Jun 16, 2009
At last year’s test we saw a number of the 7.5 m recreational sails adopting features from top-of-the-line race sails, but this year the buzz is around their impressive power. In many of these sails, designers look to add power and increase the wind range at the low end. As always we test sails for their all-around ability, but with this particular group we also place a little more focus on power output as the divider when breaking up the fleet into the following three groups.
Big Sail Test Ratings
If you’re looking for a “test winner” from these graphs, then I know you aren’t reading this right now. Please do me a favour by rolling up this magazine and smacking the first person that tells you a certain sail won because it has the most little coloured dots. Here are our categories.
Power: This rates a sails ability to get a board planing in the least amount of wind when tuned to its most powerful setting possible.
Range: Sails with the biggest wind range can be tuned to adapt to changes in the conditions and are able to handle gusts easily. Sails scoring highest are tunable and controllable.
Speed: Sails that are fast remain stable as the wind picks up. The sails that we have rated as the fastest are the ones that remain the most stable.
Transition: For a big sail to be manoeuvrable it needs to be light and well balanced so that you can position it properly through transitions. Having the batten rotate without any rider input is always nice as well.
Setup: No ones like to spend too much time rigging or dialing in their gear. This score shows the sails that perform best with the least amount of attention to things like tuning, harness line position, etc.
Power Cam Sails
In this category we see the newest development in bigger sails. Their goal is to get you planing as soon as possible while exhibiting a lighter, more manageable feel ever found in a 7.5 m2 before. Plus, as a bonus it may use a mast and/or boom you already own and saving you to buy more stuff.
Of the five sails in this group, three that topped all tester’s lists in terms of power are the Naish Boxer SL 7.6, Worldsails Blast 7.5 and Neil Pryde V8 Helium 7.5. However, we give the Boxer SL the edge here as both the Blast and Helium had to be tuned to match its low-end grunt losing a little wind range in the process. With a yank on the downhaul both the Blast and Helium find their stability and outlast the Boxer as the wind picks up. The Blast performs best when paired with wider directional (more parallel railed) boards and, along with the Boxer SL, is the ideal choice for any longboard. The Helium matches up better than the others with the more modern-shaped (rounded outline) freeride board and brings a lighter feel and incredible wind range to the early planing market. The smaller size of the Gaastra Plasma 6.7 makes it hard to compare directly to the other larger models, but within its own wind range it exhibits similar performance to the Helium. At 7.5 m2, it potentially has a larger wind range for a trade in slightly rougher cam rotation. Finally, the Severne Element 7.5 feels noticeably lighter than all the other power cams even though it can’t quite match the power of the Boxer SL. Add to this its smoother cam rotation and impressive wind range, and you’ve got a sail that makes little sacrifices for all its power.
Freeride Cam Sails
This group of sails sacrifices a small amount of low-end power for either more manoeuvrability or better top-speed stability. They still have camber inducers, so power comes into the sail quickly and without too much need for sensitivity to trim. They generally have a flatter foil than the sails from the previous category, allowing them to rotate easier and giving a slippery, efficient feel at speed.
Both the Aerotech Rapid Fire 7.5 and Maui Sails Titan 7.5 have just a hair less power than those from the previous category. To make up for it they rotate more easily making them smoother through transitions. On the water the Titan offers a consistent pull from a huge, easy-to-harness-into sweet spot, while the Rapid Fire shows a hint of elasticity providing more feedback for experienced riders able to subtlety trim a sail. They both offer impressive top-speed stability as well, but the Loft Switchblade 7.2 and Hansen FreeRace HCL 7.1 take things one step further in this regard. The trade off for this impressive top-end performance is a noticeable sacrifice in power that you will quickly forget as you race past your buddies. Oddly enough, these are also the two cam sails in the test that can be rigged on reduced diameter masts (RDM). Between the two the FreeRace takes the top marks for speed, with a slippery and efficient ride that even out-classes most of our recreational-oriented boards in the test. The Switchblade is more mast sensitive, and depending on your choice (we recommend a Loft mast) can be just as stable as the Hansen with a touch more power, or have a softer feel that allows the cams to rotate like they aren’t even there.
Making a power sail without cams is sort of like taking a front-wheel-drive car and trying to turn it into a dragster. No matter how you modify it, it’s a fact that you will never transfer power to the wheels as effectively as with rear-wheel drive. Since an RAF has no camber inducers it requires help from the wind for its foil to expand and take shape. Thus there is a slight delay before you feel the sail react to a gust. Of course front-wheel-drive cars exist because they offer better handling and this is where RAF sails shine as well. Without cams locking the battens in place the sail rotates more easily and the added ability to depower makes it feel much lighter during transitions.
The Sailworks Retro 7.5 is the most powerful RAF sail and has a huge tuning range allowing it to fit the needs of any freeride sailor. By paying attention to downhaul tension it can transform from a deep drafted power sail into one that has a flat and slippery feeling for racing past your buddies. The Goya FXR 7.5 and Simmer X-Type 7.5 are quite similar. They rig on RDM masts, have durable wavesail-like constructions and offer a great blend of manoeuvrability and speed. However, the FXR has a little better low-end power while the X-Type can be tuned for better top-end control. Both felt great on windy days when we could go into jibes fully powered, yet trusting that their depower and subtle rotation will keep us in control. The Bic Cruiser 7.5 offers the user-friendliest approach in the group arriving as an inexpensive complete rig package. It is super-easy to rig and once on the water feels light in the hands with a comfortable pull to get you planing.
Test Editor: Derek Rijff
Test Team: Andy Brandt, Ed DeHart, Pete DeKay, Tom Lepak, Brendon Quinn, Derek Rijff