The Right Line for Your Boat

We offer many types of line by New England Ropes, FSE–Robline and Samson to meet a wide range of demands. At the risk of oversimplifying, we will break down the world of sailboats into five categories, and recommend line for the needs of each group, based on their unique requirements.

Traditional sailboats generally have fewer winches, more block and tackle systems, and generally lower loads. Their owners often want a traditional look. Three–strand spun or filament polyester is a good choice, with the look and feel of traditional cordage, much greater longevity, but lower stretch than organic fibers. Regatta single braid is popular for sheets, for its semi–classic look and easy handling.

Cruising sailboats need long–lasting, easily spliced line and low stretch is sometimes not seen as a priority. Halyards are a place where spending money matters, since reducing stretch means improved performance, less weather helm and reduced heeling. Sails will hold their shape through a greater wind range, so you don’t get scallops between the slides on your mast track, with low–stretch halyards. Sta–Set X is the most popular upgrade from wire–rope or polyester double braid, and performance cruisers gain even more benefits from higher–tech halyards such as XLS–Extra. Its blended core offers less stretch at an affordable cost, compared to pure Dyneema or Vectran.

Many of today’s cruisers have roller furling and/or in–mast roller–furled mainsails. In these cases, where sails often stay hoisted all season, a no–creep rope halyard should be made from Vectran, so VPC or higher–performance V–100 is a good choice. We still prefer Sta–Set for control lines, either color–coded or in solid colors, and Sta–Set, Salsa or Regatta braid for sheets. Sta–Set is firmer and more snag–resistant, Regatta Braid is more flexible and kink–free, and the similar Salsa includes a blend of Dyneema and polyester for lower stretch.

Club racers in one–design or PHRF classes can power up their performance without spending much money by upgrading to low stretch all–rope halyards made from Sta–Set X, reducing weight aloft and keeping halyard stretch under control. Sheets for mains and genoas where easy–grip is important can be of Salsa or of free–running and firmer Endura Braid.

Performance Racers want the lightest, lowest–stretch line available. Weight is critical, especially aloft, and durability is sometimes regarded as less important. Lines that aren’t directly handled are downsized to the limit, using stronger, lower stretch fibers. Covers are removed from double braid whenever possible to save weight. Vectran V–12 is substituted for wire rope, and used in halyards, runners, backstays and other high–load systems, especially where static loads are present. Amsteel single braid is also widely used, for everything but upwind (genoa) halyards. Warpspeed has colored cores, which match the cover, so it can even be color–coded if the cover is removed.

Dinghies, sportboats, and small multihulls may have applications that use the entire range, from basic polyester double braid (for daysailors, Club FJ and 420, Hobie 16, Vanguard 15, Flying Scot, etc.) out to the technological frontier (29er, International 14, 49er and other “skiff” types, A–class and Tornado cats, Ultimate 20, Viper 640, Melges 24 and 32, etc.).

Cascade and block–and–tackle control systems are often downsized to reduce weight and friction. Blocks have gotten smaller with higher working loads; so smaller, stronger line helps reduce weight and friction even more. On a 16:1 cascade vang the primary purchase (the most highly–loaded 2:1 part) might consist of V–12 Vectran; the second 2:1 loop could be Amsteel Dyneema, and the final 4:1 might be Sta–Set or FSE–Robline Racing Sheet (it’s friendly to hands, low stretch and non–water–absorbing, and also quite popular in Europe on Olympic classes). Endura Braid, one of our favorite lines with a smooth, torque–free tightly–woven cover and a Dyneema core, is also quite popular for sheets and spinnaker halyards. We love it for its ease of handling.

One of the most important considerations for every type of sailboat is having control lines, sheets, and other systems that work easily, with low friction and with enough purchase. You should be able to adjust any handheld line with two fingers. If you have to plant your feet, strain, and sweat to tighten your outhaul, some upgrades are in order. Consider adding another purchase, replacing plain bearing blocks with ball bearing models, replacing single–speed winches, etc. Cruising and traditional boats can really benefit from a few improvements, like a ball bearing mainsheet system with modern flexible line, to make the crews’ jobs more fun.

If your boat is rigged with old, faded white double braid, it may be time for an upgrade. The cordage now available is a lot better than ten years ago. Whatever kind of boat you own, it will perform better and be easier to sail with the right line.


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