Learning the Ropes
Not just for racers, high-tech cordage brings many benefits to cruising boats.
Replacing the running rigging on your boat seems like it should be fairly simple, and a decade or two ago, it was. As with electronics, safety gear, and even sails, technology has significantly improved cordage. The downside to all these improvements is that not only are there more options then ever, but you may feel like you need a materials-science degree in order to choose the right line for your new jib halyard. Here, we’ll take a look at what the newer, high-tech materials can do for your boat.
When it comes time to choose new rope for the lines aboard your boat, you’ll need to consider the type of sailing that you’ll be doing (a year in the tropics? racing to Bermuda?), the hardware that you currently have (clutches, sheaves), what qualities you feel are important (soft hand, ease in splicing, weight, durability), and your budget. The type of sails you have is another consideration. “If you’ve already made the investment in laminate sails, then you should really consider upgrading your running rigging to a low-stretch material,” says Brian Fisher of Rig Pro, in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. “But even if you have Dacron sails, you can benefit from a cordage upgrade.”
Starting at the top, you should check over your sheaves before replacing your halyards, and if you’re going from wire to rope halyards, you’ll need to change to rope sheaves. (Wire halyards use a V-shaped sheave; rope sheaves are U-shaped.) While you’re aloft, look for any sharp edges that could chafe through your new line, especially if you’re going from wire to rope halyards.
There are plenty of choices for new halyards, from basic polyester double-braid to all the high-tech materials. Whatever you choose will probably be a compromise between such factors as amount of stretch, cost, weight, and ease of handling.
Long the workhorse on many a cruising boat, polyester (Dacron) double-braid is still a good choice for many onboard applications. Polyester is long lasting, resistant to ultraviolet radiation, and costs a fraction of high-tech rope; however, it’s somewhat stretchy and heavier than more modern materials, and if there’s one area on board that could benefit from an upgrade to lightweight low-stretch line, it’s the halyards.