Spoiling The Ship For a Ha’penny Worth of Tar

Looks OK, doesn’t it?

Before any long passage I conduct a careful examination of all of our standing and running rigging, checking particularly for chafe and any sign of corrosion – better to do it well in advance than wait until the last minute when there’s no time to effect repairs. So before we left the Canaries I went through my usual routine, and even had a pro rigger check my check – something I do every year or two, just to make sure I haven’t missed anything. Result? A-OK.

The leg from the Canaries down to West Africa is almost guaranteed to be a downhill sleighride, so we had all of our downwind gear set up in advance, blocks, sheets, guys, etc. We use a tackle system for our pole downhaul, so that we can really strap the pole in place, which attaches at strong points on deck via a snap shackle. As this set-up came with the boat it happens that the snap shackle was one of the few on board that didn’t come from Wichard. But as it seemed big and solid, and had done duty for several years now, all it got was the usual examination (looked fine) and a squirt of lubricant.

Check and Check Again

But if I’d been a little more careful and not so revved-up on the high of departure, I’d have taken more notice of the warning sign of staining on the body of the shackle, and looked at it more closely with a magnifying glass (which we keep for just such use). Then I wouldn’t have ended up on my backside when it failed spectacularly the second I put some load on it!

But appearances can be deceptive.

Luckily no harm was done, as I was just setting the pole up – but if it had failed when the sail was set, with the occasional shock loadings that occur when the sail collapses and fills, some real damage might have occurred. And not just to the pole, but perhaps to one of us while trying to tame the beast.

Further examination and recovery of the pieces showed that the shackle had failed where it articulates around the pin, probably through crevice corrosion having got a hold. And the locking eye of the pin had cracked, too, so if the first failure hadn’t got us, the second would have very soon. And although I couldn’t see the former, I should have seen the latter – must do better next time…

You Pays Your Money…

I’ve often heard people comment that gear from the likes of Harken or Wichard is too expensive, and that it isn’t worth paying the premium – a shackle is a shackle. I’ve never bought that argument, trusting in the fact that both outfits forge their shackles from best quality materials, and test them. That way you know what they can take, and believe in it. And in the overall cost of running a boat for offshore cruising, is it worth skimping on such vital gear, when the cost penalty is so relatively slight?

The failure of this cheap cast shackle could have ended up costing us a serious amount of money, and even jeopardized our cruising plans. So I’m going through all of our gear again, and throwing out anything that either looks even vaguely suspect, or isn’t Wichard or Harken.

I’ve also altered our downhaul system to take a solid shackle at deck level instead of a snap shackle, as I’m not sure that this is a place where they are best, or most importantly, safely utilized.

The old adage of ‘spoiling the ship for a ha’penny worth of tar’ keeps running through my mind – it won’t happen on our boat again. And I’d recommend that we all should be wary of cheap gear from lands unknown, which may well fail when it’s most needed. It might look the same, but I’ll bet you it ain’t.


Have you had a piece of rigging fail on you? Was it from a no-name manufacturer, or one of the big guys? Please leave a comment and tell us about it.

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Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

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