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February 2014 Cruising Tip

Posted by on February 19, 2014

The Disadvantages of Leading Halyards and Reefing Lines Aft to the Cockpit.

Though Larry and I had little time to visit on board the boats which were on display at Chicago, the balcony in front of each of the seminar rooms gave me a birdseye view of the deck layouts of every boat on display. One thing I noticed was that the majority had all the lines lead through blocks, aft to the cockpit. Not one had mast winches. We’ve delivered and raced boats rigged like this – for racing with a large crew which was often called on to tweak halyards, but not shift their weight around to much, it made sense, but for cruising – I have to agree with the article Ben Eriksen wrote for, the website hosted by his sailing partner Teresa Carey. I have condensed the article here – for the complete article and the interesting discussion it created, click here 


Reprinted with permission from Ben Eriksen 

I’ve had the good fortune to sail aboard a wide variety of boats from 7? dinghies to 180? square riggers. Aboard traditionally rigged schooners with simple block and tackle, powered by a few humans, we moved a lot of heavy things: anchors, canons, fishing dories, wooden gaffs, topmasts,  booms, etc. on a regular basis. We used friction to our advantage when belaying or surging, and we reduced friction as much as possible when hauling or striking sail. It was aboard these big boats that I was first introduced to Jan Adkins. His book Moving Heavy Things‘ is a clever, humorous, enlightening read in which he eloquently states;

The Power of Simplicity
The more complex a machine or procedure or set-up becomes, the less directly it applies its power. Simple forces applied intelligently should carry the day. This is no snub of wile or cleverness or inventiveness, only a caution against dissipating your efforts in the bother and friction of complication.”

I’ve heard many accounts of owners performing the ‘all lines led aft’ upgrade. The belief is that lines led to the cockpit make sailing safer and easier. By not having to leave the cockpit to adjust your sails, you reduce the risk of injury or falling overboard. By having all lines led to your fingertips, you can remain safe under your dodger or bimini, while staying dry and in control.

That’s bilgewater! (sailor talk for bullshit)

The notion that leaving the cockpit is dangerous must be denounced. What is far more dangerous is not being able to quickly and efficiently drop or reef sails. It is my opinion that the running rigging complexities found aboard many modern sailboats actually contribute to the difficulties and fear of sailing in bad weather. It is a fact that the more turns and bends a line must make, the more friction is introduced into the system, and this fact alone makes lowering sails more difficult.

I have yet to sail aboard a boat with lines led aft that did not at some, point  when efficiency is paramount, force me to leave the cockpit, deal with a snag, overhaul some slack, or re-lead a fouled line. Inevitably this occurs during the worst conditions, completely negating the number one reason the lines were lead aft. Furthermore the sailor who is not accustomed to getting out from behind the dodger while underway will be unrehearsed for the foredeck dance when the squall’s sinister song plays.

I like sailing aboard a variety of boats. By doing so, I gain exposure to new and creative techniques. But despite having sailed aboard many, and even owned boats with lines led aft, I’m even more convinced that there must be a better solution. Until I find a system that combines both the accessibility of lines led aft with the efficiency and reliability of the opposite, I’ll stick with the system that provides fewer opportunities for problems. I’ll keep my rigging simple, direct, and always running smoothly.

Why I dislike leading lines aft summary:
1) Additional cost of longer lines, fairleads and larger winches required for increased loads
2) Lines running along deck makes footing more treacherous
3) Increased friction on halyards inhibits sail lowering ability
4) Single line reefing doesn’t produce a good reef
5) Excessive line clutter in the cockpit causes snags, knots and high potential for tripping
6) Doesn’t afford the opportunity to inspect your rigging at the mast regularly
7) Doesn’t prepare you for going forward for when the shit hits the fan. Remember: practice makes perfect

2 Responses to February 2014 Cruising Tip

  1. pablo

    Thanks I am sure I will use your advise. I have used rigging for specific rescue and climbing configurations in difficult terrain I feel these kinds of technical details are very important, also it is very important to get experienced advice as a new product or idea, while adding convenience may not be the best for a specific application.

    Also I have been meaning for a while to say that I have taken your advice on something else… all wood or all fiberglass boats. And now across the bay I have a 34 foot carvel sloop in a frame where I was looking at building some composite plan at about half the size, but how could I resist a great NZ Kauri ocean racing yacht to restore traditionally with no epoxy at all, standing room and a boat that flexes under stress and a huge ocean sailing mast!

    And guess what I have discovered spotted gum frames and paint and oil and work is much cheaper, even in this day and age than all the glue and stuff that would be needed to repair or build with modern epoxies. Luckily I have a friend who is a shipwright to show me what to do and a bunch of tools to borrow!

    Thanks, Paul.

  2. Mike Eaton

    Maybe it is our drive to easyness (laziness) or shorthandedness, but everyone is moving to easier steps. I worked for a brewery when pop-tops were introduced. Although they added significantly to the price of a beer, history has spoken. Every can has them.
    However I do look at self-furling headsails and although I enjoy their ease of use, I shudder at what all can go wrong.
    If ever there was a candidate for simplicity, (and cost-saving) it is the headsail – and even in a rough sea, with one’s butt safely planted in the pullpit, waves cannot really unseat one.
    I have also found a virtually one-handed way of putting a bowline into a foresail, so that risk-moment is also lessened.

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