Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Preping Lines

It is pure myth that racers like fuzzy lines for the increased grip. It is also myth that they work better. They are too bulky for blocks, increase friction, and actually increase the required effort. I know. I bought them several times. Stupid.

Samson Nova Braid XLS Easy Feel. High friction through the blocks. The other common mistake is up-sizing lines for better grip. As a rule, go one size smaller than the rated maximum, and never the largest that will fit.

Instead, buy the smallest, smoothest lines you can manage. I like Sampson LS; it runs smoothly and is very reasonably priced for a quality line. A smooth line will fly through the blocks, minimizing friction and the load you need to hold. Then comes the hard part....

Go over the part that you will actually handle with 200 grit sandpaper. Yup, put some wear on them on purpose (not to much--you can always go back). This is what the racing pros do every time they board a boat with new lines. They can't afford to loose control of the spinnaker halyard on a quick hoist.

As a cruiser, you can skip this on sheets--they'll get scuffed up soon enough. But the furler line is great candidate. We like a slick, skinny furler line so that it will feed with minimal friction and not suffer from overrides on the drum, but we regret the choice the first time we have to roll it up in a good blow. Yes, we could use the winch, but there is always some risk of twisting the foil if we underestimate our strength, which is easy to do with a winch. Pre-scuffing up the tail is the answer.


And while we're speaking of speed tweaks, my book Faster Cruising for the Coastal Sailor is now available on Kindle through Amazon. Enjoy.


  1. Hi Drew,

    Could you please explain a little more in detail what you mean by: "As a rule, go one size smaller than the rated maximum" Did you mean the size or the maximum load?

    About the size, I had the experience on charter yachts that thinner lines often slip through the self-tailing lock on the winches or on those pull-through clamps. I guess, this is mostly due to cheap parts and poor maintenance, but too many times,we hat to keep the genua halyard on a winch so it didn't loosen.

    Also, is there any guideline what kind of loads to expect on halyards and sheets? I'm in the process of replacing some on my 35 year old boat and it seems ,that quality lines with 2 mm less diameter have tabout the same strength than the cheap thicker ones.

  2. If a line is too fat it will rub on the side plates increasing friction. If the line is too fat for the bend radius (at least 5x rope diameter) there will be internal friction, reducing the efficiency of the tackle. Just to complicate matters, 1/2-inch Stayset (New England Ropes) and 1/2 LS (Samson Ropes) are not the same diameter. Load ratings only matter for winched lines--and I have destroyed blocks just a little beyond their ratings, so I would be conservative there too. The strengths are accurate, but the working loads are dramatically exaggerated, if you want a long life.

    For what it is worth, I like Garhauer for durability and value. Not for all things, but for snatch blocks, travelers, and genoa leads. Their cam cleats are not as smooth, although I think they are stronger.

    Skinny lines can slip in selftailers and jammers if downsizing is taken too far. This is a common problem when folks look to high modulus lines. If it is close, it can help to treat the affected section with either Spinlock RP-25 (better) or Yale Maxijacket (jammers only); these coatings increase wear, but they also firm up the line, improving holding in mechanical devices.

    Halyards are sized for stretch; a line that is big enough to hold the load will only fail due to chafe.

    As for calculating loads, the simplest approach is to use one of the Harken calculators (http://www.harken.com/search.aspx?s=sheet+load). They are generalized (not boat-specific), but they will get you in the right ballpark. Another aproach is to look up the power ratio of your winches and try to estimate how hard you are sheeting. For example, 40/42 series winches are good to a little over 1500 pounds if you are grinding pretty darn hard.

    Yup, good brands are better. I think Samson has some of the best values (XLS, LS, and Amsteel), but people have favorites. Staset lasts a long time.

    1. Hi Drew,

      Thank your for the extensive reply. Specially those calculators are handy to get an idea what's needed.

  3. You might also like this post on line selection. While there are some good reasons to use high tech line, for most cruiser applications, old-tech is better.