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January 2006

Preventing Rigging Failures at Sea

The most common at-sea rigging failures we observe tend to be shrouds or headstays failing due to metal fatigue. The majority seem to be the stays inside roller furling headsails. The weight of the furling drum, foil and rolled up sail swinging around at sea increases the advent of metal fatigue in the wire headstay. A twice-yearly inspection of the swages and the wire entry area above the swages might help prevent failure. A three yearly replacement of this headstay would be a wise precaution. But should a failure occur at sea, immediately head downwind and get a halyard secured to your bow fitting, winch it up securely to serve as a temporary headstay. Then, and only then, should you deal with getting the sail down. This maneuver could turn an at-sea gear failure into a nuisance instead of a dismasting.
A very simple lash up can cut the risk of shroud failure at sea, especially if you will be sailing along on one tack for long periods. To prevent metal fatigue in the leeward shrouds (which will, without fail, slacken off and flop around as the strain is all taken by the windward shrouds,) simply secure a length of nylon line to the forward shroud then wrap the line twice around all the leeward shrouds, the lowers, intermediates and upper shroud. Bring it back to the forward shroud, snug it up and secure it tightly. This will keep the shrouds from swinging to the boats motion, i.e. it will cut the risk of metal fatigue. There is no need to loosen off the lash-up when you tack, as the stretchiness of the nylon line will allow the shrouds to straighten out as per normal.

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