Mid-Winter Hints and Tips

Hello from Northern NSW, where the balmy days feel more like summer than mid-winter, and since they are perfect to tackle a bit of boat maintenance, we thought we’d put up a few Mid-Winter Hints and Tips for maintaining your vessel and gear. 

Tips to Save Your Costly Running Rigging
By guarding against the five deadly enemies of all line: sunlight, dirt, salt, chafe, and shock, you can extend the life of any piece of marine rope and save replacement costs by doing just five simple things on a regular basis.

Wash and Dry Before You Stow!
Did you realize that nylon line–like those used for docking lines or anchor lines–can lose up to 15% of their strength when wet? Or that wet line, stowed in a dark, dank locker presents a prime breeding ground for mold and mildew? 

Wash your anchor rode, cockpit sheets, and halyards with fresh water. Get into your anchor locker with a hose and spray it down. Do the same with your others lines or soak your ropes in a 20 litre pail of fresh. This will loosen up line-killing dirt and salt crystals. Then flake the line in alternate loops over a rail or your lifelines to dry them before coiling and stowing after they have dried completely. This can add years of life to any line and it will stay supple for sailing or marine knots. We always wash our lines when wintering Banyandah.

Keep Lines Under Tension
Halyards and Genoa or jib sheets must stay under constant tension to prevent fibre and strand breakdown. Lines that are too loose will shock and slack, which can weaken the line. Take care not to make lines too taut.

Some lines–docking and anchor lines–must have slack in order to perform their best. On the other hand, your super expensive sail halyards and sheets should be under tension. When sailing, re-tension your sheets and halyards once in a while to keep wear under control.

Make Leads Straight and True
Straight leads give you the best fair leads. You might have heard the sailing term “fair lead”, which means the direction a line travels form one point to another. The straighter you keep the line, the less wear and tear on the fibers.

Keep this in mind whenever you need to thread a sheet through a block, or lead a line from the mast back to your cockpit, or set up your Genoa furling line between bow and cockpit.

Keep acute bends that change the lead of the line by 60 to 90 degrees to an absolute minimum. The more bend you put into a line, the more stress this places on the apex of the bend. Use straighter fair leads to pump life-blood into your lines and save on repair and replacement costs.

End for End Lines Once a Season
One of the huge jobs on olden day square-rigged ships was to end-for-end line once a year. This monumental task involved thousands upon thousands of metres of rigging. But it added years of life, and well it did because those big ships were at sea for years at a time, and the cost of line back then was astronomical.

Today, the cruising or racing skipper can use this same technique to add years of life to docking or anchor lines, halyards and sheets. And it’s a lot simpler because you aren’t dealing with so much cordage.

If using rope halyards, end for end the line will shift the wear point, just as it does for rope sheets. If anchoring on rope, just make the bitter end of the line the working end. Do this once a season. This end-for-end technique has been proven to extend the service life of anchor line, sheets and halyards by a whopping 50%!

Whip, Dip, or Tape Bitter Ends
The ends of your lines can fray and unwind to look like the head of a golliwog. Prevent this with whipping, where you wrap sail twine around the end. An easier temporary method uses 50 mm duct-tape. Wrap the tape tight, two to three times around the end, then use a sharp knife to cut through the line at the centre of the tape.

Or, make your own end-whipping dip. Dip at least 10mm of the bitter end into super glue. Any of these techniques are guaranteed to stop fraying and save you lots of money.

Melt ends of synthetic cordage first
See more knots HERE

Furlers – Friend or Foe?
After spending my first twenty years before the mast being bashed about by sailcloth and hardware while trying to stay aboard when changing sails, we invested in furling gear and a furling headsail. What bliss! No matter how hard the wind blew, I remained safe in the cockpit while reducing sail. Yippee! Never again did I have the arduous task of bagging stiff cloth or the problem of storing so many sails. But there are a few serious shortcomings with furlers and with winter’s stronger winds upon us, let’s review how best to manage them.

Furling sails are bulky. They create a lot of windage at the front of the ship that can make manoeuvring in confined spaces difficult, and when going to weather, their massive leading edge reduces performance. But it is while at anchor or hanging off a mooring that this extra windage can catch us unawares and cause damage or even loss of the vessel. The windage will cause your ship’s head to be blown off the wind with the result that you may find the ship being blown one side to the other and this creates greater strain on your ground tackle.

Windage of furled sail

Granddaddy of all problems
But the granddaddy of all problems comes when the sail has been loosely furled. In stormy conditions that ol’ devil wind just keeps niggling at the loose folds, slowly tightening the sail around the spar to expose even more cloth that eventually has the clew working back and forth until the clew tears loose. Once set free, these sails self-destruct. Therefore, it is imperative that furlers are wound tight then finishing off with a minimum of three wraps of the sheets. Another thing to watch, the furling line must be maintained in good nick. If yours should break, you could lose your boat like what nearly happened to the bloke in this photo.

Loosely furled headsails worked free during this east coast low. 
Read how this happened HERE

Protect the sail
Furling sails spend most of their life exposed to the sun’s UV and therefore most have a wrapper of sun resistant cloth to protect the sailcloth. It is important to furl the sail * But a problem develops as the sail ages because the area where the wrapper is attached to the sail is stiffer than the cloth and therefore the cloth works along that seam causing a weak point. We keep our eyes on this area as it is usually the first place the sail will fail.

Another thing we do when we leave Banyandah on a mooring for long periods is to remove the sail from the furler to lessen the yawing that can occur in gusty conditions. This makes our lady sit straight into stormy conditions thereby reducing the strain on our mooring system while at the same time it also extends the life of the sail.