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How to terminate the working end of halyards.
–Splices vs Knots –
Knots are useful, in that they more easily allow the sailor to “freshen the nip” on a line, typically where it bears on a sheave. Unfortunately, knots also weaken a line significantly, and HM fibers even moreso, and the ones that are strongest and most secure are usually the most difficult to untie. The weakening effect means we get oversize halyards (weight, windage, money), and/or lowered safety factors.
I’ve come to conclude that, basically, the problem has solved itself. In the days of vegetable fibers, rope was so weak that wear happened, pretty much no matter what one did. But for high-load applications, splices were considered worth the bother, for the aforementioned issues of scantlings and safety. But splices have always been a skill-intensive knot, so unskilled people have always been tempted to tie knots, and this temptation became much stronger with the advent of braided synthetic rope. To some extent, knots were justifiable here: the ropes were at least twice as strong for the same diameter, so knot weakness wasn’t so important; and 50% of the rope strength is in the cover of a Dacron double-braid rope, so chafe had a significant impact on rope strength. In other words, freshening the nip could be a useful thing to do.
But there are a couple of other factors. First, much of the chafe that halyards see is due to things like foul leads, sharp edges on hardware, and rope that is too big for the sheaves. Eliminate those problems, and chafe drops dramatically. The other factor is that chafe is exacerbated by the elasticity of the line. A typical double-braid halyard will stretch and contract several inches as loads go up and down, and that means that the rope will move back and forth over stress risers – the sheave, mast mortise, exits – repeatedly when one is under way. The same phenomenon is much easier to see with mooring line chafe, because nylon is so much more elastic, as well as being more vulnerable to chafe. In any event, if we can limit elasticity, we can limit chafe.
And that’s where high-modulus (HM) double-braid halyards come in. With these lines, all of the strength is in the core; the cover is there strictly to defend the core from UV and – you guessed it – chafe. If the cover does chafe, the rope is not weakened at all. You can darn it, and then go in search of the cause of the chafe. And the cause is unlikely to be due to elasticity, because HM ropes stretch very, very little. For instance, a typical double braid Dacron rope will stretch about 3% of its length at working loads, while an HM equivalent, under the same loads, might stretch one quarter to one half as much (!).
The covers on these ropes also tend to be much tougher than on conventional ropes, as they are expected to bear higher compression loads, at the masthead, and in stoppers and on winches.
So, less stretch equals less chafe. A tougher cover equals less chafe. And no load on the cover means chafe isn’t a structural issue. HM ropes are also significantly lighter, especially if you take advantage of the opportunity of coming down size (or two, or three). The one downside, if you can call it that, is that knots are a no-no, because they weaken the stuff so much. But I prefer to think of that as a forceful reminder that rigging skills are part of a sailor’s heritage, for a reason.
Fair leads, Brion Toss
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