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The Perfect Traveler

The saga of SailNet's flagship continues: from the yard, to the water, to her first race, to her crew's list of demands! 
If you've been following the saga (OK, so it's a short saga at this point) of Grit, our project boata 77 Pearson 10 Meter, then you know that our first race ended with a list of demands from the crew. One of the items high on their list was as they explained it: “A traveler that actually travels.”  

To be fair, this was not an unreasonable request. It is rather difficult to trim the mainsheet when your traveler is downwindparticularly when it seems determined to stay there despite your best efforts to move it elsewhere.  It's also tough explaining to the crew why they should be willing to brace against the coaming and push with both feet in order to move said traveler upwind.  Did I mention that I was also concerned about paying for chiropractic treatments after a long race?

Armed with the understanding that we needed to remedy this situation, I set out to find the perfect traveler for Grit.  Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, the first place I went was the Pearson Owner's list . This is a collection of 375 Pearson owners who have banded together to share experiences and ideas on how to get the most from their sailboats.  (SailNet hosts about 200 of these groups for a wide range of sailboats.  You can see a complete list of all the groups at SailNet's Boat Owners Groups.  

The existing traveler on Grit may have been state of the art in 1977, but 27 years later it almost drove the crew to mutinity.
From this group I quickly gleaned two things.  First, the existing traveler was “state of the art” when the boat was built in 1977.  Second, the definition of “state of the art” had matured significantly in the intervening 27 years.  The original traveler was no longer manufactured.  Some parts were available, but the consensus was that it simply wasn't worth the effort to rebuild.  It ran on four delrin wheels and even when new, did not move freely under load.  Also, the control lines were set up with a 3:1 system that didn't provide enough leverage when the wind picked up.  The cam cleats were add-ons, not original equipment, and they weren't adjustable; they were locked-in pointing dead aft, making adjustments from anywhere but dead aft a major chore.  Finally, the mainsheet blocks were tired after all those years in the sun.  While a good cleaning might have made them run a little more freely, and a smaller line certainly would have helped, the 4:1 ratio they provided was a little too slow for light air and little too weak for a heavier breeze.

Being something of an “economy-minded” guy, I resisted the advice to heave this system until the crew finally wore me down.  I think the final shot was something along the lines of “There's only a couple of places where you should really spend the money to buy first class and the traveler is one of them.”  I pondered that advice and decided it was worth a whole lot more than I paid for it.  The traveler and mainsheet system are one of the essential controls on the boat.  Being able to use them quickly and efficiently is the key to getting the boat to perform at its potential.  Having been a slow sailor all my life, and now having the racing bug, I was all for maximum performance.

Accepting that the old system on board Grit needed replacing turned out to be the easiest decision; the tough part was narrowing down the selection of its replacement.
Deciding to replace the old system was the easy part; now I was faced with a myriad of choices for the new system.  There are literally dozens of different configurations available from the manufacturers who specialize in these parts.  Once again I turned to the list to see what advice would be forthcoming.  The consensus, if you can call it that, was quick and to the point.  While there was a variety of equipment doing the job, the most satisfied owners seemed to be the ones who chose Harken traveler systems.  And, the happiest of the lot were those who went for the Harken Windward Sheeting Car.  Not being a die-hard racer, I had no idea what a Windward Sheeting Car was.  So I checked in with some of our in-house gurus and learned that the WWS Car is an ingenious device that automatically releases the leeward control line on the traveler car.  What this means is that you can tack without fooling around with the control lines…the windward line will automatically lock at the same time the leeward line releases.  This sounded like heaven to the guy who just finished a race where we had to move aft to line up and manually uncleat the control lines at every tack.

Some quick research in the SailNet Store and on the Harken site indicated that Harken recommended the mid-size traveler system.  I also learned that Harken had recently redesigned this system to incorporate “captive” bearings – meaning that one no longer has to worry about losing the bearings anytime the car is removed from the track.  Having decided on the traveler car system, the only thing left was the mainsheet system itself.  

Grit's new traveler system components are seen here on proud display prior to their installion.
This was a frustrating choice.  I could have a fast system or I could have a powerful system.  Or, so I thought.  More advice from the list and our in-house gurus followed.  Soon I was looking at the Harken 2-Speed Mainsheet System.  This is a combination of blocks that gives you a choice of a 3:1 or 6:1 ratio without the usual collection of additional blocks in a fine-tune system.  I liked the simplicity of the solution as well as the reduced clutter.  The 10-Meter doesn't have a lot of space available for elaborate mainsheet systems so this looked like the perfect set-up.  Once again, the List confirmed my choice.  The people who have a 2-Speed System raved about it.  

Add some track, control line sheaves and a stand-up toggle and you've got a complete “2004 State-of-the-Art” mainsheet system for GRIT.  In the next article we'll describe how we went about getting the track pre-bent to fit the camber of Grit's bridge deck and the steps involved in installing our new system.  

My most important learning discovery: Buying a complex system like a mainsheet traveler and blocks is a lot more complicated than simply picking up a catalog and ordering parts.  The range of choices and capabilities has expanded exponentially in the 12 years since I last refit a boat.  Unless you're doing this all the time, it really helps to seek advice from other owners and the professionals.  And, selecting the base system is just the first step.  You're going to face a bunch of minor choices in how to accessorize and fine-tune your selection so it is the perfect fit for your boat.  We'll explore all that in the next article.  For now, I'd just like to give a big thank you to the folks on the Pearson List and our in-house staff.  They really helped this rusty sailor put together a well thought out and superb mainsheet system.

For those who are interested, here's a breakdown of the parts in the new system:


Grit's New Traveler System

Harken 1636Windward Sheeting Traveler Car 
Harken 1618.1.5High Beam Track
Harken 1632Double Sheave Control Blocks
Harken 3322-Speed Mainsheet System
Harken 1622End Caps for Track
Harken 1561Stand-up Toggle for Traveler Car
Sam Boyle is offline  
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