Deciding what rope to buy for a specific application can be a bit complicated. Only because there are so many different manufacturers, products, and not to mention the vast array of terms associated with rope. Let’s try and simplify this process a bit. For the sake of keeping this short and sweet we’ll narrow it down to one manufacturer, New England Ropes. Then we can talk about what types of rope this manufacturer offers and which ones are ideal for certain applications….a mouth full, I know.
If money is tight, then let’s start with the priorities; typically it’s halyards, then reef lines, then sheets, and then the rest of the line-up (in that order). When considering new halyards or reef lines, look for a strong, low stretch line. Halyards and reef lines don’t need to be especially free running with the exception of perhaps the spinnaker gear. Typically halyards want to be low stretch as they need to span long distances under load. A good choice for most cruising boat halyards is a product called New England Ropes VPC. It has Vectran/ Polyester blended core which provides the low stretch we are looking for and is reasonably priced. It also has a nicely braided Polyester cover which provides great protection from sun damage, chafe, and gives you a good ‘grip’.
For the spinnaker gear as well as the sheets or anything that requires an especially free running line, I recommend New England Ropes Sta-set. Sta Set is all Polyester, core and cover, which again does exceptionally well with U.V. and chafe resistance, as-well-as it runs freely, and has a nice soft feel. Although Sta-set has more stretch than VPC ( which is actually even preferred for spinnaker gear) it is hardly noticeable in certain applications, i.e. jib sheets.
If you are looking for a bit’ more performance you may want to look at New England Ropes Endura (Spectra Core) or V-100 (Vectran Core). These are very low stretch lines and offer the ability to strip the cover off as seen on many racing boats. If you do decide to taper your halyards (or strip the cover) for performance reasons, make sure that they are tapered at the right length. Speaking as a former ‘mast man’, there is nothing worse than ‘bumping’ a halyard and right when you get to the last 3 feet or so (when it is the most difficult), you are trying to grab on to some thin and slippery core fibers. This is an expensive process and should be done properly or not at all.
Also, with halyards, make sure that the rigger installs reeving eyes, (a.k.a soft eyes, Flemish Eyes, or pull eyes…) on the end of the rope so that the halyards (or any lines that may require special reeving for that matter, i.e. reef lines) can be removed when the boat is not in use
Tip: Using a reeving eye one can remove the lines by tying on a messenger (or martingale). If leaving lines out of the mast for a prolonged period of time, be sure to use a minimum messenger diameter of 3/16″. This will keep the line from trying to jump the sheave.
Removing the lines will allow you to take them home and throw them in the laundry (I’ve even heard of using the dishwasher, less tangle) for the winter. Once washed, dried and de-tangled, it is recommended to coat any exposed core fibers (as found on stripped cover halyards) with a product called Yale MaxiJacket or the like. This will help provide protection from harmful U.V. rays and chafe. If you have never dealt with MaxiJacket before, I would call a local rigger and ask for any tips on applying the coating, it can make quite a mess!
Keep in mind that there are other manufacturers out there which provide rope products similar to the ones we have just discussed. So take your pick, some of these other reputable names are Samson Ropes, Marlow Ropes, FSE Robline and Yale Cordage….amongst others. Whether you are a racer, cruiser, or little bit of both, you should take the time to make sure that you have the right rope for the application. If you are a do-it-yourself-er, there is no shame in asking some questions. If money is tight focus on your priorities and save up for what’s ‘needed’. If you are going to hire a professional, don’t be scared to ask them about their process. Regardless of where you stand, take the time to make sure it is done right the first time and you will be able to worry about other things like, do we have enough beer, when should we ‘tack’, or how high is that bridge ;-0)
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