From a Yankee Sailor’s Shop
Photo credit Bill Converse 2012 NE’s Mallets Bay VT
Mast Sail Track Dry Lubricants
By: Steve Madden DN US 4512
Recently I had a need for a mast sail track lubricant. So I headed out to my local West Marine to buy the popular McLube Sailkote Dry Lubricant. Now, I like West Marine because it has all things boating but I know their prices are well…..pricey! I was not disappointed as they had the McLube Sailkote Dry Lube in a 16 ounce aerosol can for $28 and the 6 ounce aerosol can for $13. I just could not bring myself to spend that amount of money to just lube my mast sail track. So I left the store and decided to research an equivalent dry lube or at least close to equivalent. Before I go any further let me disclose that it’s been a while since my college days when I did my last proper research paper. This will not be a true research paper in the sense that I do not intend to list all my references. Also, I am not a chemist, so you have to take the following data with some grain of salt (NaCI).
The first thing I did was visit my local big box store and others and found (5) lubricant suppliers claiming somewhere on their aerosol can to be a “dry type lubricant”. They are: CRC Marine Dry Lube with PTFE Technology, Super Lube Dri Film with SYNCOLON PTFE, Liquid Wrench with CERFLOW (PTFE), Blaster (contains PTFE) and WD-40 Specialist Dirt and Dust Resistant Dry Lube. I’m sure there are others out there. Next I got a copy of their Safety Data Sheet (AKA: Material Safety Data Sheet) to compare composition/ingredients against McLube Sailkote. Notice that while the above WD-40 in its description says “Dry Lube”, it is truly not a typical dry lubricant like the other (4) as it does not contain a fluoropolymer formulation (like PTFE) so this lubricant will not be discussed further. I only mention the WD-40 because I found this lubricant in many of the stores I visited. So don’t be fooled.
Definition: “Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluoroethylene”… AKA: TEFLON (the best known brand of PTFE based formulas).
So, the question became…if McLube Sailkote Dry Lube makes no mention of containing “PTFE” on its aerosol can and on its Safety Data Sheet like the other dry lubes above, then what makes it so slippery and such a popular choice among the sailing community?
McLube Sailkote is described as a Fluoropolymer Dispersion according to its Safety Data Sheet. I found that Fluoropolymer Dispersions may be dispersions of “PTFE” among some others. While McLube and other manufactures may not specifically divulge their exact chemical composition and/or percentages due to trade secrets, I believe that McLube Sailkote is a Fluoropolymer coating in the same family as “PTFE” or do I dare say…it may be “PTFE” based. Interestingly, McLube seems to go out of its way to negatively mention TEFLON (PTFE based). For example, on its aerosol can it says “Last up to 10 times longer than Teflon additives of other products”. Up to ten times they claim? That may be a stretch in my opinion. On its website it says: “Sailkote is typically five times as effective and last much longer than wax, oil or Teflon based lubricants”. Which is it…“five or ten times”? Another interesting fact is a friend of mine just happened to have an old aerosol can of McLube Sailkote that is at least 5 years old. That can says: ”Sailkote is the latest advance in High-Tech PTFE Dry Lubricant Technology”! Today’s aerosol can does not have that statement! Did McLube recently change its formula? I can only theorize that they removed that statement at some point due to too much competition from the other dry lube manufactures. Is it a marketing ploy to make the buyer think their product has some magical fluoropolymer formulation who’s performance is up to ten times better than the other products? On a minor note but interesting, on its website it says: “Team McLube Sailkote is the only dry lubricant currently available that has been specifically designed for marine use”. That is not true at all! CRC Marine Dry Lube with PTFE Technology specifically lists one of its uses as… “For lubricating mast tracks”. Not to mention it says “Marine” in its product description. Humorously, I should mention I found the CRC next to the McLube can at West Marine!
I will not deny that McLube Sailkote is a good lubricant but I just can’t justify the high price. In my opinion, the (4) others listed will work just fine for lubricating mast sail tracks as they all contain PTFE and at a significant savings and I emphasize significant. Super Lube and Blaster had a slightly higher percentage (by weight) of PTFE according to their Safety Data Sheets.
Just to be clear, I can not tell you how any of the Dry Lubes will react with the sail cloth if applied directly or indirectly to the sail. For example, will it damage the cloth while in its wet state before it turns to its slippery dry state? However, I’m pretty confident that none of them will affect the sail cloth based on the little experience I do have. But like I mentioned earlier, I am not a chemist. I can tell you that all of them contain some nasty chemicals especially the propellants that they use to deliver the product.
I have concluded (at least in my mind) that McLube seems to be devious in its marketing strategy for Sailkote. Is the performance of any of the other (4) products mentioned equivalent or at least close to equivalent to McLube Sailkote? Is McLube treading on a slippery marketing slope? Only you can decide.
*Editor’s Note: The author does not work for nor is affiliated with any of the manufactures of the aforementioned products. He is, however, a typically frugal Yankee.