Prepping your Lines for Racing

Proper preparation of your running rigging can help prevent jams and slips during a big race.

annapolis nood regatta
Prepping your lines before a big race can help avoid harry situations involving sail changes.Benjamin Meyers/Sailing World

The big regatta is here. You've practiced. You've got new sails. You've polished your bottom in the proper "Zen" fashion. You've even purchased new running rigging, which you just installed. The breeze is up, and at the first weather mark you're in the top group. But then, the spinnaker doesn't get all the way up, and you get rolled by a seemingly endless train of boats. Tactics aside, what went wrong? You find out later that your mastman had trouble with the brand new spinnaker halyard slipping through his hand.

The issue is that many ropes with polyester covers have elements in the finishing to produce better abrasion resistance. The elements in the finish of those lines can produce a slippery feeling. This “hard” finish is especially present when you first use the rope and is worse if the line is wet.

Not everyone thinks about preparing line for use, but there are a few steps you can follow to give it the same attention as other parts of your boat, helping ensure that the next time you go for a hoist or trim a sheet, the crew will be able to easily handle the line.

  1. After any splicing, soak it in a bucket of fresh water overnight to loosen up the finish.

  2. The next day, wash it under the faucet in warm water. You'll see bubbles appearing and feel your hands getting slippery as the finish comes off. It takes a few minutes before the bubbles subside.

  3. Use the halyard for two days before racing to get it worked in.

If you can’t work in the halyard before using it, lightly abrade it with sandpaper. This is best done by running the halyard through the mast and then pulling it up to the top of the mast as if the sail was fully hoisted. Using 220-grit sandpaper, lightly sand the area from where it comes out of the mast for around 15-20 feet, which is where they’ll be handled when the load is the greatest. Sand until a very light fuzz to start appearing on the cover. Don’t sand too much, as you can always sand again. Similarly, for sheets, figure out where they will be handled when the load is greatest, and sand there.