Saturday, February 7, 2015

Give Your Lines Some Love

This post could not have been written without extensive help from my middle crew, Douglas Toney.

The start of the season is the time to take a good look at the control lines on your boat from last season after all the abuse and abrasion they have endured. Check each line, specifically around points of abrasion (turning blocks, cleats, and other sources). If it is damaged, it’s time to think about replacing it. Replacing it with a line that is meant for its specific application will not only make you and your crew happy, but can also significantly improve its longevity and functionality. 

Here are some of the lines and their uses on my Thistle and why I like them. 

Super Prestretch - Marlow: This stuff is bulletproof. It has a great nubbiness to it, which is awesome for grip. A lot of collegiate programs use this on any small diameter control line/halyard. If you need a small diameter line that takes a ton of abuse, this is the stuff. 

Sta-Set - New England Ropes: Yes its cheap, yes it doesn’t really look spectacular, yes I feel the need to scream when a boat is entirely rigged with this stuff. All that aside, it is an economical solution to a lot of problems on boats. Its cover fluffs-up nicely with use giving it really nice handling. 

It stretches a decent amount, but that can be good in certain applications. It is nearly as bulletproof as super prestretch. I use it for my Vang, where I intentionally want a lower strength line with some stretch between the becket block so there is a little less shock load exhibited to the boom (I have a history of breaking a mast, so maybe I’m gun shy). It’s also the bow line.

Amsteel - Samson: This stuff is almost as cheap as the crummy nylon line at Walmart. Any application that sees minimal abrasion I recommend replacing with ⅛” Amsteel. It’s pretty much the lightest line per foot available, and ⅛” has a 2500 lb breaking strength. The most significant drawback to it is knots tend to slip, and it really should be spliced in most applications and if you want to use it in a cleat think again. 

Splicing can be done easily with a clothes hanger (the beefier bronze colored ones work great). Cut a 4 to 5 inch piece and round off one end. Use masking tape to tape the end of the line to the end. I use it for simple tie downs and traveler lines. 

Switfcord - Maffioli: Most are probably familiar with this stuff, but it’s pretty much like holding onto a silk bag full of puppies. It’s incredibly soft right off the bat and has incredible grip. It’s not super strong, but is fairly light per foot. It doesn’t absorb water, and it’s a single braid so splicing is easy. I use 5/32” on my spinnaker sheets. The small diameter is grippy enough in moderate wind and only slightly painful to my crew in heavier air. I can live with this. 

Polilite - Rooster: This stuff looks like the crummy line you’d buy at a hardware store. I’ll be darned if I have tried to replace it, but can’t in good faith because it just holds up and performs. I have two schools of thought for sheets, either so limp and shapeless that they don’t kink (Swiftcord/Salsa) or so stiff they don’t either. Polilite fits into the stiff category. It won’t win a beauty pageant, and it probably isn’t my crew’s first choice but it just works. My crew probably finds this mostly to his chagrin because he has to hold it as his jib sheet. This may also be my reluctance to replace it, as I do enjoy watching him cringe each time he has to put the ugly black line onto the jib. It’s the little things that build crew teamwork...

Salsa - New England: Soft, supple, doesn’t kink, durable, doesn’t hold water. These are pretty much the main considerations for a mainsheet, which is what it is used as on my boat. Plus, it adds a little color to the boat, and who doesn’t like to party. Its not as easy to splice as other single braids, but it is still fairly easy. It just gets the job done and done well. 

Things I’d like to change:
I’d like to replace some control lines with a vectran/dyneema core and a covered working end. It’s lighter and let’s be honest it just looks better. I’d also like to replace my mainsheet with a double tapered sheet. While close hauled, just the core is through the boom with cover starting just after the mainsheet block, and just cover is used after that. Similarly, I’d like to have tapered jib sheets for less sheet weight in light air. 

All things aside, the best resource for information is other boats that are doing well. Talk to other folks in the parking lot and find out what lines they are using and most importantly why. Rerigging your boat isn’t going to totally transform the way you sail, but there is no substitute to stepping onto a cleanly, well rigged boat to go sailing. Having faith in your equipment, and having that equipment be reliable and as well suited to its job will do wonders for your peace of mind.

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