wind regattas. Also remember that the rules prohibit the use of the light jib in any National or International Championship after 2013.
In the long term, the class will benefit from closer racing. If jibs last longer, speed around the course will not be based on who has the newest sail, but on who sails better. And that is why we all sail the Snipe in the first place.
See you all in Florida, USA for the Winter Circuit!