Standing Rigging


Have you ever wondered what goes on inside a Sat-Lok fitting? At the Annapolis Boat Show, I had the privilege of seeing just how their system works with my own eyes (instead of imagining it based off of technical drawings). 

Sta-Lok milled away a section of one of their fittings to allow show-goers the ability to lay their eyes on what goes on inside of the terminators.  


Sta-Lok is a HyMod type fitting where the strands of the wire are actually spread out over a cone and then pinched at the bottom. The outer strands wrap over the cone while the core strands pass through the cone. As the wire is pulled out of the fitting, the cone crushes down on the core wires, holding them in place. The whole system is very simple and very effective, and this model just makes everything easier to mentally grasp.

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How To Cross an Ocean: Sails and Rigging

What makes a sailboat different from a powerboat? Sails and Rigging!

A beautiful and comfortable yacht with walk in closets, air conditioning, and every last gadget under the sun with non working sails and rigging is just a floating tomb that can't get you to shore. Eventually, you will run out of resources and die! You need to be able to get back to land, and to do that you will need working sails and rigging. 

It is imperative that you fully inspect all your standing rigging, running rigging, and sails before you head out to sea. If you have any problems, you need to address them before you head out to sea.  

Now, having perfect sails and rigging when you head out to sea doesn't mean that you will make it across safely without complications. While out at sea, problems can begin to occur, and you need to be prepared to manage and repair all issues associated with your sails and rigging.


Lets start with your sails.  

Your sails need to be in good condition. This doesn't mean new, it just means "good". They can be stained, they can be old, but they need to be capable of getting you across the ocean and safely to the other side.  

Sails need to be inspected closely, giving extra attention to the condition of the sail cloth, condition of the stitching, and the condition of every cringle in the sail. 

The cloth should sound "snappy" when you flex it around. If it sounds and feels like a bed sheet or cotton tee shirt, then your sail cloth is old. This doesn't mean that the sail needs to be replaced, but it should raise a red flag in your mind about the condition of the sail. Old sails will still act as giant bags that can pull you down wind and get you across an ocean, as long as the sailcloth is not so old that the cloth will blow out on you. So, your sail sounds and feels like an old bed sheet, but is it ok to cross an ocean on it? Simply take the sail in to a sailmaker and ask them to evaluate the sail. Let them know that you are about to cross an ocean and ask them if they think this sail can make it across! They know sails and can tell you how much time a sail has left just by looking at it. If your sail is in good condition according to the sailmaker, then you should feel safe going out to sea. If your sail is not in good condition according to the sailmaker, then follow their recommendations before you head out to sea!


The stitching should be in good condition. You want to check for chafe and missing stitches. Be sure to inspect any place that running rigging passes near a sail, as the rigging can chafe away the stitching on that part of the sail. If the stitching is laying flat and looks shiny, then you are fine. If the stitching is loose, fraying, or missing, it should be repaired before heading out to sea.

The last place that you should inspect on your sails are all the cringles. Cringles are the little rings in your sails, and each cringle is a stress point and a potential point of failure. The tack, clew, head, reef points, and reefing tie points are all potential points of failure. The reefing tie points are a very weak area, since they are not reinforced to resist stresses, they are very easy to rip if you are shaking out a reef and forgot to untie one of the reefing ties. 

The cringles should be rust free, and all the stitching around the cringle is in good shape. The sailcloth around the cringle should also be in good order, ending neatly inside the cringle without any fraying around the cringle. 


Each cringle is a potential failure point, so reducing the number of cringles is a great way to reduce your exposure to problems.

Reefing tie points are the little ropes that go through your sail that you tie to hold the bottom of your sail neatly when you are reefed. If you have lazy jacks, they will hold your sail when it is reefed. A sail tie at the end of the boom will hold the end of the sail in place without the need of tying the little ropes! If you don't tie the little ropes, you won't have the issue of ripping the sail at these points.

Not putting the little ropes in the sail means that you have reduced a large number of potential failure points! In our mainsail, the first reef has 4 cringles, the second reef has 3 cringles, the third reef has 3 cringles. That's 10 potential failure points that can be removed by simply not using the little ropes.

The second area that can be improved is the tack points for reefing. Cringles in the sail are a potential fail point, while having the tack stitched onto the side of the sail with webbing will mitigate this problem by simply replacing your "hole in the sail" with a stitched on loop.

In our mainsail with three reefs and a Cunningham, the number of cringles was reduced from 20 to 7! The tack, Cunningham, head, clew, 1st reef clew, 2nd reef clew, and 3rd reef clew are the only "holes in our sail" that are loaded.  

Now, having good sails when you set out to sea doesn't guarantee that you will arrive on the other side of the ocean with good sails! You need to be able to check the sails yourself and you should be able to carry out any repairs along the way.

It would behoove you to carry spare sailcloth, sail thread, and a method to sew the sail. You can have a fancy and expensive sewing machine, or you can also have a "Speedy Stitch" hand sewing instrument. Having it is great, but be sure you also know how to use it. Reading the instructions is nice, but be real here: open the thing up and practice with it before you go out to sea! While in shore, you can pull up a YouTube How-To video to answer a question, but you can't do that out at sea when you actually need to do the procedure.

While out at sea, you need to constantly check your sails for chafe! A common problem that will happen when sailing downwind is the mainsail chafing on the shrouds. It will reduce your speed, but simply not easing the mainsheet as far will keep your mainsail off the shrouds and reduce this point of chafe. 

Your headsail's lazy sheet is another point of potential problems. The lazy sheet will lay limply across your deck, rising and falling as you move through the seas. This lazy sheet is just rubbing over and over again, chafing itself, as well as anything else it is touching. This may seem unnecessary to a coastal cruiser, but when crossing an ocean, you will be on the same tack for days, if not weeks! Something that is rubbing a little today will rub constantly until it saws all the way through!

Since you will be on the same tack for so long, it is easy to simply walk the deck and check for potential chafe points and position the lazy sheet in such a way that it doesn't rub. I like to pull enough slack on the sheet that it will lay flat and still on the deck all the way up to the clew, then raising up to reach the clew.


Aside from making sure your sails are in good order, it is important to carry the right kinds of sails. Having your working sails (mainsail and jib) is critical as these are the most commonly used sails for general conditions. You should also carry sails for the extremes! Storm sails and light air sails are a good idea to have with you, but not a "Need to Have" item. 

It might feel like we are berating sails and not going over rigging as much. The reason is sails are big and it's easy to overlook a small problem on such a large sail. The truth is rigging is smaller, but just as important to inspect.

Steel rigging rusts, corrodes, and breaks, but it is quite resistant to chafe from sails and sheets. You want to check for broken or corroded wires, paying extra attention to the ends of the stays (this means the top of the stay way up on the mast too). If you see any signs of corrosion or cracks, it is important to repair or replace the failing component.

Just like with sails, it is important to be able to carry out repairs at sea. With steel rigging, you need to carry the materials to fabricate and install a new replacement stay. To do this, it is wise to carry a length of wire equal to your longest stay. The problem with this plan is if you break two stays, you can only replace one of them! Steel stays are heavy, so carrying a full set of new rigging carries with it a steep weight penalty! Just like with sail repair, having the tools and parts to repair your rigging isn't enough; you need to know how to use them and with rigging, you need to know how to use them very well! Steel rigging HyMod fittings have little cones that crush down on the steel wires of 1x19 rigging cable and are one time use item. If you only have one, you better know how to use it and use it well because you only get one try with it!


With synthetic rigging, you don't have to worry about corrosion, but you do have to worry about chafe. Be sure to inspect your stays for fuzziness and chafe, and be sure that nothing is rubbing on the stays while you are voyaging. It is very important to make sure that the lazy sheet isn't rubbing on the forward lowers or cap shrouds because they will saw through your rigging in the course of the ocean crossing. 

Synthetic rigging is weaker in the form of chafe, but the tradeoff is very little weight. Since there is practically no weight penalty, you can feasibly carry a full spool of rigging allowing you to fabricate all your stays again. This removes the issue of "which stay to replace" if you break two stays, you can easily replace both! 

Keeping an eye on your sails and rigging before you go out to sea is important, but keeping an eye on your sails and rigging while out at sea is critical!  

Your sails and rigging are the powerhouse that will bring you across the sea. Keeping them in proper working order is paramount to making it across the ocean. The fancy coffee maker might be a cool gadget in the galley to show off at the marina, but it is absolutely worthless when it comes to getting your yacht to the other side of the ocean. Sails and rigging are what make your yacht a sailboat, which is why it is critical that you maintain them in working order and know how to work on them yourself. Accidents happen and you will have no outside help on your yacht. You will need to know how to take care of any and all problems that could arise with your sails and rigging as you cross the ocean.  


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Synthetic Standing Rigging and Quality of Sleep

When you think about rigging, quality of sleep is probably the last detail on your mind. If you plan to do any kind of passage making, quality of sleep should become a priority in your desired attributes list for your rigging. Remember, the headstay attached right above the V-berth in the forward cabin!

Steel rigging with hank on sails or roller furling sails will present a problem to (trying to) sleep off-watch crew. The foil of the furler will constantly tap and shimmy on the stay, making constant racket that is transmitted right over their head! Bronze hanks are just as offensive in anything but high winds.

Bronze hanks in high winds will sit still and quiet down, but anything else will cause the hanks to shimmy and twist on the steel stay making a grating sound that will keep everyone under it awake!

Synthetic headstays are rope and not metal, making it quieter in terms of noise transmission. Then, to protect against chafe, the sail needs to be fitted with soft hanks which look like webbing straps that relocate the bronze hank to the side of the sail. Soft hanks on a synthetic headstay are completely silent!

The sail can be luffing, twisting, shimmying, anything; and the off-watch crew in the V-berth will sleep peacefully under the silence of the synthetic headstay.

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Neighbors at Anchor


This morning, we awoke to a new neighbor!  

I am a huge fan of bowsprits and bumpkins because they add sail area to a yacht without allowing you to overload the boat with useless clutter!

This boat has a rather short waterline length with long overhangs that are composed of spars. The bowsprit moves the headstay forward of the stem, and the bumpkin moves the backstay aft of the transom.  

If these spars did not exist, the yacht would need to have a longer deck to reach the stay positions, and a longer deck means a longer hull. A longer hull means more interior space, and more interior space will give the opportunity to store unnecessary items that will weigh down the yacht and degrade its sailing capabilities. 

Having spars increase the LOA without a longer hull removes the temptation to keep more stuff on board. It also helps lower the cost of building the boat because a spar is easier and cheaper to build than a larger hull. This will give the yacht a larger sailplan on a smaller budget, and that means that he can sail in more conditions with greater ease. 

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Stay Angle to the Mast

Your standing rigging is there to support your mast and hold it up high into the sky. To do this, the stays need to be strong enough to withstand the loads and also setup at the correct angles to properly transmit these loads through the yacht. 

The minimum angle of a stay approaching a spar is 12 degrees. If the stay approaches the spar at an angle less than 12 degrees, the stay will not be able to exert the needed force on the spar to resist movement.  

Lowers are able to travel directly from the chainplate to the spar without any guidance because they approach at a wide angle, greater than 12 degrees. The further up the mast you go, the lower the angle would be and the less effective the stay would act. 

To fight this problem, spreaders are used to hold the stay out, allowing it to rise up vertically and then turn towards the mast, reaching it at an angle of at least 12 degrees. 

This same engineering tacktic can be seen on other areas of boats. Long bowsprits will have "Dolphin Strikers" which are spreaders for the bobstay, as well as spreaders for the whisker stays. These are all there to help achieve the needed minimum angle of 12 degrees of approach between any spar and stay. 

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