|Getting to Grips with Sailing Ropes
By Ian Turnbull –http://www.rope4boats.co.uk/
Whether your upgrading the ropes on your current boat or starting from scratch with a newly purchased boat, understanding different rope characteristics and what works best for tension, flex, comfort, and your own personal preferences can make a big difference to boat handling and your overall sailing experience.
Photo : Tim Olin
On a difficult boat to sail, like a MUSTO Skiff, it is really important that everything works perfectly. The boat is hard enough to sail so the last thing you need is a set of spinnaker sheets that keep getting tangled or a control line that slips in the cleat!
For the MUSTO Skiff, I use a wide variety of ropes around the boat, which I tend to source from a few different rope manufacturers (I want the best rope for each job rather than sticking with one supplier).
As most ropes on the MUSTO Skiff have different functions and requirements, I look for different characteristics in each rope to get the best results. For example, the main halyard is all about minimum stretch and hard wearing at the head of the sail and at the cleat. For this, I would use 4mm dyneema with a polyester technora cover. The dyneema core is very low stretch and the technora in the cover helps reduce wear or slipping in the cleat. You can use Sk78 or Sk99 dyneema for this, but it really depends on how much you want to spend! The difference between Sk78 and Sk99 in terms of performance is small but the cost is double!
When it comes to a set of spinnaker sheets, I want something that is soft, light, won’t tangle, and can be tapered. For this, I use 6mm swiftcord tapered into 2.5mm dyneema. This rope is soft on the hands, light, and it doesn’t tangle easily.
If you are considering replacing ropes, you only really need to think about three things - application, cost and feel.
There is no point spending loads of money on super non-stretch dyneema on something that is not that critical if it gives a little stretch. For example, you can probably live with a little stretch on the trapeze adjuster line and spinnaker sheets. However, you will want to get good low stretch ropes for your trapeze lines, main halyard, and spinnaker tackline.
Taking the spinnaker tackline as an example, if you have a low quality line on it, when a gust hits, it will stretch. This will allow the tack to fly higher, reduce the luff tension, and increase the leach tension of the spinnaker. This has a negative effect on the flying shape of the sail and the speed of your boat.
Last, but not least, is feel. This is only applicable to the mainsheet and spinnaker sheet. I see a big variation in what my customers prefer in their mainsheet, with most being happy with a relatively hard wearing 8mm sheet. The advantage of this is that the hardwearing rope lasts well, given that it is being moved in the ratchet block and being cleated and un-cleated continuously. But, the down side is that it is harder on your hands.
Then we have the soft office workers (you know who you are!) who will want a thicker, softer rope. This is much more comfortable on the hands, but it will need replacing more regularly.
Even when you have your boat rigged up and the lines are set, as you want them, I always find that it is worth having some spare ropes in your rig bag for quick fixes. The three most common bits of rope that I would recommend having on hand for spares are:
- 2.5mm or 3mm dyneema core - This is used on trapeze lines, tackline, lashing mainsheet blocks to the boom, pole launch, kicker, and Cunningham. At a push you can use 3mm on your mainsheet bridle, which is better than nothing, but I would normally use 4mm for this.
- 4mm covered dyneema - This is used for both halyards and control lines.
- 4mm elastic - In the last few years, all the big rope companies have launched elastic with a dyneema cover. The advantage of this is less wear, better running, and it won’t overstretched and snap as easily as the old stuff. This makes it perfect for the MUSTO Skiff trapeze.
That only leaves the mainsheet and spinnaker sheets, but you normally know when that needs to be replaced, so you will have time to get new ones!
When preparing your ropes, you will most likely need to do some splicing, which is permanently terminating or joining a rope without using a knot. Knots are bulky and can come undone. Tying a knot in the rope also massively decreases the strength of the rope compared to a splice that only slightly reduces the strength.
Making things like tapered spinnaker sheets and halyards are seen by some as over the top, but I see it as a contrast gain. It is only small but a tapered halyard has less weight, less windage and runs faster than a standard halyard. Yes, this is not going to be the silver bullet that sees you sail off into a massive lead, but it might allow you to cross that group of starboard tack boats rather than dip them or get you an overlap, meaning you can get inside of a group of boats at a leeward mark!
Whilst many of you probably enjoy the job of splicing, getting this wrong can seriously reduce the strength of the rope and sometimes the rope may not even work properly or come undone. This is not something that you want to have happen on the water at any time, but especially not whilst racing. It can be a distraction and it might even cost you a race if you have to retire early to fix it.
Knowing how important this is, as well as supplying the various different ropes, we also provide a customised service with splices to a your specification. However, if you do still want to do it yourself and use your spare time to give some love to your MUSTO Skiff, you can use our splice guide with tips and visual examples for creating an uncovered eye splice (locking), a taper splice, and a continuous splice.
At the end of the day, it is what works best for you, but it is also about getting it right and making sure the performance of your ropes won’t let you down when you are focused on sailing your boat and winning races.
Ian Turnbull is the owner of Rope4boats and is an experienced rigger who has won championships in a multitude of classes. Rope4boats has a large stock from the world’s best rope brands and offers a custom rigging and splicing service for many classes, including the MUSTO Skiff. For more information, visit http://www.rope4boats.co.uk/
See the downloadable PDF guide on splicing