The Reel

To Michael Robertson, a reel on the stern indicates a serious sailor—an extreme cruiser.

stern reel

Most of the reels use either floating polypropylene or flat webbing, few use nylon three-strand. Seems to me that polypropylene would provide comparatively little strength or chafe resistance. Michael Robertson

In 1995, I saw Alvah and Diana Simon give a presentation in Ventura, California. Their riveting talk and slide show focused on their trip around Cape Horn in their steel-hulled_ Roger Henry_. What stuck with me all the years since is their description of anchoring in the Beagle Channel. Alvah said he observed the trees on the cliffs around the anchorage, wickedly malformed by the fierce prevailing winds, the williwaws that can blow at hurricane strength. Understanding they faced the prospect of gale force (and higher) katabatic winds that would drive them from shore, Alvah and Diana tucked Roger Henry in close and tied off ashore. The long length of three-strand that they used to do this, they kept on a reel astern.

Since then, I’ve noticed time and again, in the pictures that accompany adventurous articles in the sailing magazines—articles sent from crews at the extreme latitudes—the reels. To me, these reels evidence serious sailors, extreme cruisers.

But now I’m floating in a sea of boats with reels. A 22-foot day sailor behind me sports a reel. Every other boat I’ve seen in B.C. has a reel—even small powerboats. I’ve learned why.


British Columbia (and the Inside Passage north) is filled with more nooks and crannies to explore than could possibly be done in a lifetime (our knowledgeable friend, Warren, pointed out to us that some of it is still uncharted!). These anchorages are often narrow, deep, crowded in the summer, and subject to huge tides (up to 15 feet). All of these factors combine to limit the amount of area available for a boat to swing on the hook. Accordingly, many folks up here stern tie to immobilize their boats. Apparently summer season wind is not such a factor.

So, we’re looking into our own stern tie reel solution for Del Viento. At first glance, I like the space efficiency of the narrow reels of polyester webbing. We’ll see. I want to make sure this is indeed a must-have, even for just our planned single season. Because if we return to Mexico with a reel I know there will be a lot of eye rolling, “Oh look, the Robertsons spent a year up north and now they think they’re Alvah Simon.”

I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at


Email Newsletters and Special Offers

Sign up for Cruising World emails to receive the latest news on cruising, sailing skills, and safety on the water as well as special offers from Cruising World’s partners.

By signing up you agree to receive communications from Cruising World and select partners in accordance with our Privacy Policy. You may opt out of email messages/withdraw consent at any time.

More How To