Our winter project this year has been to ready a 1968 Shields for racing in time for it’s 40th
birthday. Along the way we’ve had the chance to come up with quite a few rigging tricks and upgrades, but one common upgrade got us thinking. How much weight do you actually save when changing out old tech for new when it comes to the boats running rigging?
This boat was a perfect candidate for going lightweight, as the halyards were pretty much
the same technical vintage as the boat itself. The spinnaker halyard was a gigantic 1/2″ poly halyard, which has the virtues of being stretchy, heavy and slow over sheaves. The main and jib were wire-rope halyards, which always makes me cringe when I see them on a racing boat. Now, wire-rope really has it’s uses, cruising rigging (where the wire wears
better for extreme long term use, say if you’re spending days on stbd tack!) and boats with
halyard locks being a few examples. But. 88 is not cruising around the world, and it doesn’t
have a halyard lock (too bad!). In addition, the wire portion of the halyard was really short;
on both halyards the wire only went half the length of the mast. Why, I dont know, but this
setup combined the worst of both wire and rope. It was heavy, hard on sheaves/mast/gear, and stretchy. The only thing I can possibly say that was good about 88’s old rigging was that it lasted, and the shackles weren’t too gigantically oversized.
What I wanted for 88’s new lines, was to be as light and efficient as possible while still being
easy to handle, and with a reasonable lifespan. Since rigging is my business, I figured I
could go all out and make the perfect halyards, even if they ended up being a bit of overkill.
The main and jib are New England V100 (vectran core), which has been stripped to save
weight (and windage on the jib) I wanted to stay light with the shackles, and used Tylaska’s
P4 polycarbonate spool shackles. To keep the halyards around for a while, I added back
cover to the last 5′ or so, so that the halyards wouldn’t chafe at sheaves and exits, and also so they could be skyed to protect the uncovered portion completely from UV. The spin halyard is New England Endura Braid, stripped and recovered the same way as the other two. It has a stopper ball (the shields has a really odd halyard spectacle that can get
jammed with a shackle) and a standard snap shackle with swivel. The topper is Endurabraid as well, 1/4″ in size. All the halyards are 5/16″. They are extremely low stretch, the small diameter runs very quickly over sheaves and they’re quite light.
With both sets of halyards handy, I wanted to quantify the weight difference. It was obvious
that it would be lighter, but by how much?
The old halyards weighed in at 13.5 lbs. All that wire adds up!
The new set of lines came in at 7.5lbs, so in addition to being stronger and lower stretch,
they took out nearly half the weight of the old set.
Now, how much of a difference does this actually make for the boats performance? It’s
common to hear that removing 1lb of weight from the rig is just like adding 7lbs to the keel,
without actually increasing the weight of the boat. What this means is that the righting
moment (power of the keel to couteract the force of the wind on the sails) is increased, but
without the added weight that extra lead would bring. I’m not a naval architect and wouldn’t
try and make a prediction of what that means on the course, but I do know I’ve had plenty
of days racing where I’d love to have an extra 40lbs of keel!
This particular upgrade was a best case scenario: the lines needed replacement, and they
were so old that it was possible to make major improvements in all possible ways. The
weight was reduced and the new lines are much stronger and lower stretch. For your boat, the gains may not be as large, but it’s always smart boat prep to have good gear on board!