Learning the Ropes
Not just for racers, high-tech cordage brings many benefits to cruising boats.
Rope construction for the mainsheet is much a matter of personal preference. Single-braid is usually softer, has a nice hand, and doesn’t kink, but it could snag more than a double-braid line and doesn’t have the additional abrasion resistance of a cover. Yale Cordage’s new Ph.D. rope, introduced in 2010, is a single-braid construction made from polyester-coated Spectra. According to Yale, the polyester coating gives the rope a nice feel and good grip on winches, while the Spectra core gives it strength and weight savings.
All the Rest
While halyards and sheets have been the focus here, there are plenty of other places aboard that could benefit from a high-tech makeover: runners, the outhaul, the traveler, the boom vang, even lifelines. If a major high-tech cordage upgrade is in your future, it may be wise to consult with a rigger to ensure that the chosen material is suitable to the application on your particular boat and that your lines are appropriately sized. “I’ve seen several situations in which customers have forgotten to take into account proper line size with regard to the winches and rope clutches on their boats,” notes Andrew Spiro of The Ship’s Store and Rigging, in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. “It’s simple, but just because you can use a smaller-diameter line with the same strength, they forget that the winches and clutches are limited to certain sizes. The result is often slipping.”
Always on the forefront of technology, raceboats have been using high-tech fibers for years in many applications on board, even standing rigging, and as these fibers have improved and their acceptance has grown, more and more wire is being traded out in favor of these lightweight alternatives. Cruisers can also reap benefit from these advances.
Jen Brett is a CW associate editor.
The Right Stuff for ropes
Aramids (Twaron, Technora, Kevlar): Like other high-tech fibers, aramids are strong and stretch little, but they also have the benefit of being resistant to heat. You’ll find aramids in both double-braid cores as well as blended with other fibers in the covers.
Dynex Dux: A relative newcomer to sailboat rigging, Dynex Dux is pre-stretched and heat-treated Dyneema. This process, however, produces an extremely strong rope with virtually no creep that is suitable for service in standing rigging.
H.M.P.E. (Dyneema, Spectra, Amsteel): High-modulus polyethylene has many benefits for running-rigging applications: It’s very strong, lightweight, doesn’t absorb water, has decent resistance to ultraviolet radiation, and it can float. On the downside, it has more creep (see “Rope Speak,” page 80) than other high-tech fibers.
L.C.P. (Vectran): Liquid-crystal polymer fiber possesses high-strength and low-stretch qualities and suffers virtually no creep. L.C.P. is one of the strongest core materials, although it doesn’t have the U.V. resistance of H.M.P.E., and it’s a little bit heavier.
Nylon: Strong yet stretchy nylon is commonly used in applications for which shock absorption is important, such as in dock lines and anchor lines.
P.B.O. (Zylon): Polybenzoxazole is extremely low stretch and high strength. It’s also ungodly expensive and lacks the durability that most cruisers desire. As such, P.B.O. is usually only found on high-end raceboats.
Polyester (Dacron): For decades, polyester has been the go-to rope for cruising-boat halyards and sheets. It’s cost efficient, strong, and resists ultraviolet radiation.
Polypropylene: Usually used in applications like ski and dinghy tow ropes, polypropylene is lightweight and can float. Alone, polypropylene isn’t usually seen in cruising-boat lines since it’s very susceptible to U.V. degradation, but it’s sometimes combined with other fibers that benefit from its lightweight, low-cost qualities. J.B.