Learning the Ropes
Not just for racers, high-tech cordage brings many benefits to cruising boats.
Most cruising boats have a roller-furling headsail, and many have in-mast furling mainsails as well. Since these remain hoisted for possibly months at a time, a lightweight low-stretch line will offer better halyard tension and sail shape over the long run. This is true for non-roller-furling sails as well, especially if you’re heading out on a long passage where the sails will be set for a while. Here Fisher recommends using a Spectra/Dyneema-cored line, since it’s extremely strong, lightweight, and doesn’t absorb water. An alternative would be a Vectran-cored line, which stretches even less and doesn’t creep; however, it’s heavier than Spectra/Dyneema and absorbs water. When switching from polyester to a high-tech line, it’s usually possible to downsize the line by a few millimeters since these fibers are so strong. This is a definite advantage for bigger cruising boats, since polyester line can be quite bulky at larger diameters.
If the price tag of Spectra/Dyneema-cored or Vectran-cored line is a little steep, all the major rope manufacturers currently make “mid-level” blended-core ropes that would be well suited to the cruising environment (and easier on the wallet). A few examples are New England Ropes’ VPC, with a Vectran and polyolefin core, and T-900, with a Dyneema and Technora core; Samson’s MLX, featuring an Innegra-S and Dyneema core; and Yale’s Aratech, with a Technora and Spectra core. Both high-tech lines and the mid-level blends typically have polyester covers, which provides extra U.V. protection and a nice hand, although there are also covers available that blend the polyester with materials such as Technora, for its abrasion-resistant and heat-dissipating qualities. If weight saving is a major issue aboard your boat, note that many of the high-tech ropes available are core dependant, and the cover can be stripped off. On the majority of cruising boats, however, the effect would be negligible.
Like halyards, sheets are an area where Spectra/Dyneema-cored lines can improve performance and even your sailing experience. “Since you can downsize your line when you switch from polyester, you end up with smaller, lighter piles in your cockpit and less weight pulling at your sail,” says Fisher. He offers an example of genoa halyards on an Oyster 46, which are 69 feet long. In this application, polyester double-braid lines would measure 3/4-inch in diameter, with a breaking strength of 16,000 pounds and a weight of 11 pounds. A Spectra/Dyneema-cored line would have a 1/2-inch diameter, a breaking strength of 20,000 pounds, and a weight of only 4.6 pounds. And only the polyester cover would absorb water, offering additional weight savings as well as more pleasant tacking.
It’s worth noting that if you’re replacing your running rigging, the time’s right to inspect your deck hardware, too. Since polyester line has more give, it absorbs more of the load from the sails. If you make the switch to high-tech line, be sure that your deck hardware is appropriately sized and reinforced.
Spinnaker sheets are well suited for a high-tech upgrade as well, since a lightweight, small-diameter line that’s also very strong will offer better performance. Examples of good choices for this application are Samson’s WarpSpeed, featuring a Dyneema core and a polyester cover, and New England Ropes’ Flight Line, which has a Dyneema core and a polypropylene cover.