Halyards, Held Fast
Halyards, Held Fast
A solution to halyard fatigue and stretch on big raceboats has come in the form of halyard locks, and one company’s push is to make them more user-friendly. New Gear from our September 2011 issue.
It wasn’t long ago that every sail change involving a spinnaker (hoist, takedown, or peel) on a large ocean racer involved sending someone on a harrowing journey up the rig. The problem was, the stretch and chafe created by flying a spinnaker for days could eventually eat through a halyard. The solution was to lock the spinnaker to a short strop at the top of the mast, allowing it to carry the load. It saved halyards, but it was dangerous, and made bowmen miserable. There had to be a safer, faster alternative.
Enter the halyard lock (see the photo gallery here): a mechanical fitting that bears the brunt of a loaded halyard, thereby eliminating the effects of halyard stretch, as well as long-term halyard fatigue and chafe. It can be quickly released from on deck, eliminating the need to send the bowman skyward. With several manufacturers now offering refined, albeit incredibly expensive, systems, lock applications are slowly expanding beyond the top of the grand-prix pyramid, and trickling down to the recreational grand-prix arena.
In concept, the halyard lock is relatively simple: As a halyard is pulled up to full hoist and through the lock, a “bullet” spliced directly into the halyard triggers the lock to close, seizing the bullet. To release the lock, the halyard is pulled up again, thereby releasing the captive element and opening the lock, allowing the halyard to run.
Mainsail halyard locks may be integrated into the headboard car of the sail itself, with spring-loaded levers dropping into specific slots in the mast (i.e., full hoist and reef points).
Some halyard locks for mainsails and headsails (as well as the original Strop Locks developed by Southern Spars in 2004) rely on trip-lines to disengage the locks. The latest units from Hall Spars do not require trip lines.
“About five years ago I watched the guys on some of the maxi boats lock a halyard on a mainsail with a trip line and then send a guy up the rig just to make sure it was locked,” says Eric Hall, of Hall Spars and Rigging in Bristol, R.I., which now offers an extensive line of what it calls AutoLocks. “I thought to myself that there had to be a better way.”
Hall’s solution was to automate the locking mechanism. Here’s how it basically works: when the metal “bullet” passes through the device as the sail reaches full hoist, the bullet triggers a set of flaps, which open to hold the bullet captive. To release it, the sail is hoisted a few millimeters, the flaps disengage, and it’s unlocked.
Hall AutoLocks, Southern Spars Strop Locks, and units from Karver and Facnor (the later two being more commonly found on furling headsails on maxis) can be used externally, attached by a strop, or built into the mast. Eric Hall says that as they continue to improve their own offerings they’re considering many more applications. “You could use one any place you want to stop something from moving instead of a winch or a cleat,” he says.
Locks, for example, can also be used in-boom for reefing systems. PUMA Ocean Racing’s mar mostro is set up with this system, and skipper Ken Read says this application alone is one of the best developments to come to the Volvo 70 fleet. As with a halyard, take up the reef line, the bullet enters the lock and engages it. To shake the reef, pull the reef line again to unlock it, and let it run.
As ideal as the applications may sound, Hall admits the locks are not perfect—yet.