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Plain bearing vs ball bearing blocks


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I am in the process of replacing my old blocks with new along with new lines. 

All my old blocks appear to be plain bearing type. I read that you should not change out all your blocks with ball bearings or roller bearings blocks, as they tend to potentially flatten the ball or roller under high static loads. I am not sure if this is accurate or would anyone notice over time.

But if it is, does that mean that your halyard mast base blocks would need to be plain bearing type and mainsheet and boom vang should be ball bearing blocks?

Outhaul and cunningham plain blocks? 

Any thoughts?

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It is true. 

Mast halyard blocks - plain bearing

Mainsheet - roller/ball

Vang - I'd say unless you play it a lot, plain bearing. They tend to be loaded up and left alone for some time

Same with outhaul/cunningham. Really depends on how much tweaking you do.

And also size of boat matters too. Bigger boats tend to start to get more plain bearing blocks except the really racy ones.

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Every ball bearing application I've had on my boats has been a pain in the ass for no discernible benefit except traveller cars.

The latest is a bunch of Harken cam cleats - jillions of tiny little balls in 4 layers on the cam pivots, lots of which had flattened or crumbled.

And for what? If ever there was a place for a plain bearing that's it.

I would avoid them wherever possible.

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1 hour ago, pcoe said:

I am in the process of replacing my old blocks with new along with new lines. 

All my old blocks appear to be plain bearing type. I read that you should not change out all your blocks with ball bearings or roller bearings blocks, as they tend to potentially flatten the ball or roller under high static loads. I am not sure if this is accurate or would anyone notice over time.

But if it is, does that mean that your halyard mast base blocks would need to be plain bearing type and mainsheet and boom vang should be ball bearing blocks?

Outhaul and cunningham plain blocks? 

Any thoughts?

Cunningham can be plain because there isn't a heavy load. Vang should be plane because there will be heavy static loads. Outhaul plain for the same reason.

Running rigging is where ball bearings shine. Everywhere else they aren't needed and generally speaking simple is more rugged. I think they put them in cam cleats because a bit of play is good to have there. If they made them tight a bit of salt can make them stick open. Ball bearings can take a bit of off-axis play with out all the wear being concentrated on a single point.   

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Okay, I'm going to be the dissenting voice here. On my 50'er I have to be ruthless about eliminating friction in the running rigging. As part of that, I replaced all the turning blocks at the base of the mast with oversized torlon ball bearing Garhauer blocks and it was a huge help. Yes, that even includes the roller furling jib halyard, which doesn't seem to be complaining. I do have to lube them every year but that's a small price to pay (besides the big price I paid for the blocks...). 

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12 minutes ago, IStream said:

Okay, I'm going to be the dissenting voice here. On my 50'er I have to be ruthless about eliminating friction in the running rigging.

Same here. Ball bearing blocks do take a level of maintenance far beyond what is usual in the sailing sport. And most failing bearings are seen on very old, sun bleached, cracking, etc. blocks and cams. Plain bearings are highly loaded as well. The pin is made as small as possible to help overcome friction. But wear and failure are hidden – apt to go unnoticed. An unmaintained plain bearing is better than a neglected ball bearing. 

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Sounds like plain bearing lbocks should be use at all control lines and halyard base blocks, and mainsheet will have ball bearings for ease of adjustments.

I have read a few articles on reducing friction and seems that they always promote ball or roller bearings so good to know the actual truth. 

Thanks

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1 hour ago, pcoe said:

I am in the process of replacing my old blocks with new along with new lines. 

All my old blocks appear to be plain bearing type. I read that you should not change out all your blocks with ball bearings or roller bearings blocks, as they tend to potentially flatten the ball or roller under high static loads. I am not sure if this is accurate or would anyone notice over time.

But if it is, does that mean that your halyard mast base blocks would need to be plain bearing type and mainsheet and boom vang should be ball bearing blocks?

Outhaul and cunningham plain blocks? 

Any thoughts?

Not sure what you mean 

bushing ?

steel needle bearing ?

plastic bearing ?

a bushed bearing lasts a long time but has friction 

grease packed needle bearings are indestructible ,  low friction but require service

plastic  bearing , harken style are low friction but limited life span 

the lewmar range , can’t remember the name , with grease packed needle bearings are good mid price blocks 

cheap bushing blocks that are pressed together , un serviceable , should be avoided 

 

Pictured are grease packed bearing blocks 

8109C055-561D-471A-9368-96D2D184A4EA.jpeg

8D16CF27-F894-4855-B3A1-7CAA17AFB874.png

E1F644AB-62FA-43E9-B0EB-40F519BEA44A.png

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47 minutes ago, IStream said:

Okay, I'm going to be the dissenting voice here. On my 50'er I have to be ruthless about eliminating friction in the running rigging. As part of that, I replaced all the turning blocks at the base of the mast with oversized torlon ball bearing Garhauer blocks and it was a huge help. Yes, that even includes the roller furling jib halyard, which doesn't seem to be complaining. I do have to lube them every year but that's a small price to pay (besides the big price I paid for the blocks...). 

 Raises an important point, that big boat loads call for roller bearings in more places than smaller boats do.  

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Okay pretty much everywhere people are advocating plain bearing blocks you can use RopeEye type fittings. Much simpler and weight savings is immense.

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50 minutes ago, Tom O'Keefe said:

Okay pretty much everywhere people are advocating plain bearing blocks you can use RopeEye type fittings. Much simpler and weight savings is immense.

Yeah - the total weight of all the blocks on my boat must be 30 or 40 Lbs.

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FWIW, go for all roller-bearing blocks, but size them one larger than you normally would.  And wash them out and lube annually, when you do your winches.  Or wenches perhaps, as long as you entice them to help.

Exceptions are masthead sheaves, which should be plain bearing as the turn can be up to 180° and they don't move a lot.

Other exceptions are lightly loaded ones, where there will be naked Spectra rendering through them, like vang, outhaul, Cunningham and backstay cascades.  Those can all be low-friction ding-a-ling rings.

YMMV

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If the line ever needs to move fast use roller or ball bearings (in mast sheaves exempted).  Also use them in low load parts of cascading control lines so that the cascade plays out more easily.

I'm a fan of Harken's black magic blocks for sheets and halyard turning blocks. They're not cheap, but they have very little friction and last forever. Just replace the roller assembly every decade or two.

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3 hours ago, Tom O'Keefe said:

Okay pretty much everywhere people are advocating plain bearing blocks you can use RopeEye type fittings. Much simpler and weight savings is immense.

The problem with the donuts in lieu of blocks is that for some lines, especially some higher-tech lines, is that the cover doesn't roll over the donut surface smoothly and steadily builds up twist on the standing part of the line.  This isn't much a problem for lines that only move a short distance, but for runners and such they can make for a kinky mess.  In my experience anyway.

We've replaced many of the Antal rings and such on my boat fairly light and powered up 50'er.  There's certainly a place for them, but not a universal fix, by any means.

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What sort of boat is this? What I would choose for a 40 foot IOR boat is very different from what I'd put on a scow or J/70, for example.

For smaller, lighter boats, ball-bearing blocks are generally by far my preference. Additionally, any time you have cascaded purchase systems, the line that isn't being handled should be slick dyneema. The goal here is to cut down on friction, especially on boats that don't use winches.

You don't want adjustments to sail trim or sail controls to require any more time / crew effort than necessary, because every additional second your crew is fighting to get more vang on is an additional second that their head is in the boat rather than on the race course. If you're daysailing, presumably you're out to "have a good time", in which case cutting down on the effort needed to make sail adjustments is well worth it. 


If your boat weighs as much as a dumptruck, it might be a different story.

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Never had issues with roller blocks in every application on our j109 or hobie33. I'd say the majority of the blocks, even in the vang and mast-base halyard blocks, on all of the 38-44ft race boats I've been on have been roller. 

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Replaced the mast head block on the main halyard with a Harken roller bear sheave. reduced the load to raise the main by ten times. I have no use for the cheap plain bearing blocks anywhere on the boat. ball bearing ratchet blocks on the sheets also makes life easier.

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59 minutes ago, Grrr... said:

Funny, I went through and typed the whole damn thing myself, then found someone had already done it.

https://www.sail-world.com/news/207631/Difference-between-Plain-Ball-and-Roller-Bearings

 

Why are cages so rare in sailboat ball or roller bearing blocks? The received wisdom is that they reduce friction and they can make it easier to deal with the BBs and rollers. From above:

yysw213359.jpg

Commercial bearings:

single-row-ball-bearings.jpg0901d19680809865-BN1_AR_C_K-45X53X28_Ren

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1 hour ago, weightless said:

Why are cages so rare in sailboat ball or roller bearing blocks? The received wisdom is that they reduce friction and they can make it easier to deal with the BBs and rollers. From above:

yysw213359.jpg

Commercial bearings:

single-row-ball-bearings.jpg0901d19680809865-BN1_AR_C_K-45X53X28_Ren

Because they add cost, and are problematic with contamination.  You'll find cages in your winches.  But not in your (normal sized, not superyacht) blocks.

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15 minutes ago, Grrr... said:

Because they add cost, and are problematic with contamination.  You'll find cages in your winches.  But not in your (normal sized, not superyacht) blocks.

I thought it was so that sailors would have something more to do when performing block maintenance, meaning, chasing all the balls down around the garage...

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10 minutes ago, Grrr... said:

Because they add cost, and are problematic with contamination.  You'll find cages in your winches.

Yes, catalogue bought rollers are used in winches so I'm skeptical that the contamination problem is hard. Commercial bearings are used in harsh environments. The good folks who make bearings for a living have thought about that. Cages may or may not add cost since they reduce the number of balls / rollers and they're commercially available manufactured at scale. My guess is that shop built protos went into production and became the standard. Of course, I've been wrong before :)

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On 11/29/2021 at 3:21 PM, SloopJonB said:

Every ball bearing application I've had on my boats has been a pain in the ass for no discernible benefit except traveller cars.

The latest is a bunch of Harken cam cleats - jillions of tiny little balls in 4 layers on the cam pivots, lots of which had flattened or crumbled.

And for what? If ever there was a place for a plain bearing that's it.

I would avoid them wherever possible.

 
For the purpose of making the cam cleats a disposable item that has to be replaced yearly, more or less.  They I count on getting about a year from the cleats that secure our genoa sheets and the guys.  At most. 

Marketing Department > Engineering Department.   

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1 hour ago, IStream said:

I believe cages increase friction a bit but the convenience they offer more than offsets that.  

I'm pretty sure that uncaged bearings were invented by the same person who invented slot head screws.

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5 minutes ago, Lex Teredo said:

 
For the purpose of making the cam cleats a disposable item that has to be replaced yearly, more or less.  They I count on getting about a year from the cleats that secure our genoa sheets and the guys.  At most. 

Marketing Department > Engineering Department.   

Exactly.

Frankly, I've never been all that impressed with Harken gear - My winches are pretty nice but generally I regard their products as wildly overrated.

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Yup. One of the reasons I went with (cheaper but heavier) Garhauer blocks at the base of the mast versus the Schaefer blocks that came with my mainsheet purchase system was so I could afford larger blocks to reduce line friction. I also like the fact that the Garhauer design puts the bearings around a larger diameter race, so the load is spread over more bearings. That's one of the reasons they tolerate high static loads well. 

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To my eye Garhauer gear looks like "machinery" while most other common brands look like toy stuff - overgrown dinghy bits.

At least for gear up to 40' or so.

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Schaefer: Attractive and blindingly expensive, even for some plain bearing stuff.  I'm not sure I fully get it.  Garhauer: a bit agricultural looking and heavy, but less expensive, low friction and sturdy.  I've slowly migrated to Garhauer. The Selden plain bearing blocks I have are cheap 'n nasty.  I've been pleasantly surprised by the Lewmar High Load Race Blocks but yowza $$$.  Harken is generally nice gear. I've never had a bad product from them, but I'm looking for more Ostfront kind of stuff. Anyone buy their new plain bearing blocks? 

Sometimes the East Coast riggers sniff and say, "Oh yeah, a West Coast boats with Garhauer."

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27 minutes ago, Elegua said:

 Anyone buy their new plain bearing blocks? 

Sometimes the East Coast riggers sniff and say, "Oh yeah, a West Coast boats with Garhauer."

The new Harken element stuff? Yeah it’s fine, I like those better than their esp stuff they had out beforehand. Still a bit pricey. 
 

regarding Schaefer: their stuff is designed more for cruising/off shore stuff. They know it’s not the prettiest stuff out there but they know it won’t break either. 
 

I’m a bit disappointed the selden blocks are made in China, but if that’s what it take for their mission of world domination…
 

 

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9 hours ago, mgs said:

I’m a bit disappointed the selden blocks are made in China, but if that’s what it take for their mission of world domination…

4 short seasons in Maine and already chalky and stiff. Not a fan. 

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Has anyone used Lewmar HTX blocks and have any input? I was leaning towards them and they appear to have good feedback. They appear to be a hybrid between ball bearings on the outside and plain bearing in the inside. 

Costs seems to be equal to Harken Element series or equal. 

 

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For most of my applications I use Harken carbo blocks. Very rare that I've had any blow up. For little stuff (outhauls, cunninghams, etc) I often use their micro blocks.

I tend to give preference to Harken since they're local (I'm less than an hour from Pewaukee), but I've also just found that their hardware is extremely high-quality and lightweight. Peter and Olaf (who sadly passed away a couple years ago) are both long-time A-scow and iceboat sailors who are very much part of the local sailing community, so I'm naturally a bit biased.

 

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on the 8mR I sail on, we had the choice after restoration to choose either regular winches, but opted for sliding bearing instead of needles on standard winches. The reason is that the winch loads up massively with a 186% jib, and the solid bearing has less friction under load, and less likely to damage the stem on the pressure points of the needle bearing. 

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On 12/1/2021 at 2:29 PM, SloopJonB said:

Exactly.

Frankly, I've never been all that impressed with Harken gear - My winches are pretty nice but generally I regard their products as wildly overrated.

I consider Harken to generally be racing gear.  The winches and blocks turn sweet as hell, the bits are usually the lightest weight for a given capacity based on my highly scientific Homo Sapiens Lift Test at West Marine, and wonderful for fast boat handling as long as they are properly rigged, kept in good shape and used within their lifecycle, and discarded at the end of it.  Kind of like a sports car, high performance, light weight, somewhat high maintenance, potentially high cost and shorter life cycle than slower and more heavily built bits. I'm getting to be a fan of Wichard roller bearing  blocks... 

Keith Bontrager's Iron Triangle for Bike Design works on boat parts too.  Light, strong, cheap - you are only allowed to have two.  

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3 hours ago, fastyacht said:

Why would yoi want ball carriers if they reduce number of bearings?

The bullet points from the google say that the caged bearings reduce friction / heat. They're all about high speeds and pressures using hard bearings and races so maybe not the case for sailboat blocks with squishy bearings in them.

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On 12/1/2021 at 11:19 AM, Lex Teredo said:

For the purpose of making the cam cleats a disposable item that has to be replaced yearly, more or less.  They I count on getting about a year from the cleats that secure our genoa sheets and the guys.  At most.

Are you sailing dinghies?

For anything bigger, if you're holding a genoa sheet that comes off a winch with a cam cleat, the load on the cam cleat is miniscule. Of course you have to use enough turns. Why aren't they lasting?

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It's simple like a dinghy, like a 35 foot, 10,000 pound version of the 470, the J/35.  Has a 155 genoa on a 55' rig.  The upper end of the wind range  before dropping the #1 and going to the #3 is about 16-17, and with a full load of crew hamburger on the rail, the pressure on the sheet, even with 4-5 wraps, is mind blowing and a safety risk to inexperienced or less-than-stout crew. 

More than 3 wraps doesn't work in drop mark racing where we need quick tacks, though we have aluminum teardrop shaped jam cleats that work in distance races.  Most of the boats in class are rigged with the cam cleats.  The little Delrin ball bearings get smoked in about a year and give up much more quickly than the jaws.  Been hesitating on putting on the metal cam cleats as they are likely to cut up the sheets pretty quickly under load, although the cleats would certainly last longer with their metal ball bearings.    

It's a very simple boat in most respects but many of its fittings are very highly leveraged.  "45 foot loads on a 35 foot boat" is how a local rigger described it and that's how the cam cleats get murdered every night in cold blood.  It's not extreme like a GP boat but there are things that could be a little dangerous for the unwary, I think.  I'm guessing you've had some personal experience on one of our sister boats.  That change your take?  I'm open to suggestions if you have any.  

 

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3 hours ago, Lex Teredo said:

I consider Harken to generally be racing gear.  The winches and blocks turn sweet as hell, the bits are usually the lightest weight for a given capacity based on my highly scientific Homo Sapiens Lift Test at West Marine, and wonderful for fast boat handling as long as they are properly rigged, kept in good shape and used within their lifecycle, and discarded at the end of it.  Kind of like a sports car, high performance, light weight, somewhat high maintenance, potentially high cost and shorter life cycle than slower and more heavily built bits. I'm getting to be a fan of Wichard roller bearing  blocks... 

Keith Bontrager's Iron Triangle for Bike Design works on boat parts too.  Light, strong, cheap - you are only allowed to have two.  

The Colin Chapman theory of design - a properly designed race car should disintegrate, completely used up, as it crosses the finish line.

I prefer much more durability - to the extent of preferring engines cast from Detroit Wonder Metal over aluminium.

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Then you're probably using the cleats beyond their designed load. Simple as that. The venerable Harken 150 has a SWL of 300 lbs. No way you can hand hold anywhere close to that. They are very sturdy. So do you just flick the sheet out of the cam cleat as you tack because you can't hold them under load?

But maybe, just maybe your winches are older and the drums are well polished so 4-5 wraps doesn't provide enough friction?? Or you're using uncovered dyneema sheets :)

On my 40' cat we would often hold the full genoa till a similar wind strength but sometimes our apparent wind was even higher. No problem hand holding the sheet with 4 turns on a #46 Andersen winch. Our genoa wasn't much smaller than a J/35 #1.

 

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1 hour ago, Lex Teredo said:

It's simple like a dinghy, like a 35 foot, 10,000 pound version of the 470, the J/35.  Has a 155 genoa on a 55' rig.  The upper end of the wind range  before dropping the #1 and going to the #3 is about 16-17, and with a full load of crew hamburger on the rail, the pressure on the sheet, even with 4-5 wraps, is mind blowing and a safety risk to inexperienced or less-than-stout crew. 

More than 3 wraps doesn't work in drop mark racing where we need quick tacks, though we have aluminum teardrop shaped jam cleats that work in distance races.  Most of the boats in class are rigged with the cam cleats.  The little Delrin ball bearings get smoked in about a year and give up much more quickly than the jaws.  Been hesitating on putting on the metal cam cleats as they are likely to cut up the sheets pretty quickly under load, although the cleats would certainly last longer with their metal ball bearings.    

It's a very simple boat in most respects but many of its fittings are very highly leveraged.  "45 foot loads on a 35 foot boat" is how a local rigger described it and that's how the cam cleats get murdered every night in cold blood.  It's not extreme like a GP boat but there are things that could be a little dangerous for the unwary, I think.  I'm guessing you've had some personal experience on one of our sister boats.  That change your take?  I'm open to suggestions if you have any. 

Self tailing winches solve a lot of what you are describing.  I raced on several J/35's around you, including the one named Bump In The Night which you'll probably know is usually crewed with 50%+ female crew who are not bruisers.  Practice goes a very long way for them and the crew has never had issues.  I've watched the female crew win tacking duals with the genoa up against other J/35's because the guys appear to be brute forcing and the women have learned to be efficient.  Similar crew was on the prior Ben36.7 BITN and again they did well.  Just a matter of learning how to time the break so that most of the sail comes in by hand, then where to be to leverage their shoulders over the job and someone tailing while someone grinds.  It is all about using your entire body to both be more powerful and protect your joints, which with practice becomes speed.

I know this post could sound contrite but honestly I think you can solve a good deal of issues here with crew practice.  Get an older, wiser sail maker onboard like Barry (used to be at Q loft, anyone know where he went, did he finally go to the N.A.?) or JB from North.  Both have amazing team organizational skills, fantastic attitudes, and are great at training people up.  I know that JB & Barry know J/35's.  Contract the cost of a practice day (not a race day) with one of them and everyone will be better for it.

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7 hours ago, P_Wop said:

Six wraps used to work for me.  No cleat, just hang on to the tail.

Now back to the topic.

 

K-III_wire_sheet.jpg

That photo makes me almost glad I never knew anyone with a boat big enough to require that stuff back in the day!

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Just one wrap of wire around the middle of his chest was enough to nearly kill someone. Weeks later his eyes were still full of popped blood vessels.

Years later he unfortunately succumbed of hypothermia when he went over the side in cold water. Pretty traumatic for his close friends, hell of a good guy

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46 minutes ago, longy said:

He's being very daring - no leather gloves

It wasn't a problem if you knew what you were doing.  I never wore gloves, as I could feel what the wire was doing a bit better without them.  And loose glove finger tips were really dangerous.

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18 minutes ago, Fiji Bitter said:

Just one wrap of wire around the middle of his chest was enough to nearly kill someone. Weeks later his eyes were still full of popped blood vessels.

Years later he unfortunately succumbed of hypothermia when he went over the side in cold water. Pretty traumatic for his close friends, hell of a good guy

Who was that?  What boat?  Not a good story.

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3 hours ago, bridhb said:

That photo makes me almost glad I never knew anyone with a boat big enough to require that stuff back in the day!

"Almost"?

Just hearing the sound of those things creaking and groaning under those immense loads would put most thinking people off sailing entirely.

Terrifying.

Did any organizations keep track of how many fingers were amputated by wire running rigging?

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If you rope cover the wire on the drum ,  your winches will last longer . Unfortunately the rope cover didn’t last too long so you were always making up new galvanized sheets and guys 

one of the hassles with wire was that you needed different length  sheets for different overlap sails 

after-guys were troublesome 

handling was also a pain . 
 Failure to layout and untwist the coil before d shackling into the clew would trap the twists  into the sheet and turn your brand new wire sheet into a curly  pigs tail when loaded 

this is how deckhands learned to make new sheets

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On 12/3/2021 at 6:14 PM, Foredeck Shuffle said:

Self tailing winches solve a lot of what you are describing.  I raced on several J/35's around you, including the one named Bump In The Night which you'll probably know is usually crewed with 50%+ female crew who are not bruisers.  Practice goes a very long way for them and the crew has never had issues.  I've watched the female crew win tacking duals with the genoa up against other J/35's because the guys appear to be brute forcing and the women have learned to be efficient.  Similar crew was on the prior Ben36.7 BITN and again they did well.  Just a matter of learning how to time the break so that most of the sail comes in by hand, then where to be to leverage their shoulders over the job and someone tailing while someone grinds.  It is all about using your entire body to both be more powerful and protect your joints, which with practice becomes speed.

I know this post could sound contrite but honestly I think you can solve a good deal of issues here with crew practice.  Get an older, wiser sail maker onboard like Barry (used to be at Q loft, anyone know where he went, did he finally go to the N.A.?) or JB from North.  Both have amazing team organizational skills, fantastic attitudes, and are great at training people up.  I know that JB & Barry know J/35's.  Contract the cost of a practice day (not a race day) with one of them and everyone will be better for it.

I hear you. We have figured a lot of that out after a few years together and the basic tacks and trim are fine 90% of the time particularly with our top crew members on board, about half of whom are female.  It's the higher wind range that's tough with the #1 and I forget about it until we have a day with steady 15kts or get a new trimmer joining from the 105s and they have their shocked face on.  With NA's coming up this year I was considering how to get us up to speed and you pushed me off the fence about it. I will call JB and ask about it.  

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6 hours ago, slug zitski said:

 

one of the hassles with wire was that you needed different length  sheets for different overlap sails 


 Failure to layout and untwist the coil before d shackling into the clew would trap the twists  into the sheet and turn your brand new wire sheet into a curly  pigs tail when loaded 

 

I was trimmer on Ondine 8 - the foredeck screwed up & put a #4 sheet on the #3. This meant I had about 12' of extra wire to handle. Very nervous while we short tacked.

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20 hours ago, longy said:

He's being very daring - no leather gloves

Your finger was going,  glove or no glove!

I used gloves when bouncing wire halyards,  (even de-hooking them every race didn't fix them),  but trimming they just weren't needed.

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