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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.