On one sailing forum, someone asked about replacing the rigging on their boat… that lead to this article. This article is intended for cruising boats from 28-35′ LOA or thereabouts. It does not address the needs of larger boats or racing boats. It can probably be applied to smaller boats, within reason, if you downsize the lines a size or two.
Before You Start
Before replacing your running rigging, I would highly recommend you inspect the sheaves (the pulleys) in the blocks and masthead truck to see what shape they’re in. If they’re damaged, you can ruin new rigging pretty quickly. This is especially true if you’re converting from wire-rope halyards to all line halyards. Sheaves for wire generally have V-shaped groove profiles, where sheaves for rope have U-shaped profiles. You should also inspect the exit slots for any damage that may chafe or cut the new lines.
This may also be the ideal time to run your halyards and other control lines aft to the cockpit. While doing this is a relatively involved project, as it can require adding turning blocks to the deck or mast step, deck organizers to lead the lines fair to winches, line clutches to secure the lines, and moving or adding winches to tension the lines—it can be very worthwhile, especially if you sail the boat single-handedly frequently.
It is often better to leave the mast mounted winches and get larger winches for the cabintop when leading the halyards and other control lines aft. The additional friction from the blocks and deck organizers can make it necessary to have a larger winch than you would need at the mast.
If you’ve thought about upgrading to a roller-furling headsail, this would also be a good time to do so. It could actually make doing so more affordable, since quite a few of the roller furling units come with a new headstay, saving you the cost of replacing the existing headstay. Furlex, Facnor and Harken and Profurl are all quite good, with the edge going to Harken due to the ability to adjust the forestay turnbuckle after installation as well as the lower maintenance of Torlon bearings.
Head Sail Sheets
The jib sheet length will depend on the size headsail you have. The larger the sail, the longer the sheets need to be. Jib sheets run from about 1.5 times the boat’s LOA for a working jib to about twice the boat’s LOA for a really large genny.
One decision you will have to make is whether you want to have separate sheets or one long sheet for the headsail. The advantage of a single long sheet is that they can be attached using a cow hitch and are far less likely to hang up on the shrouds when tacking. However, they are difficult to remove, so you’ll probably want separate sheets for each headsail. They also can not be flipped end-for-end to spread out the wear points—but if they wear at the clew of the sail, they can be cut and used as two separate sheets. Two separate sheets have the advantage of being easier to change, and, as I mentioned previously, you can flip them end-for-end to change where they are wearing/chafing.
On some boats, the sheets will be a bit shorter, since the headsail sheets don’t go aft to a turning block to lead forward to the winches, but come straight back to the winches instead. An example of this is the Gemini 105Mc catamaran, where the genoa sheet tracks directly forward of the headsail winches on the cabintop. Other boats, like my Telstar 28, have the genny tracks outboard of the shrouds and they go back to a block, mounted on the stern pushpit rails in the case of my boat, and then forward to the winches.
As for headsail sheet diameters, 7/16 or 1/2″ lines might be good for these. Of course, it does depend partially on what winches you have—since, if they’re self-tailing, you may need to stick with particular line diameters. Of course, you will want lighter lines for a screacher or asymetric spinnaker, and even go with a high-tech line to keep the weight down for these light air sails. That will help these light air sails keep their shape and work better. Spinnaker sheets may need to be even a bit longer than genoa sheets.
The length of the main sheet will depend on whether you have a 4:1 or a 6:1 purchase mainsheet, the boom length, and whether the mainsheet is an end-boom or mid-boom setup. A simple 4:1 or 6:1 purchase is the most common type of mainsheet seen on cruising boats in the 28-35′ size range. Larger boats or racing boats often have different mainsheet setups to handle the higher loads that they can experience, and aren’t covered in this article. The line thickness also depends on the purchase, sheave size, etc—but for your boat 3/8-9/16″ is about right.
As a rough rule of thumb:
- 4:1 end-boom mainsheet you’ll want a line 5.5 times the boom length;
- 6:1 end-boom mainsheet you’ll want a line 8.5 times the boom length;
- 4:1 mid-boom mainsheet you’ll want a line 4.5 times the boom length;
- 6:1 mid-boom mainsheet you’ll want a line 6 times the boom length.
On a boat 28-35′ LOA, you can probably get away with 3/8 or 7/16″ lines for the halyards. You could go as small as 5/16″ if you’re going with a high-tech core line, like a spectra or dyneema cored line, but it would be harder on your hands than a thicker line. 3/8″ is about the smallest that you can go comfortably.
There will generally be at least three halyards setup—the mainsail, the jib or genoa and the topping lift. In many cases, you’ll also have a spinnaker halyard as well. As for lengths… it depends on the mast height. Generally, halyards are roughly twice the mast height, or a bit more if you’re leading them aft to the cockpit.
Other Control Lines
A good rule of thumb for the outhaul, cunningham, boom vang and reefing lines is that they should be the same diameter as the halyards or one size smaller. The outhaul and cunningham should be low-stretch lines. The mainsheet traveler and genoa fairlead control lines can be smaller as well. 5/16″ lines would probably be about right for most boats in this size range.
Roller furler control lines will be determined by the make/model of the furler. If you want a larger line for a furler, one option is to use a spectra/dyneema cored line and have the outer jacket removed from the end that goes around the furling drum. This allows you to have a thicker line to handle, and leaves a smaller diameter line to go around the drum.
Some boats will be rigged with a rigid boom vang. Even with a rigid boom vang, I’d recommend keeping a true topping lift, since it can be used as an emergency halyard. Another optional piece of gear is the boom brake. The line diameter and length for this will be determined by the make/model of the boom brake.
What kind of line to use
You really don’t need anything more than a polyester double braid. However, using a low-stretch, spectra/dyneema core line for certain lines—like the outhaul, halyards and cunningham—can improve control over sail shape, since the lines stretch very little. They can also reduce weight aloft, since spectra/dyneema cored lines are lighter than comparable diameter polyester double braids and strong enough so you can often drop a line size without sacrificing strength, and reduce windage aloft as well.
CajunRope.com and RWRope.com are two excellent vendors that are fairly knowledgeable and have fairly good prices.
The simplest way to replace your standing rigging is to hire a rigging loft to do it. However, this tends to be the most expensive way to do it.
Another way to replace your standing rigging, especially if you’re taking the mast down, is to take the rigging off and send it to someplace like Riggingonly.com. They can make up replacement rigging for you and ship it back. Replacing the standing rigging yourself will give you some familiarity with it and that can help a lot if you ever need to make a jury rigged repair.
If you’re going to ship your rigging off, make sure you document the process very thoroughly. Using a digital camera and notebook makes documenting the disassembly process very easy and helps with the reassembly process a lot. I recommend using colored sticky labels to help you keep track of what pieces of rigging go to which chainplates and tangs.
I would also measure all of the pieces, since having a detailed list of each piece’s length, diameter and how it is terminated is something you should have aboard your boat. The list will help in the case the box of rigging disappears in transit and when the replacement rigging comes in.
I recommend going with swaged upper terminals and mechanical lower terminals, preferring Hayn HiMod fittings over Norseman or StaLok, since, IMHO they’re better and usually less money.
Three reasons I suggest using a mechanical terminal at the bottom.
First, swaged fittings at the lower end seem to suffer from crevice corrosion more readily than mechanical fittings. This is likely due to the fact that swaged fittings are essentially dead-end cups that collect salt water.
Second, mechanical fittings allow you to adjust the length of the rigging a bit while you’re fitting it, where if you got both ends swaged, you’d be SOL if the rigging was a bit long.
Third, if you have to jury rig repairs, it is far easier to jury rig things with mechanical fittings, than it is with swaged fittings—since you can put on or remove mechanical terminals with ordinary hand tools relatively easily.
You should also inspect the tangs on the mast, the chainplates on the boat, as well as the spreader bases and tips for corrosion, damage and wear. If you aren’t sure how to do this, hire a rigger to do so. When re-installing the rigging, make sure the spreaders bisect the angle the shrouds make with them.
If you’re going cruising longer distances, I also recommend carrying a couple spare mechanical fittings and at least one length of wire rope the same size as your shrouds and forestay, and at least as long as the longest piece of each. Then, if you have a problem, you can tie off the mast using a halyard temporarily and then replace the broken or damaged shroud/forestay.
Synthetic Standing Rigging
While I like Dyneema and Spectra-based lines, and have used them in the past for standing rigging, I wouldn’t recommend any of the new synthetic rigging materials for a cruising sailboat. The main reason is that none of them are as well proven as stainless steel wire rope. Also, it is a bit foolish to have standing rigging that someone with a bad mood and a sharp knife could destroy.
Carrying a couple of lengths of synthetic rigging for use as emergency rigging does make sense, since it can stow more compactly and you don’t have to worry about it rusting in storage. Colligo Marine has rigging kits for emergency shrouds/stays that are made from Dynex Dux, which is a heat-stabilized form of Dyneema.