Saturday, January 24, 2015

Recycling Worn Out Sails

One of our goals moving aboard a boat is to live a little more in harmony with our environment and I have been making progress in that regard.  Everyday things like taking reusable bags when I shop for groceries, paying more attention to the packaging used (something very difficult in our "seal everything in plastic" society), and being mindful of the amount of water and power I use have been in my repertoire for a while and are certainly more of a necessity on a boat.  Other things like my recent project converting existing fluorescent fixtures to LED both reduce power consumption and reuse the fixture thus rescuing it from becoming another bit of detritus in a landfill.

One item I have been wrestling with, both mentally and physically, since I bought the boat was what to do with the original sails that came with the boat.  When I bought the boat, there were two sail bags containing the boats original sails stuffed way up in the starboard forward storage space.  Back when I was in Hammock Beach, I dragged both sails out of the storage locker, wrestled them through the boat, and up to a grassy area at the marina to inspect them.  What I found were sails that were in pretty bad shape.  There were numerous patches and even the patches had ripped out again. Some of the material was sun damaged too.  I decided they were not worth keeping.  Not knowing what to do wth them, I put the smaller genoa back into the storage area, but the 95+ lb. mainsail never made it any further than the cockpit.

Part of the old mainsail with a ripped patch

And there it sat, leaning up against the cockpit door, for over 6 months.  I tried asking around to see if there was something I could do with these old sails.  Since all the damage was around the edges, I thought maybe someone could trim them down and make smaller sails.  When I asked a few different sail shops, they were not at all interested in having them...even as a donation.  One said they occasionally take old sails and ship them to places like Haiti where the locals will rework and use them.  I heard from other boaters that they have traded old sails to fishermen in 3rd world locations for a regular supply of fresh local seafood from their daily catches.  But here in the good ol U.S. of
A., there didn't seem to be many options other than relegating all that fabric to the dumpster. That didn't sit well with me.

After tripping over the mainsail in the cockpit one too many times in recent days, I tried once again to search for a more responsible way to get rid of the sails.  This time I apparently typed in the right search terms into Google. In the list of results, I found a company called Sea Bags.

They take old sails and recycle them by converting the material into several varieties of bags, totes, and other products. I contacted them by email and sent them a couple pictures of my old sails (since I wasn't sure if they were too ratty to be used). I received a reply that they would indeed be interested in them. In talking with them I found out that they can use most of any sail.  In fact, to quote one of their staff:
In most cases, almost 100% of the sail will be used to make Sea Bags products. Realizing early on that there was quite a bit of sail material left over after making tote bags, Sea Bags began using the excess material to make hang-tags and smaller items, such as credit card holders, wristlets, small pouches etc.
Finally, I was nearing the end of my near constant tripping over these old sails.

I took the old sails, bundled them up, wrapped them in a couple layers of heavy (4 mil I think) plastic for shipping.  The folks at Sea Bags cover the shipping cost to retrieve your sail from within the U.S., all you need to do is log into their system, print out the shipping label, and get them to a location where UPS can pick them up.  The folks at the marina office helped me print out the labels (I don't have a printer on board...yet) and I left the sails there for the UPS pick up.  I've been told that if you are located near the Sea Bags facility, they may just come pick them up themselves.

In exchange for donating sails, they typically provide for a tax deductible donation through their sailing charity or they will trade you a bag per sail (depending on size and condition). Since I don't need the tax write off and could always use another reusable bag for packing and provisioning the boat, I went with the trade program. In exchange for the two sails, we requested one of their duffle bags and a zippered tote.

A week or two after sending off the sails, my sail bags arrived. I have to say I'm impressed. These are most definitely not the cheap bags you find at the discount stores. Each of their bags are hand crafted in their facility in Portland Maine and the craftsmanship shows.

I'd love to give you all sorts of sewing definitions...but I'm not a seamstress so forgive the lack of appropriate terms.  The tote is made from two layers of sail material with a spliced three braid line for a handle.  The duffel has the same two layer construction for the main part of the bag with single layers at the ends. The handles aren't just attached, but wrap around the entire bag in between the material layers to provide support and prevent detachment.  The stitching uses similar thread to what is used in sail construction so I have no doubt it will last a long time. The zipper flaps on both are a single layer of sail material and the zipper is a better quality than what is on may new sail cover. The internal seams are covered in a fabric band to help prevent snagging and unraveling and protect the stitching. In this day and age, it is nice to see what appears to me to be a very quality product.  Add in the fact that they are doing this from recycled material, and this company is a winner in my book.

If you are looking for a unique gift for a sailing enthusiast, or a quality bag for yourself, you should check them out.  And if you happen to be tripping over some old sails, consider donating them to Sea Bags.

Sponsor Disclosure: In the interest of full disclosure, the company mentioned in this article has graciously provided free or discounted products or services to help support our effort to sail away from the rat race. The opinions expressed in this blog are still our own and not indicative of the opinions or positions of the company. We do encourage you to check out the products or services provided by this, or any, company that supports the cruising community.
In the case of Sea Bags, the products provided were in trade for my used sails and anyone wishing to trade can get a similar deal.


  1. I think we have around six bags of various sizes and styles. One was in return for a sail that came with my older Ericson, and did not fit it. It helps (not sure that is the right word!) that we live 12 miles away from them. They do make great bags!

    1. That could get to be an expensive habit Dave. ;-) They seem to be expanding their product offerings too...I'm sure my dogs may soon be sporting their collars...and I was kind of curious about a wallet I found on their site. Very cool products.