Zip Ties on Spreaders — Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

I have some things to do in a bo’sun’s chair, but I hate going aloft, and I’ve been putting it off under various pretenses. I can’t put it off any longer. Check out the photo below to see what happened while sailing with my father-in-law today.

See anything wrong with this picture?
See anything wrong with this picture?

If I remember correctly, last time I set up the rig I used zip ties to hold the cap shrouds onto the spreaders. Looks like this might be a bad idea. As I’ve discovered in other applications, they get brittle after prolonged UV exposure.  I had actually forgotten I’d done this. So we were out having a brisk sail today, hard on the wind, and I noticed that the lee cap shroud was looser than I remember. Really, slack, in fact. I didn’t think we were putting that much strain on the rig, though we were heeled at maybe 20 degrees with the sheets hardened up. Then I looked to the windward cap shroud, and realized it had slipped the groove in the spreader.  I immediately dropped the sails, and we motored back to the marina. So sailing is off the schedule until I go up the mast and do what I need to do, which is:

  • Drop the head stay/roller furling gear
  • Build new head stay (then install on my second trip aloft)
  • check all the rig at the mast-head
  • attach two new blocks and halyards on the masthead bail
  • re-slot the cap shrouds into the spreaders, and secure with SS wire (no more zip ties)
  • attach new spreader boots
  • replace the deck lamp in the steaming light fixture

And I’ve made a decision:  I’m probably going to eliminate roller furling.  I have an old Harken 00 furler, that I have tried to take apart in the past (to no avail).  If I can’t get it apart this time and thread a new headstay wire up the luff extrusion I’ll do away with it completely.  The furler is really too old (maybe 20 years) to hope that it can be made to work again.  It might be possible, but I have my doubts.  I know for certain that the headstay hasn’t been changed during the time that furler has been on the boat, so it’s absolutely due.  It makes me nervous to watch it pulse as the wind and surface chop cycle it with pressure and release.  All I can think about is the wire at the terminals work-hardening as it cycles like that.

Having said that, it must not be too big a risk, as you rarely see boats with broken or failed headstays and broken masts, and you rarely hear of it happening.  Still, I’m confident that I’m pushing the limit on this headstay wire.  I’ve thought about this change a lot, and it’s been a difficult decision.  Roller furling is so incredibly convenient that I hate to give it up.  On the other hand, I like the idea of the simplicity, flexibility, and bullet-proof-ness of hanked-on sails and bare wire.  It’s also not a minor fact that to replace the furler is pretty pricey.  And while many sailors would consider roller furling an essential, I see it as a convenience.

Pros of roller furling:  Incredibly convenient.  Never leave the safety of the cockpit to deploy or douse sail.

Cons of roller furling:  Added windage.  Can’t check the wire easily at the terminals.  Extra running rigging.  Furler can fowl or jam, if not adjusted correctly.  Sail stowed on headstay can deploy in high winds, and threaten rig if not secured.  Changing sails can be time-consuming.  Reefing headsail not extremely effective beyond 20-30 percent.

Cons of hanked-on sails:  Safety concern – leaving cockpit to deploy or douse.  Less convenient to deploy or douse.

Pros of hanked-on sails:  More flexible sail area management.  Rigging wire is exposed for easy inspection.  Better sail shape with smaller/larger, specialized sails for various wind strength.  Simple to maintain, no mechanism to jam or fix.  Less windage.

How to manage with hanked-on sails: I’ve thought about this quite a bit.  There are ways to make hanked-on sails much more convenient.

  • Store on deck in an acrylic canvas bag:  This solves the stowage while doused, and allows me to leave the sail on the headstay.  The halyard actually supports the bag when the sail is stowed so that it doesn’t rest its bottom on deck.  When ready to deploy, the bag is unzipped, halyard shifted to head, and sheets clipped on the clew.
  • Use a down-haul for dousing:  This is a line that attaches to the halyard shackle and can be led down through the sail hanks (or not).  Passes through a turning block on the stem head fitting, and is led back to the cockpit.  When dousing sail, the halyard is released and the sail is pulled down with the line.  Gathered to leeward side with the leeward sheet taut, it can be gasketed with line at a convenient time without fear of escaping until then.
  • Build headsails with reef points.  This is an old idea that works well, though has fallen out of favor.  No reason why a headsail can’t have reef points.  And as we know, reefing a sail like this provides a very well-shaped sail.

So there it is.  I’d love to hear from some of you about this idea of no roller furling, reefed headsails, or anything else I’ve mentioned in this post.  Except, please don’t beat me up for using zip ties on my cap shrouds – I’ve already delivered the beating myself.

Rick Bailey

Rick Bailey sails the Chesapeake Bay with his wife, Ruth, on a Watkins 27 coastal cruiser. Rick is retired and writes the “middlebaysailing” blog (

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