Back To The Future – Rope Rigging

Our Wauquiez Pretorien Fayaway was designed in the late nineteen seventies, loosely following design trends of IOR rules for ocean racers at that time. Fortunately, our design followed after some significant portions of the rules were updated, making ours a very safe and stable design. Furthermore, our Pretorien was designed primarily as a euro-styled cruiser, so non-IOR features like a heavily ballasted fin keel were added for improved comfort and stability. She’s a finely-tuned ocean cruising machine.

Some annoying race features still remain, such as the traveler mounted at the companionway. The rig’s simple chainplate layout means we need an inner forestay, and running backstays to control mast bend. This is ok; they’re very easy to use and adjust. I also like the additional strength these added lines provide. We added a second inner forestay to allow easily setting a smaller jib, which we use for both a storm sail, as well as a simple working jib. We have plenty of sail options to work with.

Original Pretorien plan and rig layout

I’m probably losing the casual travel blog reader by this point. Sorry about all the sailboat jargon. Please don’t quit following these posts, and at least enjoy some of the pictures herein, and I promise we’ll have some entertainment for you again soon. If interested in sailboat rigging, then read on… Refresher: Standing Rigging, subject of this post, is the fixed set of lines that hold the mast in place. Running rigging is the moveable set of lines that allow sail adjustment while sailing. Rigging (by itself) is just a generic term for either.

Standing rig schematic
Standing Rigging 101: 1. Forestay, 2. Shrouds, 3. Spreaders, 4. Backstay, 5. Inner Forestay, 6. Lower shrouds, 7. Boom, 8. Running backstays.

Maybe it’s the engineer in me, but I still can’t stop playing with the design. Modification and creative tuning of our rig is not exempt. Yes, the designers, Holman & Pye, designed a great boat to start with, but life evolves and so do sailboat design and rigging techniques. They originally had to make the boat cost effective for a broader consumer market, and thus addressed what most buyers would find most suitable. Maybe I’m different? (Ok, don’t answer that one!)

Modifying spreader ends with a file

Fayaway was built 36 years ago, and she’s not immune to age. We’ve owned her for only four of these years, and have replaced most of the important bits during this brief time. Experts recommend replacing steel wire rigging every ten years regardless of how often it’s inspected. We didn’t know how old our standing rigging was, and since we live and sail on Fayaway constantly, we felt obligated to replace the rig ASAP. So replacement being obligatory, how can we use this opportunity for more improvements? This took some serious planning.

Kelly raises the main

Since I’ve started discussing replacing our rig with rope, I’ve been asked several times now by experts and casual sailors alike: Why not just use wire? I’ll attempt to answer this question in the following paragraphs, starting with some history.

Metal wire rigging wasn’t used until after the turn of the twentieth century, and then it was galvanized wire, highly prone to saltwater deterioration. It wasn’t until the sixties (yes, this century) that the still-popular stainless steel wire rigging material first came into use. For many centuries prior, simple hemp fibers were the norm. Hemp was easy to maintain without special tools, and cheap. So why go to metal wire? I ask the same question about going from wooden to aluminum metal, to synthetic fiber masts? Relative size (weight) versus strength is the answer in all cases. Technology had improved.

175 pounds of old wire rigging, awaiting us to carry to the scrap pile.

So if stainless steel wire has been used for over fifty years now, and Fayaway was originally designed for it, why not use the same ol’ steel wire?? Make life easy. Good question. It’s amazing how seasoned professional riggers simply balk at the concept of using synthetic rope. Maybe it’s stubbornness, or feeling there’s a threat to what a generation has taken for granted, and perhaps toward their livelihood. They’ve invested thousands in stainless crimping tools, as well as decades of knowledge and experience in installing, maintaining and upgrading. I can understand their resistance to change. Why mess with a good thing? It’s the way we’ve always done it!

In the nineties, race boats started playing with new synthetic fibers, because they’re much lighter and smaller (less windage) than their equivalent-strength steel wire counterpart. Nobody seemed to notice that pretty much all boats, around this time also changed to synthetic running rigging. Hmmm. It’s now an unavoidable growing trend with high performance sailboats, both racers and cruisers: incorporating high performance synthetic rope (dyneema), instead of steel wire in the standing rigging. In fact it’s been used on racing boats for over twenty years, and regular cruising boats for at least a decade now. We’re way beyond experimenting. Many factory-new performance cruising boats are using it. Airplanes are starting to use it for control cabling. Hmmm. What’s going on here? Why are they going back in history to rope rigging? The answer is the same as why we switched to stainless steel wire and aluminum masts more than fifty years ago: Weight and size versus strength. An equivalent diameter dyneema rope is four times the strength, but lighter. For a while the higher cost was prohibiting the new materials from hitting the mainstream. But the future is here, and the cost is more reasonable. Let’s embrace it!

We worked with the good folks at Colligo Marine to custom fit and pre-assemble our new rope standing rig. They pre-spliced and stretched all the lines, have patiently answered all my questions and settled all my impatient moments. We installed it all ourselves while at a dock in Sint Maarten. (Thanks to my trusted Kelly for helping up and down the mast so many times!) I’m still working with Colligo for making a couple minor detail improvements. At this point we’ve sailed a couple hundred miles with our new getup, and I’m still playing with the tuning. In my humble opinion our new lighter rig is stronger than ever, and we’re thrilled with having another significant improvement for our already lovely Fayaway.

15 pounds of new Colligo Dux dyneema rigging, ready to go aloft

So maybe because I’m an engineer, easily convinced by the technology, we are early adopters and took the bait. But its simple to understand that by switching to synthetic rope rigging, we have reduced Fayaway’s weight by approximately 150 pounds, while adding to her durability. We removed our original adjustable backstay, which weighed in at a whopping additional 25 pounds alone. It took three trips to the scrap pile to unload the heavy old wire. Since the weight is mostly aloft, it simply must improve her stability as well. Our water line went up by an inch! (Ok, I’m fibbing on that one :-P). Supposedly, we’ve also reduced windage with this slippery stuff, but I’m not convinced of any marginal effect!

New backstay lashings, while looking at the sun falling behind Anguilla

Feel free to contact us with any questions, as I’m sure that after some experienced folks look at the additional pictures, you will see that we did make a few unexpected modifications along the way.

Seamanship is the fine art of doing what should be done even though doing so is a pain in the ass.

Morgan’s Cloud

8 thoughts on “Back To The Future – Rope Rigging

    1. Certainly. Thanks for that detail. We used zero knots in our setup. Since I’m not too well practiced with splicing, we had Colligo (professional rigger) make all splices, to make certain it was done correctly, as well as look good! Eye splices are also shrink-wrapped to resist chafing and stay put.


  1. Nic Waterman

    Nice work Chris!
    If we still owned a sailboat we would certainly consider. You make an important point ; technology has improved -use it . I
    am waiting for diesel electric being a standard that is affordable.


  2. Roger Block


    Really enjoyed your piece on rigging. Couple questions which I couldn’t answer from the pics (1) how do your tension the multi-fold purchase backstay? and (2) anything special for the installation of the forestay and furler?

    Thanks for the write-up and good luck with your cruising plans,

    Roger Block


    1. Hi Roger. Hope all is well aboard Shango!
      Because we added an internal SSB antenna to the line, the backstay was difficult to pre-stretch. So, in addition to the turnbuckle, there’s an 8:1 lashing. I’ve been able to open the turnbuckle fully and take up some tension, then tie off the lashing. From there I have about three inches to tighten more with the turnbuckle.

      However, now I’m changing my mind on wanting to adjust more easily on the fly and have asked Colligo for a quote on a 32:1 compounding setup. They show one used on a 35ft race boat, and I started drooling.

      Take Care!


    2. Oh, I forgot to respond on the forestay question. There is no easy changing the headstay to Dux. Unless you want to use a torsion rope. I decided just to have the Jays replace these stays with new wire before we left last summer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s