10 Tips to Upgrade Your Gear

From glow-in-the-dark sheets to synthetic lifelines, cordage upgrades should be on your to-do list before you splash your boat for the next racing season.

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Always be on the lookout for ways to improve your setup.Paul Todd/Outside Images

Professional riggers are consummate tinkerers: Put a length of rope in their hands, and they'll immediately start thinking of ways to splice it, strip it, taper it, and ultimately avoid using any sort of knot, which we all know can compromise a rope's breaking strength. The rigger's obsession doesn't end with an excessively milked splice, however. When it comes to utilizing cordage in all sorts of inventive ways, the good ideas never seem to stop coming. I'll share some the best new ideas from the industry, as well as a few easy upgrades to consider before your next racing season.

1. Replace your wire lifelines.
Wire lifelines are history (unless your one-design class rules state otherwise). Dyneema is the best option, especially Dyneema SK90, which is up to three times stronger than similar sized 1x19 stainless steel wire. You are also able to eliminate all the associated hardware, including toggles, eyes, and turnbuckles. With Dyneema, you simply luggage-tag the forward eye splice onto your pulpit, run the lifelines through your stanchions, put a friction ring into the aft eye, and lash it to the stern pulpit. It is suggested that you have a Dyneema cover spliced into the portions that pass through the stanchions. Dyneema is UV stable and chemically inert, but the best part about this option is that it is much less expensive than a comparable wire lifeline assembly.

2. See your sheets or halyards in the dark.
You can now have custom lines made with glow-in-the-dark markers wound into the cover. Some manufacturers, such as Marlow, now offer this for full lengths, or certain spans of your specified lines. Use it for all your halyards and sheets, or select a few control lines that you need to quickly identify at night.

3. Blend hoist marks into your halyard covers.
As with the glow-in-the-dark markers, these marks can be woven into the cover at a pre-determined location in the rope. Gone are the days of permanent markers, whippings, or tape. These markers are specific to your line and are not going anywhere.

4. A new way to attach your jib sheets.
T-Ring systems are a great option available to sailmakers and riggers. A fitting, which looks like a clew ring with a "T" facing into the sail, is sewn into the clew of your jib. Your sheets simply have an eye spliced into the end of each. To attach the sheet to the sail, the Dyneema loop goes over the T, through the two sheets' eyes, and then over the T the other way. Most sailmakers offer a flap with Velcro closure that goes over the fitting to secure the attachment. This setup eliminates hardware banging around on the shrouds, mast, and crew. It also prevents knots from getting hung up during tacks, and because there are no knots to tie, trim marks are consistent.

5. Attach your halyards without using hard shackles.
A soft shackle is simply Dyneema with a sliding eye splice and a knot at the other end. The best application is as a halyard shackle. They can be made to any desired length and working strength, and their weight is negligible. One of the best ways to use them is to have an eye in the end your halyard, and stitch the soft shackle into the eye. The shackles can have a "leash" or opener, and a safety Velcro if preferred. If they're closed properly, they tighten down on themselves when loaded, and will not open.

6. Attach blocks and fittings with soft loops.
Dyneema loops, whether single pass or covered multiple-pass loops, have been around for many years. Over the past few years, however, manufacturers have made a concerted effort to design their products to use this technology for attaching their products. Both Ronstan's Orbit blocks and Harken's T2 blocks use a small single-pass loop in low-load applications. Harken's Black Magic and TTR blocks along with Karver's K blocks use multi-pass covered loops for higher-load applications.

7. Use friction rings as alternatives to blocks.
Other fairleads can even be used where a sheave is not needed. Friction rings are tailor-made for your cascade turning points. These are round, ferruled "thimbles" that can be used for redirects, or even turning surfaces, especially those that lead to a winch or purchase system later and do not need the mechanical advantage of a sheave. They are lightweight and extremely strong. Plus they require little to no maintenance because there are no moving parts, and therefore last a very long time. Some uses include: lashing ends, cascades and purchase systems, inhaulers, redirect leads, and sprit-tack line turning fittings.

8. Maximize your winch power with the right cover material.
Using the right cover material, regardless of the core material you choose in your high-tech lines is key to getting maximum grip from your winch drum. The cover is where the rubber meets the road—where your line hits the winch.

There are multiple options available outside of the old standby polyester cover. But the more popular common-use covers include a variety of blends. Polyester/Technora is a blend that adds great grip to your winch. On smaller boats, users have found it great to hold onto in applications such as mainsheet purchase systems or spinnaker sheets that do not use winches. Vectran/Polyester blends add more slip to the sheet without making sacrifices on major wear characteristics. This allows lines to be eased around the drum without the line jumping and bumping as it is eased off the winch. Vectran/Technora is a pricier blend, but one that is built for wear and tear. Originally developed for larger boats that were eating through sheets and other lines, this comes in smaller sizes, so as to be available to a wider range of boats.

9. Increase power to a purchase system with a cascade.
Cascades are 2-to-1 strops that are built into purchase systems to increase the overall mechanical advantage. You'll see them applied to boom vangs, jib leads, and backstay controls. Cascades double the purchase of the system "inside" the system. For example, if you have a 3-to-1 purchase in your cunningham and would like more power, adding a 2-to-1 cascade to the system is a smaller, simpler, and less expensive alternative to buying all the hardware and rope to build a new 6-to-1 system. Still need more power? Add another cascade on top of the first to double it yet again.

10. Lock your jib halyard and adjust tension on the fly.
A halyard-lock with cunningham is a powerful tool. Halyard locks have many advantages: Mast compression is eliminated, and tuning becomes more repeatable. However, another advantage is the ability to adjust luff tension easily while sailing upwind. When a jib halyard is set onto a lock, the head is at a fixed height. You can have a floating tack, which allows the tack height to be controlled with a cunningham system that can be a cascade and purchase system to a cleat, or a cascade to a winch. Either way, you have gained mechanical advantage over simply having a hard tack point and halyard.

Small adjustments while the sails are loaded become simple. And when you reach the leeward mark, you can just hoist the jib halyard into the lock without worrying about getting the precise halyard tension. Once past the fray at the mark, you can take up on cunningham and set your desired tension.