Opinions are something never found in short supply around boats. When you ask a sailor about battens it is rare to find someone without a strong opinion. Of course attitudes on the subject vary as much as they possibly could. Some would argue that full length battens are the only reasonable way to go while others would say that battens are to be avoided all together. As with most gear on boats optimum batten configuration is a function of how the boat is used.
The saltiest of blue water cruisers often insist on the omission of battens all together. The thought is that battens cause the sail to become a more complicated piece of gear. Simplicity is the surest way to reduce the possibility of gear failure. No battens to lose, pockets to tear, or sidewise forces on luff slides causing them to jam.
An increasing number of sailors are advocates of full length battens. Most of the cruising sails we now build are fitted with full battens. Full length battens provide two benefits to the sail. They help to support the roach which promotes a smooth shape even in the lightest air. The second , and probably more important benefit, is that full length battens help to dissipate flogging forces. When a sail is flogged the shock loads that are created can be very damaging. I have seen short batten pockets flogged right off of a sail in a matter of a minute or two. Full length battens significantly dampen these forces and are a huge help extending the life of a sail.
There are some possible downsides to full length battens. One possible drawback for the racing sailor is additional weight, although the amount of weight is too small to concern the cruiser. Friction was a big concern in the early years of full length battens. This problem has however been mitigated over the years by advancements in hardware. There are a number of options for terminating batten against the luff, ranging from pricey ball bearing car systems to simple webbed-on slides. The modern full length batten receptacle is miles ahead of the early systems and generates very little additional friction along the luff.
For performance oriented sailors a combination of full length and partial battens can be a great way to go. The most benefit is derived from full length battens higher in the sail. So a full length top batten or top two battens is a common set-up for racer and cruiser/racer sails. The top two battens help support the leech and dampen flogging while the partial bottom battens save weight and allow the bottom half of the sail to be adjusted through more range of shape.
So one or two full length battens are the way to go for racing sails, and full length battens are the only way to go for the serious cruiser. At least that’s one guys opinion…