Rigging repair at-sea
By Larry Pardey
Of all the systems on board an offshore cruising vessel, your rigging must be the most reliable, but it is also the simplest to inspect and easiest to maintain. Unlike the parts that keep your engine running, none of the components of your rig are moving at high speed, most are available at chandleries world wide and do not have to be ordered from a specific parts supplier, few are hidden from view. That is why, with a carefully planned and built rig, and regular inspections, many people, ourselves included, have sailed around the world without experiencing a rigging failure at sea.
On Seraffyn, our 24’4’ cutter for example, we covered 47,000 miles with our only at-sea rigging problem being a spinnaker halyard which chafed through due to being unfairly led across the headstay. On Taleisin during 85,000 miles of sailing no rigging problems have occurred at sea though I can think of some that may have been prevented by our regular rig inspections, both in port and at sea, and the small maintenance projects these sometimes presented, ranging from adding a bit of leather to prevent chafe to repositioning halyard or sail fairleads.
None the less, we still carry the same items for repairing gear failures at sea as we did when we first set off voyaging 38 years ago. Many of these items are a regular part of our rigging maintenance gear and have come in handy when we wanted a replacement in anchorages along our cruising route, others have sat in the same nook year upon year, only moved for cleaning and inspecting. You could say they are there as insurance against ever needing them.
Chief among the items in any rigging repair kit should be:
One piece of new rigging wire the same length as the longest stay on the boat (in our case the headstay)
If your rigging wire is 1/19 S.S., it would be wise to carry one length in 1X19 and a second of 7X7 as, at sea, you will find it easier to bend and put a splice or cable clamps on this more pliable cable. Taleisin has hand spliced 7X7 rigging, so the wire we carry has one thimble spliced into it. This way we can replace any wire on board relatively quickly. I secure the upper end in place, measure the correct wire length to the appropriate turnbuckle, wrap the lower end around a thimble and hold it in position with marline seizing line or plastic tape, then use a Molly Hogan splice to secure it.
Spare Turn Buckle
Spare Clevis pins
Assortment of cotter pins
A selection of thimbles
For non-spliced rigging you need to add, a half dozen bull dog clips.
An assortment of stainless steel shackles, both D and Harp shaped.
Stainless steel seizing wire
Wire cutter or hack saw
Rigging vise (this is optional but has earned us some funds as we cruised)
Two lengths of low stretch Dacron line to replace your longest halyard
If you have wire halyards – add a suitable length of 7X19 (flexible wire) to your spares inventory.
"Of all the systems on board an offshore cruising vessel, your rigging must be the most reliable, but it is also the simplest to inspect and easiest to maintain."
Although we actually use them as part of our every day sailing, we consider our low stretch Dacron rope halyard arrangements to be a major part of our at-sea rigging repair equipment. All of our halyards are external to the mast with the main and jib halyard rigged through two side by side large diameter masthead sheaves so that either can be used for the mainsail or jib. To supplement this, we carry two spinnaker halyards run through blocks at the very top of the mast. Thus, if any halyard should break, we another that can work as substitutes with no need for anyone to go aloft at sea. For instance, should the main halyard break, we can use the tail end of the jib halyard to pull up the main, and a spinnaker halyard to haul up the jib. If your halyards are all lead internally, this will probably not work so therefore you should have at least one spare halyard block aloft and external of the mast, with a messenger line permanently rigged to let you haul up a substitute halyard. We know this from personal experience. We once had a halyard chafe through when we were delivering a “new” boat. We had to find shelter behind a coral reef and I spent almost an hour aloft working a line through the masthead fittings and across a double sheave arrangement to create a replacement halyard.
The most common at-sea rigging failures we hear of tend to be shrouds or headstays failing due to metal fatigue. The majority seem to be the stays inside roller furling headsails. The weight of the furling drum, foil and rolled up sail swinging around at sea increases the advent of metal fatigue in the wire headstay. A twice yearly inspection of the swages and the wire entry area above the swages might help prevent failure. A three yearly replacement of this headstay would be a wise precaution. But should a failure occur at sea, immediately head downwind and get a halyard secured to your bow fitting, winch it up securely to serve as a temporary headstay. Then, and only then, should you deal with getting the sail down. This maneuver could turn an at-sea gear failure into a nuisance instead of a dismasting.
A very simple lash up can cut the risk of shroud failure at sea, especially if you will be sailing along on one tack for long periods. To prevent metal fatigue in the leeward shrouds (which will, without fail, slacken off and flop around as the strain is all taken by the windward shrouds,) simply secure a length of nylon line to the forward shroud then wrap the line twice around all the leeward shrouds, the lowers, intermediates and upper shroud. Bring it back to the forward shroud, snug it up and secure it tightly. This will keep the shrouds from swinging to the boats motion, i.e. it will cut the risk of metal fatigue. There is no need to loosen off the lash-up when you tack, as the stretchiness of the nylon line will allow the shrouds to straighten out as per normal.