Running Rigging

Rope Cleaning Station

Ropes become lines the moment they enter the vicinity of a boat (unless you are the select few ropes that remain a “rope on a boat”). The trouble is, these sheets, halyards, jacklines, and other control lines all get dirty over time. Between the salt that gets into the fibers and the algae that grows on them if they don’t dry out enough, the lines become filthy!

When you remove a line from a boat and turn it back into (dirty) rope, you may want to clean it. Washing machines are not a good idea as all the agitation will form infinite knots in your ropes. Many detergents (especially fabric softeners) will actually weaken the strength of the rope. You are pretty much left with the option of a bucket filled with Dawn Soap and water.

You could simply mix the rope around in the bucket for a while and try to work the dirt out of the rope fibers the best you can, but this will end up with a dirty rope where the only thing that came out in the wash were the good intentions.

The next option is to add a brush to the equation. A good scrub brush will help loosen and remove dirt and other contaminates from the rope and its fibers, but scrubbing a rope can be rather challenging.

A friend of mine made this apparatus to facilitate the cleaning process of his jib sheets. The brushes are simply clamped to a sturdy table, allowing him to work the rope through the brushes with both hands to really clean them up well. The rope that is waiting simply soaks in the soapy water of the bucket, helping to loosen any filth that is on the line.

Photo and idea courtesy of: Scott Erwin

Photo and idea courtesy of: Scott Erwin

As the rope gets cleaner, the water can be changed out to prevent the clean rope from stewing in the old filthy water. The process really makes an impossible task much easier, and the end result is a much cleaner jib sheet once it is returned to it's home on the boat.

Theory of Winged Sails

What do sailboats and airplanes have in common? They both rely on airfoils to generate lift!

Sails produce lift in a horizontal fashion while airplanes produce lift in a vertical fashion. Now, if airplanes and sailboats are both using airfoils to generate lift, why do wings look so different from sails?

Well, the answer is complicated. First off, they really shouldn’t look that different. Airplane wings are “wings” because that shape produces more lift and less drag, making it a much more efficient system and thus has been widely adopted on all airplanes.

Sailboats struggle with a thing called “Traditional” which is a nice way of saying “I won’t put that newfangled gizmo on my traditional boat!”

As a result, airplanes moved on to wings instead of sails long ago but sailboats remained in the past.

The only word strong enough to break tradition is “racing” and winged sails have burst into that scene with fury due to their incredible boots of efficiency. A wing sail will generate many times the lift of a similar sized sail, meaning that the same surface area can be used to produce more power without increasing weight, and as a result, greatly increase speed.

Hull speed was a global governor to sailboat speeds, which halted the desire for super-charged winged sails, as there was no way to exceed this speed limit. That was until foiling became commonplace on racing yachts, where this added power means insane top speeds! The only way to be faster than your competition is to have a better sail, and so the arms race of sail design is back on and winged sails are leading the pack.

The reason winged sails haven’t been fully adopted by every marina dwelling racer is the issue with stowage. Sails can be furled or flaked, winged sails are somewhat of a structure, and stowage of them is rather complicated. Until this aspect gets ironed out, winged sails might not be an option you can check the box next to on your new yacht at the boat show; but give it time.

Alternative to a Tack Horn

Part of reefing is getting the tack cringle onto the tack horn, it’s how you secure the tack of the sail while reefing! How else would you do it? 

The struggle with this old method is that the horns can hook and poke holes in the luff of your sail as you raise the sail, and you have to get your tack cringle over the horn in foul weather. When you combine the situation of high winds, a flapping sail, and a pitching deck; suddenly getting a little ring over a little horn doesn’t sound like a fun idea. 

Alternatives exist, where a strap with rings on the ends will be sewn through the cringle, so that you can simply place the ring on the strap over the horn, as the strap is easier to manage than the stiff luff of the sail. 

All this got me thinking about alternatives to this debacle. What about taking a very strong dyneema line and simply tying the tack in place? 


I used a 7mm length of SK-78 dyneema with an alpine butterfly hitch tied in the middle to give the tack line an appropriate purchase point. The line simply passes through the tack webbing, through the bight, back through the tack webbing and back through the bight, then through the webbing one more time to tie off just below the alpine butterfly hitch.

Having a long length of line means that I can reach the tack webbing with ease from a distance, and the purchase system lets me pull the tack down tightly.  The dyneema is very strong and able to hold the forces of the sail with ease.

It is imperative that the tack line run down and forward to keep the forces mostly vertical on the luff of the sail. If the tack line does not have a forward component to it’s pull, the luff of the sail will be pulled aft with no countering and it will rip your luff off the luff track.

What we do is tie the tack line, tension the halyard with the winch, then set the clew line for the reef. This way, the clew line is acting on an already tensioned and set tack, resulting in a stable reef setup with zero risk to the sail during sail raising.