Don’t Trust Used Rope

Modern ropes are fantastically strong, to the point that, in most cases, at least on cruising boats, there is a massive margin of safety simply because the rope is generally chosen with enough diameter to be easily handled and is therefore many times stronger than the peak load.

In fact, I can’t remember when a piece of running rigging last broke on me…until last month when I was reefing in moderate winds and the clew pennant parted off with a hell of bang—luckily no other damage was done.

The interesting thing was that at the moment it broke it was under way less load than it had repeatedly withstood when fully reefed and sailing with the mainsheet fire-taut.

And I had carefully inspected the old spinnaker halyard for any signs of chafe before repurposing part of it for the reefing line.

My first guess was that the core was Aramid (Kevlar), which is notorious for failing without warning where it bends over a sheave, but the broken ends don’t look like it, and the place where it broke was not so-stressed.


Heck, maybe at some time in its life the halyard had been exposed to some chemical that attacked it. Maybe the line was bought on the cheap from some no-name or even counterfeit company—apparently it happens in the climbing world.

Anyway, regardless of what caused it, I learned a valuable lesson:

After many decades of no failures I had become complacent about rope strength.

Going forward I won’t repurpose, but will replace old mission-critical lines that I don’t know the history of, precisely what they are made of, by what company, and where sourced, regardless of how good they look.

Worth thinking about when buying a used boat.

More on running rigging here.


Good Fractional Rig-Tuning Article

A multiple-spreader fractional rig is one of the most difficult, but also one of the most rewarding, to tune right.

We have five detailed step-by-step chapters on how to tune a masthead rig, starting here, but we don’t cover fractional rigs because they are unusual in the offshore cruising world.

But if you do have a fractional rig, like we do on our new-to-us J/109, there’s a good tuning article over at Practical Boat Owner.

I agree with most of it, although they do skip over the vital step of getting mast heel position and mast blocking right, but you can fill that in from our masthead tuning chapters.

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V Booms a Great Idea

This one, which I saw in Lunenburg last week, is not as slick as newer V Booms in carbon, but it’s still a great way, particularly when coupled with a good lazy jack system, to tame the main.

Pocket Boom, V Boom, Park Avenue Boom, it doesn’t much matter what we call them, these booms are a great idea that should be adopted by a lot more sailors than do.

A great way to simplify sail handling, and make it easy to put on the sail cover, but without the complexity, weight, performance loss, and, yes, dangers of in-mast or in-boom furling systems, and way cheaper, too.

If you are considering an automated mainsail system, do yourself a favour and think long and hard before you pull the trigger and blow a wad of cash.

Instead, fix the slab-reefing system on your boat properly—a good 80% of the slab systems I see are poorly designed and set up—and, then, if you want to take it to the next level, buy a V Boom.

This one from Offshore Spars looks like a nice implementation. I’m guessing it’s a derivative of the brilliantly designed V Booms that Hall Spars used to make.

I wanted one of these in the worst way, but after we got done replacing our cracked aluminum mast, there was no money left.

More on how to decide between in-mast, in-boom, and slab reefing. Yes, there are situations when one of the first two options makes sense…but not that many.

And if you think in-boom systems are easier to use, watch this:


Pull Tackles Tight When Laying Up

I have been doing this sailboat ownership thing for over 60 years and still I learn stuff, usually when something bites me on the ass.

We were all set to bend on the main last week when the outhaul jammed solid. No way to pull it out to shackle it to the clew.

When we took the main off last fall, I guess we left the outhaul tackle slack inside the boom, and at some point when the boom was being moved, a loop of the tackle hooked over the floating block as shown in the photo.

I could see it with my borescope but there was no way to flip it off without drilling out five 1/4″ pop rivets and removing the forward boom-end fitting—you can’t make this up stuff up.

Note to self: when removing mainsail, pull outhaul tackle tight and tie off.

Actually, there’s an even better answer to this. Any floating block, particularly in an inaccessible place, should have a piece of shock cord that keeps the tackle under slight tension at all times.


Buntline Hitch With Bury Splice Hack

I was cleaning up the dog’s breakfast of frayed and knotted lines making up our jib in-haulers when I came up against the problem of how to attach the Amsteel™ line to the low-friction ring the sheet passes though.

A Brummel splice was one possibility, but it’s difficult to get a splice snugged up really hard so the ring won’t slip out; also, if I need to adjust the length, which I may, it’s pretty hard to undo and then redo a properly tapered splice.

Then it struck me, just use a buntline hitch, which pulls ever tighter under load, and then bury the end using my D-splicer.

Takes longer to write about it than it took to do.

And the beauty of this is that if I need to undo it to change the length, it’s simply a matter of pulling out the buried end, undoing the knot, adjusting, and putting it back together the same way.

You will note that I did not taper the buried end. That’s intentional, even though it reduces the strength a bit, since once the end is tapered, it would be hard to get it buried again.

One caution, I would not use this hack for anything heavily loaded like a halyard, since the knot will reduce the strength quite a bit—halyards, particularly using high-modulus lines, should always be spliced. But in this case I’m only using Amsteel for its low stretch, not strength—probably have a 50:1 safety margin.


Pete Goss on Mainsail Automation

Sometimes I feel like a voice in the wilderness constantly campaigning for simple rigging systems, so it’s nice to read a well-reasoned article from a deeply experienced sailor on the subject.

I spent a bit of time with Pete a few years ago, and he’s worth listening to, even if we disagree on a couple of boats.

Further Reading

And if you are trying to decide whether or not to automate your mainsail, we have a complete buyer’s guide to that decision…and, yes, it includes the advantages of automated systems.


Protect Hydraulic Rams

I have long been a fan of hydraulic backstay adjusters, and, on bigger boats, hydraulic vangs, but they do have one vulnerability: a ding in the exposed rod will eventually damage the top seal and start a leak.

Sometimes a small ding can be polished out with very fine emory paper, but bigger ones can, as I understand it, make replacing the whole plunger assembly the only option.

The interesting thing is I have never had any of the three rams on our last boat dinged while sailing. Just seems like we don’t do stuff around that area that will cause this problem.

But I once had one dinged while the mast was being un-stepped, so for the last 20 years I have always covered the rod prior to unstepping and storage and before re-stepping. Our favourite chafe gear works a treat for this. No more dings.


Q&A Winch Service Intervals & grease.

Our friends Mick and Bee helping Phyllis and me service the winches on our last boat, a McCurdy and Rhodes 56.


Member Courtney asked:

In this whole set of articles on rigs/spars/lines and the bits and bobs that make the sailing happen I see no mention of the service schedule or recommended sundries for winches. I found your suggestions for a water-based degreaser, but no suggestions for the grease (And there’s sooo many, and they all claim to be the best. Ugh). With 10 winches on the to-do list for spring, does anyone have a tried and true winch grease?


You hear all kinds of recommendations for winch service intervals, with the most common being every year, or every season.

But like you, we had a bunch of winches on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56 so servicing them every year would have been a crazy use of time that could be used more profitably in other areas—there’s never enough time to do everything that ideally should be done on a cruising boat.

So we found that servicing all our Lewmar winches every three years was just fine.

And I have to confess that several times over the years the interval was longer than that.

Anyway, we never had any trouble with our winches as a result of this service interval. I think the key is doing a really good service, when we do it, with close attention to checking for any wear and immediately replacing any parts that show even a little.

That said, in nearly 30 years, we have only replaced a couple of spindles —worn teeth.

As to which grease, people get terribly worked up about this on the forums, but we found that our favourite Lubriplate 130-AA works fine and lasts well over the above interval.

In theory we are supposed to use a light oil on the pawls, but we have always just used the same grease and had no problems with sticking.

That said, when I serviced the Harken winches on our J/109 last year I used Harken grease and Lewmar winch pawl oil as an experiment. So far, there has been no discernible difference.

One thing I would caution against is using a lower quality or thicker grease than the 130AA on the pawls, since if they stick in the retracted position the winch can spin and really hurt someone.

Particularly beware of forum posts touting cheaper lubricants from doubtful sources, which, these days, includes Amazon and eBay—both are riddled with counterfeits of other stuff, so I’m guessing the same applies to lubricants.

Further Reading


Stopping Rigging Hum Q & A


Member Arne asked:

When I tuned the rig on my OVNI, it started vibrating/resonating in the wind when on anchor. It starts at fairly low wind speeds, and I can’t tell exactly where in the rig it is. I can sometimes feel some vibrations in the shrouds. It sounds like a motorboat approaching a couple hundred meters away, so not super loud, but pretty annoying still. Is this a problem you have experienced or have any tips on a remedy?


Rigging vibration is both common and hard to diagnose, and even harder to stop completely. A few things based on my own experience over the years that may help:

  • Although it does happen, vibration and hum are rarely caused by wire standing rigging. The wire may vibrate, but that’s unlikely to be the source.
  • Rope rigging is likely to be the original source. Places to look include:
    • Topping lift, probably the most common source.
    • Rope running backstays. We loved the change to HM rope on our McCurdy and Rhodes 56, but there are always tradeoffs. The wire never hummed and the rope often did.
    • Rope halyards that are not in use and set up hard can often be the source.

There are probably more proposed solutions to the rigging vibration problem than there are sailors, and few, if any, work every time. Here are a few that have helped us, but none are a panacea:

  • Change the tension on the offending halyard or stay.
  • If it’s the topping lift, get rid of the damned thing.
  • If you must keep the topping lift, attach a piece of shock cord. Might not fix it, but it’s a good hack.
  • If it is the wire rigging, install a backstay adjuster so you can slack the rig off at anchor. It’s a great upgrade for a whole bunch of reasons.
  • Stringing a piece of shock cord from a tight and humming runner to a shroud and then varying the tension and position until it stops.


That’s all I got. Anyone else have any bright ideas on how to stop rigging hum?

Note, we have already covered rig pumping, which is a different problem.


Turnbuckle Securing Hack

Here’s a quick way to secure turnbuckles with no need for taping and that is quick to take off when we need to adjust the rig.

The secret is selecting a ring-ding (a technical term that shows the user is a real professional rigger) that is just too big in diameter to allow the barrel to turn.

Here’s a bunch more rigging tips, including another way to secure turnbuckles that’s more suitable for offshore boats.


Self-Tailing Winch Stripper Positioning

Last summer I tweaked the position of the strippers on our sheet winches. Makes all the difference to usability and sheet holding if we get a full wrap from the stripper to the direction the crew will pull really right.

Before the change we were having trouble with the sheet slipping out of the stripper after a tack. After the change, problem gone. Small adjustment, big gains.