Shorefasts And Line Reels on “Polaris”

A few months ago we published a photo essay about Polaris, the custom Hutting 54 especially designed and built for cruising remote places, owned by our friends Michael and Martina. Since then several people have asked about the line reels shown in the photographs. I passed these questions on to Michael and got the following answers.

Michael responds: The smaller reels aft on the pushpit were supplied by Easyroll and are loaded with 200 meters (256 feet) each of 10 mm (a little more than 3/8 inch) Dyneema, a high modulus rope much like Spectra, without any cover or sheath, with a break load of 10.5 metric tons (about 24,000 lb).

The larger custom-made reels are normally stowed in Polaris’s capacious forward locker and are swung out with a halyard to be installed in mounts on the deck when required. These reels carry an amazing 300 meters (984 feet) of 12 mm (about 1/2 inch) Dyneema with a break load of 16,000 metric tons (about 35,000 lb).

Dyneema has the advantages of floating and immense strength for its size and weight, as you can see from the above numbers. However, this material is not without some disadvantages:

  • The cost is eye popping, although savings of 50 to 70 percent over marine store pricing can be realized when you buy from an industrial source in volume.
  • It is susceptible to chafe to the point that Michael and Martina use larger diameter nylon or even chain to go around boulders on shore before connecting to the Dyneema.
  • The rope has very little stretch (on the order of 5% until breaking) and so the shorefast and boat will be subjected to substantial shock loads in anchorages that are exposed to any swell.
  • You can’t reliably knot this stuff, so each end must have a splice. (You can wrap it on a winch or cleat it off as long as you use a lot of turns.)

By now you might justifiably be wondering why Michael and Martina would go to all this trouble and expense for their shorefast system. This shot that Michael took just a couple of weeks ago should explain.

Polaris tied into a cove at Disko Bay on the west coast of Greenland where she and her crew will spend this winter frozen into the ice, including two months when the sun will not rise at all.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

16 comments… add one
  • Tim Good Jul 28, 2015, 12:30 pm

    For those of us that don’t want to invest in Dyneema what would you recommend for shore line and what diameter for say a 17t displacement boat?

    • Marc Dacey Jul 28, 2015, 3:34 pm

      As the owner of a 16T boat, I will follow this with interest, as it also has application in terms of attachment points for drogue bridles and stern anchors, I would think.

    • John Jul 29, 2015, 8:51 am

      Hi Tim,

      The second best alternative is polypropylene line. The problem with it is that it tends to tangle and therefore reels become mandatory. Also they must be much bigger to stow the required line to do a shore fast mooring right. The result is that on a 17T boat you will probably have 2 to 4 (depending on your plans) large reels which will give you a hell of a storage problem.

      On the other hand, in Dynema you can do as we do and stow the lines in a couple of small bags that you can pick up with one hand and that don’t take up much space.

      In summary, make sure that you look at overall costs and not just the cost of the rope. Reels (done right) and places to mount them are not cheep. Also see my answer to Eric for more.

  • Eric Klem Jul 28, 2015, 8:11 pm

    Hi John,

    I was just reading this post because it popped to the top of the comments and noticed that you mentioned chafe as a problem with the dyneema. I find this a little bit surprising and was wondering if you had any further thoughts on it. In the last few years, we have begun using dyneema in most high chafe applications on board because we have found it to be far superior. For example, our mooring pendants and snubber are both nylon but use a short piece of dyneema through our fairleads which are not as fair as I might like. Do you think that these issues were related to the small diameter or something else?

    I have done a decent amount of shore tying in the PNW but that includes only a single tie and it has always been in something much stretchier. Having no real experience with dyneema in this application, my biggest theoretical concern would be shock loading although a 30′ piece of nylon cow hitched into the middle of the dyneema somewhere could probably eliminate this issue.


    • John Jul 29, 2015, 9:05 am

      Hi Eric,

      I wrote this post some years ago based on the interview with Michael. Since then my thinking has changed a lot based on our 2011 trip to Greenland using Dynema.

      The bottom line is that I need to write a post on shorefasts and how we do that, but here are a couple of high points:

      1). We are completely off reels and prefer bags, easier to stow, easier to deploy because you run the line out from the shore, not the other way around.

      2). I think you are right that Dynema is great for chafe resistance. The comment above was from Michael and based on diameter. Having said that, we always use wires to actually attach to the shore in the north because you will be using a boulder and no rope likes that.

      3). Having rode out storm force winds on Dynema shorefasts I have found that the lack of stretch in Dynema in actually a good thing since it stops the boat from surging around. The only time it would be a problem would be if there was swell. But if one ends up on shore fasts in a cove exposed to swell, that’s simply a huge mistake and one is in big trouble anyway.

      • Marc Dacey Jul 29, 2015, 6:22 pm

        I look forward to that post, John, as I want to know how you make up a wire seize for a boulder…thimbles, bulldog clips, different lengths to lasso different-sized boulders? Sounds like an interesting topic. I wonder if you could do double-duty with wire bridles and “boulder-keepers”?

      • Eric Klem Jul 30, 2015, 1:43 pm

        Hi John,

        Your point 3 makes a lot of sense provided that you have a minimum of a 3 point spread which allows you to really hold stationary with reasonable loads. When it comes to keeping boats in one place if compliance is necessary due to waves I often feel like we have figured out the spring part of a spring damper system but that we have not figured out the damper part. I suspect that this is why Colin’s drogue technique when anchored works so well. Your point about how this should never apply to shore fasts is well taken though.



        • John Jul 31, 2015, 9:31 am

          Hi Eric,

          Good point on the three point spread. After over 20 years of messing with shorefasts I have pretty much come to the conclusion that I will not use them unless I can set up a three point spread.

          The only exception to this is the one of two times I have used an anchor and a shorefast both off the bow at about a 90 degree angle, the shorefast pulling us closer to the shelter of the shore and the anchor making sure we don’t end up on the beach.

          We did this in the Hurricane Maria in 2011 with great success—had a comfortable night despite very strong gusting and storm force winds.

  • Nick Kats Jul 31, 2015, 6:42 am

    Also, rotate the boat in situ, so she faces wind and/or waves as appropriate.

    One other thing. Spring lines. I learned this from reading about the British Navy, ca 1800. To bring cannon to bear as needed, eg on a moving target, a spring line was run from the anchor to the stern. Pulling in and/or letting out the anchor and/or spring line rotated the warship. I’ve used this technique with a line from mid chain to a stern cleat & it is effective.

  • Nick Kats Jul 31, 2015, 6:43 am

    That last line should read ‘stern cleat’.

  • Bill Balme Sep 29, 2015, 8:42 pm


    When in Finland last year, I saw several boats with reels and flat tape being used for shorelines. Thoughts on that as a solution? Certainly packs nicely on the reel…
    Your post on shorelines is running late!!! 😉

    • John Sep 30, 2015, 6:32 am

      Hi Bill,

      Yes, I have seen that webbing used for anchoring too. I have never tried it, so don’t really know. I guess my worry would be that if it gets twisted, which it will, it will be a real pain in the neck to sort out as you roll it up. Therefore I can’t see an advantage over Spectra rope.

      Also, for shorefasts, I prefer bags to reels. The primary reason is that it is way easier to attach the shorefast to the shore first and then run it out back to the boat, rather than the other way around, so I like a bag that I can just dump in the dingy.

      As to the post, it’s on the list. And to think I used to worry about running out of things to write about!

      • Marc Dacey Oct 1, 2015, 12:57 pm

        No fear of that, John. Your readers keep pelting you with “but what if” questions!

  • aLBERTO DUHAU Sep 30, 2018, 7:09 pm

    Mine is more a question than a comment. I understand the spectra line is spliced and with this you tie a piece of steel cable that you wrap and tie around a rock. Now, with the other end, how do you tie it to the boat to avoid chafing and what do you do with the spare line as you adjust to the desired length of the shorefast, which must be always equal o less than the available line. Also how do you tie the SS cable to itself to make a loop that you can then tie up to the spectra or dymema line?

    • John Oct 1, 2018, 7:57 am

      Hi Alberto,

      We simply cleat the shore fast off on the boat. That said, it does take a lot of turns on the cleat to make sure spectra does not slip. As to chafe on the fareleads, we have good big well rounded ones, so not a problem. Also Spectra does not chafe a lot since it does not stretch much.

      And we make the loop in the SS cable with a large shackle through soft loops in in end of the cable and through the shore fast hard eye.

      More here:

      • aLBERTO DUHAU Oct 1, 2018, 12:16 pm

        very clear! thanks

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