Low Friction Rings by Antal

More and more, ocean racers are replacing turning blocks with these simple aluminum rings. "Gear Up" from our May 20, 2009, /SW eNewsletter/

This 8:1 purchase system employing Antal's low friction rings is similar to what Puma is using for its boom vang.

This 8:1 purchase system employing Antal's low friction rings is similar to what Puma is using for its boom vang.Courtesy Euro Marine Trading

In the high-tech world of ocean racing, the latest trend seems to be towards low-tech gear. During the Volvo Ocean Race's recent stopover in Boston, racing fans marveled at Puma's vang, an 8:1 purchase system that turns not around ball-bearing blocks, but around simple rings (or thimbles, as they're commonly called). With no moving parts, the thinking goes, there are less ways for the system to fail under the intense loads seen in the race. No blocks to explode, no bearings to wear out, just line running through smooth metal rings.

When I heard about the increasing use of rings in place of blocks, my first thought was, "Wouldn't that make it harder to pull?" Not necessarily, says Sean Skrzpiec of Euro Marine Trading, which distributes commercial versions of the rings, manufactured by the Italian company Antal.

"Depending on the application, there's not much difference between pulling on a line that runs through rings as opposed to one that runs through blocks," says Skrzpiec. "They're made out of a hard-coat, anodized aluminum, and they're polished before they're anodized."

Although the low-friction rings can function at tight angles (such as the Puma vang), they work best in applications where the line runs at broader angles, such as jib inhaulers, barberhaulers, lazy jacks, and cascading style backstays. They accommodate any type of line and come in sizes ranging from an inner diameter of 10 to 28 millimeters.

The main advantages of rings are light weight and reliability, both of which appeal to distance racers. "The rings came out of the French singlehanded racing scene," says Skrzpiec. "Those guys are always looking for equipment that has as little mechanical involvement as possible, that way there's less chance for failure."

Forged in the crucible of Mini 6.5 and Class 40 competition, the rings are beginning to turn up in the broader market. "Here in Newport, a lot of riggers and boat captains are starting to ask for them," says Skrzpiec.

As you ponder your next rigging conundrum, you might consider using rings, too.