Synthetic Standing Rigging

Synthetic Rigging After Crossing an Ocean

Synthetic rigging is still something new to the majority of sailors. In most sailors minds, Standing is Steel and Running is Rope. The thought of putting rope where the steel goes baffles them and they instantly revolt in freight at the idea! 

Well, synthetic rigging actually works, and the system I invented, where the standing rigging can be tensioned by using deadeyes on a large yacht has just taken the ultimate test: an ocean crossing! 

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In 2014, I wanted to switch to synthetic standing rigging, but I wanted to use deadeyes instead of turnbuckles. At the time, I hadn’t really given rigging much thought and I fell into the “standing is steel” category. I contacted Colligo Marine, because they were the largest fabricator of synthetic standing rigging and I felt that they would be able to do it best, since I was not planning on making my own rigging at the time. I was shocked when Frank told me “it can’t be done with deadeyes, you can’t get enough tension in the stays for a boat larger than 30 feet.” I thought this was preposterous, as tall ships were much larger than 30 feet and used deadeyes.

And so began my studies into rigging. Along the way, I figured out why he felt it couldn’t be done on a modern Bermuda Rigged yacht, and subsequently, I figured out how it could be done.

There were two major holdups for deadeyes, first the challenge of creating a Mobious Brummel Grommet (or rope loop) and the second challenge of how to create enough tension in the stays to support the stresses of a modern rig. 

The Mobious Brummel Grommet took a bit of thought and then the idea came to me one night! Achieving the tension in the stay was a bit more complicated in my mind, until I invented a new knot that would make it all possible: the Shroud Frapping Knot. 

With a new splice and a new knot invented, I was finally able to create a method to setup and tension synthetic standing rigging on a modern yacht! Now it was time to test it out.  Fabrication began in the winter of 2014, and installation of the stays began in the spring of 2015.

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The first major test was a month long sail through the Chesapeake Bay and out in the Atlantic off the coast of North Carolina. This test proved to be a success, and we knew that the rigging would work. Not only was it able to be set up, it was also able to hold its tension over a long period of time. This means that once setup and settled in, it would be as reliable as steel rigging.

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Sailing the Chesapeake Bay is picturesque, but we wanted to go farther, and test the rigging even further. In 2017, we began cruising full time and putting our synthetic rigging through tests in all sorts of conditions. We cruised coastally down the East Coast of the United States, from Maryland to Florida, and then across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.

Once in the Bahamas, we gave the rigging a thorough inspection, only to discover that it is doing fine, three years after it was installed, there were no signs of damage to the stays.

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We cruised around the Bahamas for about a month while we waited for a weather window to open for us to cross the Atlantic Ocean and set sail for the Azores! This would be the longest and most punishing test we could do for the rigging. Ocean sailing puts a whole new level of stress on your rigging, as it is under load for weeks on end! There is no safe harbor to wait out foul weather, and there is no rescue that will come to your aide should something break. It is a true acid test, as any weak points in a system will be stressed past the point of failure, and will then reveal themselves.

We were excited to set out and cross the ocean with a rigging system that had never been tested like this before. Every mile we sailed was another mile on these new knots and splices! 

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The Atlantic Crossing took 21 days from Florida to Bermuda (due to a lack of wind) and 24 days from Bermuda to the Azores. This test was a true test of the rigging, as sails were flying in all weather conditions. We have an electric motor instead of the diesel, so we relied fully on the rigging to get us there! 

Upon arriving in the Azores, it was time to inspect the rigging once more and see how it faired. The verdict: Just fine! 

All the stays look identical to the way they looked at year 1, with slight fuzz present where the lazy sheet sometimes rubs the shrouds until we can move it away to prevent any further chafe. Where there is no contact with the lazy sheet, the stays are still smooth and perfect. We no longer think about the rigging as we sail, as now it is a rock solid and dependable part of the boat! We focus on the weather, navigation, and setting the sails instead of wondering if the mast is in column (because it always is). 

Our synthetic rigging that is tensioned with deadeyes has been standing and working well since 2015, and has carried us over 6000 miles, including an ocean crossing. If you have any doubts about the strength or reliability of synthetic rigging, look at our path and put your fears to rest.  

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.

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. 

An Alternative Method to Tensioning Synthetic Standing Rigging

While passing through Carolina Beach, I met a fellow cruiser who had rigged his previous boat with synthetic standing rigging. He has since sold his ketch and moved onto a gorgeous wooden motor yacht. We got talking and he told me his innovative and wonderful method of tensioning his synthetic standing rigging. 

Instead of setting up a complicated pulley system that leads to a deck winch, he simply took a different tool and made his life easier. He used an electric fence wire tensioner. These tensioners cost him around $2 and are made of plastic. (http://www.kencove.com/fence/Wire+Tighteners_detail_SSDR.php) They lasted him a few years and were innexpensive enough to simply replace when the sun weakened them.

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The only caveat to this system is that you need a special tool that is used to tighten the wires with these devices. The tool has a square end that inserts into the device and has long handles on it. The handles are long enough that he felt it easy to tension his standing rigging without over exerting himself.

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To tension his rigging, he would tighten the lashings by hand as much as he could and then tie them off. He then slipped the plastic tensioner onto one of the lashings and set it in the slot that is cut for a wire to pass through. 

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With the tensioner slipped over the lashing, he would then insert the tool and begin winding the lashing around the tensioner. This system is genius because it uses a massive leverage advantage to collect the lashing line and generate the tension needed. This not only makes it easy to setup the rigging, but also quick to adjust the standing rigging as all you need to do is insert the tool and spin it as needed! 

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Once the tension needed is achieved, a simple pin is inserted to hold everything in place. The pin prevents the tensioner from spinning and unspooling, holding your rigging in place! There are no knots to tie or pulley systems to setup. Simply insert the tool into the key hole and spin until its perfect! 

Yes, the tensioner is made out of plastic and dies after a few years, but the unit costs around $2 and is easy and cost effective to replace when compared to all the time that it will take to tension your standing rigging using the Shroud Frapping Knot.  

If you are considering switching to synthetic standing rigging but concerned that the Shroud Frapping Knot is too complicated for you to learn, this is an easy alternative that achieves the same result of a properly tuned rig with much less involvement and effort.