Running rigging failure is certainly a bummer, but it is seldom a disaster. If we’re out there racing the loss of a halyard, usually means limping back to port and if we’re lucky we’ll be able to rejoin the fleet instead of getting scored DNS. Lines never seem to fail when the air is gentle or moderate. These things have a habit of breaking under stressed load and that usually means some heavy air or when it’s blowing stink. Then the fun begins of wrestling very expensive Mylar or carbon fiber shrimping nets out of the water.
Running rigging on a sailboat, does not have the longevity we all hope for considering what it costs and this issue is exacerbated on a boat that is campaigned for more than a few races every year. This requires us to periodically inspect our running rigging so we can have the right parts on hand for emergencies and replace the stuff that’s near the end of its lifespan.
Let’s start with the one line that will surely ruin your day if it fails: Your Halyards. If they are not in the mast this is easy. So prior to launching in spring and after de-commissioning in the fall (if you live that far north) are logical times to do a semi-annual inspection. Inspection of halyards while in the mast will require the use of retriever lines, a bosun’s chair and a little more effort, but it is simple enough to perform.
The first place to start is at the halyard’s shackle, make sure all the moving parts are doing so with ease, some lubricant may be needed to make the action run smoothly.
Be sure to look closely at the hinge pin, as this is where failure tends to occur. Be sure to review the splicing as well. Make sure that the splice is not backing or working itself loose.
While here, do not neglect to ensure the whipping is still doing its job and is secure and tightly wound around your line and not letting the splice loose.
From the shackle on down (about 12”-18”) is where the rigger would bury their splice, be sure there are no hard spots. Also make sure the splice at the shackle is retaining good cover. You’ll want to ensure that any chafe is not significant enough to start wearing away at the core as well.
Work your way back from the shackle to the tail end of the halyard while running them through your hands to feel for frays, irregularities, bumps or loose covers as you review the area of the halyard that enters/exits the mast and cascades over the sheave when the sail is hoisted and under load. This is another common spot for failure because of the sheaves moving parts and the competing pressures on the halyard in this area. You will be looking for bumps, flattening or any chafe. The chafe may be caused by any sharp edges or catch points on the sheave, mast or exit box. This may mean that your edges of the sheaves’ groove are have cracking or chipping. This problem is degenerative on both your sheave and your halyard and can tear up a line faster than you can yell “starboard” on some jack-hammer port tacking the fleet at the pin-end of the starting line.
Also, make sure you’re using the correct diameter line for the sheave. If the line is too narrow for the sheave it may be getting pinched in the groove of the sheave. Also, be sure to run the same inspection in the area of the halyard cascades over the sheave when there is no sail hoisted and your shackle is made to your bow pulpit or mast.
As you are scrolling the line through your fingers be aware of any bumps as these may be a sign of core failure, which sucks in so many ways.
The next spot to pay close attention to is the area where the line goes through any footblocks at the deck. You’ll be wanting to run the same inspections here as detailed above, including the different locations relative to halyard up and halyard down positions.
From the footblock area, you’ll make your way back to the area where the halyards run through the clutches, stoppers, cam cleats and/or winches. You’ll want to be on the lookout for melting or chafing of the cover. This happens when we or our illustrious crew members release halyards without loading it up on the winch. Be sure to see if the runner tails are damaged from their accelerated exit through these points.
The threat of UV damage to today’s high tech line is unavoidable, in fact avoiding UV damage is like trying to avoid air…good luck with that. UV damage will dry-rot your covers and when this occurs you will notice that you are able to pull strands out of the cover, typically this is initiated in the colored flecks. Uncovered sections or high tech lines that are completely uncovered, as many racers use to attain minimum weights, are exceptionally susceptible to UV damage. After a year or so, you will be able to start noticing the damage. Push open the areas of the core that are not exposed to the sun if they are still glossy you should be good, if they are dull and strands are starting to fall out, it is time to replace the line.
With lines that are still covered it is difficult to run the core tests described above. Many well managed teams will cycle through replacing lines every two years or so. Therefore it is imperative to keep good notes on when line are purchased so the replenishment of your inventory is done on an organized and deliberate basis.
Throughout the life of your lines, be cognizant of twisting as this puts undue pressures on certain strands of fiber and they will be forced to carry more load as compared to spreading loads out evenly among all of the strands of your line. This will cause early failure to the expected life of a line.
Multi-part purchases will exacerbate this occurrence. Some people prefer to use right angle reeving and proper coiling can help prevent this problem from occurring. Though if you do notice it, take concerted efforts to reverse the twists in your line. It may help keep your lines working properly and reach their expected service life.