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I’ve made probably dozens of dinghy lifting bridles over the years. Most designs involve splicing the legs (usually either 3 or 4, depending on the lifting points on the dinghy) onto a central stainless steel ring. The problem with those stainless steel rings is that I’ve seen them deform when they’re loaded up. While talking to a customer today who was looking to swage his own lifting bridle out of stainless wire rope, I came up with this design for making an easy lifting bridle out of just AmSteel. It has the benefit of no deformation, and it’s soft, so you don’t have to worry about the ring bonking you on the head or dinging your dinghy.
NOTE: For two very important reasons, we’re going to use the direct bury method of splicing the AmSteel onto the 4 snaps, not a locking splice. First, you can’t do a locking splice on the end because the 2 RD (rope diameter) center eye can’t pass through the much smaller 1RD ends. Second, you may need to adjust the length of each leg to level the suspended boat. This could be due to geometry or weight distribution (e.g. outboard motor making one end heavier). The direct bury is by far the easiest splice to quickly adjust. This is also why you need to make each leg a bit longer than you might originally think when you cut your pieces.
You now have a soft eye with twice the breaking strength of the original line! Terminate each leg as desired as previously discussed.
Please feel free to post any questions/comments.
Captain Chris Larsen
With the advent of fibers like Dyneema, it’s now possible to craft things by hand with limited tools that have the same tensile strength as stainless steel parts that have to be manufactured. One of the most common things for DIYers to make is a soft shackle or “softie”. It replaces the standard stainless steel shackle that is commonly seen on both power and sailboats. Besides being able to make a shackle with less that $3 worth of AmSteel, there’s no pin to drop in the water to ruin your day. Whenever I do deliveries, I always have a pair of soft shackles hanging from my belt loops, just in case. Properly made, an AmSteel soft eye has more than twice the strength of the line itself, which boggles my mind. Soft shackles are commonly used to attach jib sheets to the clew of the sail, assuming there is an eye spliced into the forward ends of the jib sheets.
As an overview, making a soft shackle uses many of the same skills as splicing AmSteel, with the addition of topping it off with a lanyard (aka diamond) knot. The directions below will result in a soft shackle that’s approximately 10″ long, made from 36″ of 3/16″ AmSteel. I wanted the length of AmSteel that you start with to be something that was easy to purchase (i.e. we sell AmSteel by the foot). This means that toward the end of the procedure, when you’ll be tying the lanyard (diamond) knot, the tails will be rather short. This was done intentionally to reduce waste.
We highly recommend being very familiar with tying the lanyard knot before attempting this procedure since it’s unnecessarily challenging to attempt the knot with short tails (or you can start with a piece of AmSteel that is at least 4′ long). NOTE: the dimensions given below are strictly for making a soft shackle from 3/16″ AmSteel. The dimensions will need to be scaled up or down depending on the specific rope diameter used and the finished length of the shackle desired. When in doubt, just start with a piece of AmSteel that looks too long. There is also a very interesting soft shackle calculator on L-36.com (a third of the way down the page).
The reason this is called an “improved” shackle is that there are a few other methods of making soft shackles. Some are rated as weaker constructions and some get considerably difficult to use as they get older and exposed to salt water. Some guys much smarter than me have worked up this design and have thoroughly tested it, proving that it’s a superior shackle. On the retail side of things, these shackles can go from about $15-$30, depending on size.
Congratulations! Your soft shackle is now ready for service. Please feel free to post any comments/questions. Note that the shackle could still have some movement until it’s fully loaded up, hence the tails are there to keep it from falling apart. Since we’re stuck with some amount of tails, some people just fray them out, which also makes the tails harder to get sucked back through the knot. I can tell you from first hand experience that when your soft shackles make a trip through the laundry cycle, they’ll definitely be frayed…
Captain Chris Larsen
P.S. Once you master making a soft shackle, you can really take it up a notch and make one of these:
Over the years, I’ve run charters in the BVI over a dozen times, hung out with Kid Rock and Kenny Chesney at a bar, and even officiated a wedding in international waters. On board, we’ve had everything from steak and baked potatoes to bananas foster, from rum drinks mixed with freshly harvested coconut water to lobster fettuccine alfredo. I was even hired to bring a band from island to island for a 50th wedding anniversary flotilla. I loved my first trip to the BVI so much, I tried to buy the Spirit of Anegada, a 39′ gaff rigged daysail charter boat, but ran into problems because of my American citizenship. I think the British are still a bit miffed about that whole independence thing. By the way, the Coke is more expensive than the rum down there. Anyway, here are some observations for people contemplating their first trip to the BVI.
The British Virgin Islands is the number one sailing vacation destination in the world, for good reason. The weather is relatively consistent, you’re never far from civilization as the islands have sufficient infrastructure for most of your needs, and the sailing primarily consists of short hops from island to island that are the equivalent to sailing around the San Juans. A four to six hour sail is pretty standard for any given day. Remember, they want you on a mooring ball by 5PM. The BVI has just enough of a different culture to feel exotic, but is not remote enough to feel like you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere. The USVI feels just like you’re in America, with strip malls, big box stores, etc. For a sailor, a vacation in the BVI will feel like a fantasy in paradise, with breathtaking vistas everywhere you look. Because it’s so easy to sail there, you can have the confidence to relax and plot the course for your own bareboat vacation. Even though everything under the waterline is a national marine sanctuary, the British allow you to pump your head directly overboard. Keep this in mind when taking your morning swim, because the boat upwind of you might be taking advantage of that policy.
Hurricane season starts at the beginning of June and lasts until November. During those months, discounts are available for the “low season”, but you run the risk of getting rained on. You can get cancellation insurance with some charter companies that might cover this contingency.
Holidays are also “high season”, but the weeks before Thanksgiving, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the weeks after New Years are priced reasonably. May is considered “high season” also, but you can take your chances and sneak into June if you’re lucky. I once had a monsoon start pouring on us just as we were stepping on the plane to leave during the first week of June.
The Moorings & Sunsail are the premier charter companies in the world. They get new boats and have a lot of amenities where throngs of people vacation. Their bases look like Ellis Island during WWI. They also treat you like a number. If you’re fine with paying for new boats and huge clubhouses, then fine. We charter with the second-hand fleets that get the Moorings/Sunsail boats when they’re retired after five years (i.e. BVI Yacht Charters, Footloose, etc.). There are trade-offs. The boats are older, and a bit more beat up, but they’re also “broken in” and considerably less expensive. We met a group at Foxy’s on Jost Van Dyke who had a brand new boat, and all kinds of things were going wrong with it.
Some of these companies also have referral and/or repeat customer discounts, so they get even cheaper when you do it again. Some companies will limit where you can go (i.e. Anegada), but some don’t seem to care. If you want to do a “crossing” over to Anegada (14 miles due North from Bitter End Yacht Club), then make sure your company will allow you to do so (by the way, it’s worth the trip). Discounts are available everywhere for Sunsail charters, but if their original prices are high enough, then the discount just puts them back in the same ballpark. Different companies have a different number of bases and locations, so if you want to go to Tahiti or Antigua, and a repeat customer discount would help you in the future, you might want to take that into consideration.
On a slightly unrelated note, we use credit cards that have airline miles associated with them, so if you use a Continental credit card to book the charter, then the miles will help offset the price of airfare to get down there. If you don’t rack up enough miles for that trip, you might at least get enough miles every other, or every third trip, depending on usage.
Monohull vs. Catamaran
Monohulls give you a very “salty” feel when you’re sailing in the Caribbean. They heel over and you really get to plow through the waves like Blackbeard and Sir Francis Drake. Some people like this, and some don’t. Monohulls will point a bit better, but have slower speeds, so it can tend to be a wash. Monohulls have less interior volume, so depending on the size of your party, that may be a factor. If you get a monohull with two staterooms, the one aft will be much roomier than if you get a three cabin model. Monohulls will rock more when you’re on a mooring ball. If you’re used to sailing a monohull, then chartering one may make you feel a bit more confident on your vacation. Monohulls have a deeper draft, so be careful if you go to Anegada in one. Tacking a large monohull is just like tacking a small one. You bring the jib over as it’s luffing.
Catamarans are big, in all ways. They’re wide, which means they have a lot of interior volume for lots of amenities. There are more cabins, more heads, and more privacy. They’re also a bit tricky to maneuver. They have two engines and twin throttle controls. This allows you more maneuverability, but also makes it harder to see the corners. They don’t point quite as well. On the other hand, they have full-roach main sails, which grab more wind and scoot you along faster. This additional speed can make up for the larger angle of attack. Cats are great for larger parties, people unused to sailboats heeling, people looking for more comfort and amenities, and kids. Cats draw almost no water, so there’s no problem if you decide to sail to Anegada. Tacking a catamaran can be tricky. Make sure you get up your boat speed, then allow the jib to backwind to help push you through the tack. Once you’re safely on the other tack, you can bring the jib across. The jibsheets tend to snag on the winch at the base of the mast that’s used to set the mainsail, so keep the lazy sheet tight as the jib comes across. Because there’s very little ballast on a catamaran and lots of freeboard/windage, there’s very little momentum to push you through the tack. One of the biggest benefits of a catamaran is the extra cabin will undoubtedly provide another couple to defray the cost of the charter with. Also, catamarans often have tiny cabins in the bows that are perfect for kids.
Both boats usually have stack packs for housing the main sail. Furling mainsails have been phased out because of jamming problems. Most boats also have lazy jacks, so raising and lowering the mainsail while motoring directly upwind is critical to keep the battens from fouling. Both boats use the same systems on board. The 12V batteries, head, propane stove, etc. are identical.
One way to get to the BVI is to fly into St. Thomas, then take a ferry over to Tortola. This lets you see a bit more stuff while you’re waiting to be ferried around, but nothing terribly spectacular. The ferry schedule can be on “island time”, which means if you’ve got any time constraints, it can be a little anxiety inducing. The ferry is also how locals get to and from work and get all their purchases back to the BVI from Costco, so the ferry won’t leave until they’re done loading all of the goods the locals have purchased. You’ll still have to take a taxi from the ferry landing to the charter base, as it’s a long, confusing way to drag your luggage.
Our preferred way to get there is to fly to Puerto Rico, then grab a prop plane to Beef Island. The layovers in Puerto Rico can be long, but that’s where they make Bacardi rum, so it’s not too bad. The puddle jumper can be a bit scary, but the views out the windows are pretty enough to take your mind off the noise and smell of exhaust. Beef Island has a pretty short runway that starts right at the water’s edge, so it can be exciting. Once you land and go through Customs, you’ll need to grab a taxi around to the charter base. This can actually be a pretty exciting experience. The roads are narrow and twisty, there are herds of goats and other domesticated critters to negotiate. We’ve also seen very colorful funerals happening in the cemeteries along the side of the road.
Tortola – The main island of the BVI chain.
Cooper Island/Salt Island
Virgin Gorda - North Sound is where Sir Francis Drake gathered his fleet before attacking the Spanish Armada in Puerto Rico. On your way out of North Sound, you can see Necker Island, Sir Richard Branson’s private island so keep an eye out for his submarine.
Anegada – Means “drowned island” in Spanish. It’s a decent daysail across to the only coral island in the BVI chain. As a result, it’s so flat that the only thing you see for miles are palm trees and the occasional roof. It’s well worth the trip, but be careful. It’s very shallow, so make sure you follow the buoys marking the channel and mooring field. Luckily, the sandy bottom is easy to get off if needed. A lot of people run aground there, so just be careful. They have a webcam. There are some very entertaining videos on YouTube that feature people attempting to anchor in the mooring field.
Jost Van Dyke – A very cool island with lots to do. Get there early, as the mooring balls get grabbed up fast in the four main mooring fields. Probably my favorite island on the itinerary.
Sandy Cay – the island featured in the opening scene of Gilligan’s Island. Strolling along the beach, hiking through the vegetation and snorkeling are the primary activities.
Marina Cay – Home of Happy Argh and the third Pusser’s Company Store to get your passport stamped. There’s a really pretty shallow lagoon to snorkel in and both bars have a great view. There’s some history to check out while you’re there. You can get your picture taken every thirty seconds out on the fuel dock and retrieve it online when you get home via the timestamp. They have a webcam.
What to Take
Conclusion – Many people walk away from a week in the BVI saying it was the best vacation they’ve ever had. It’s very beautiful and readily accessible for people with a wide range of sailing experience. Done properly, it can safe, fun, and you’ll come home with a tan and lots of souvenirs. It can be done by a whole family, or just a couple. Many people use the BVI as their destination for weddings, family reunions, get-togethers with friends, or just a romantic get-away for a couple.
Stay tuned. In our next installment, now that you know what the BVI has to offer, is how to figure out your itinerary with so many great things to see and do. After that, how I grab a mooring ball and tie the boat up for the night.
Captain Chris Larsen
A few years ago, I cracked open my monthly American Sailing Association Instructor Newsletter and saw a great article about how to rig your Windex. I was immediately struck by the fact that most people look at rigging their Windex in a completely one-sided way. The common viewpoint on Windex setup is to demystify the ability of a sailboat to go upwind, but having taught on San Francisco Bay in a 21′ sailboat, I felt that stressing safety might be considerably more important.
Sometimes, a Windex is rigged with the two arms/tabs arranged pointing forward and they’re 90° to each other. This is a great visual for the “No Go Zone”, the sectors 45° on each side of the wind that a sailboat can’t sail up into. It’s where the sail stalls and reflects the standard 90° tacking angle. For beginning sailors, this is an important visual reference for sailing the boat properly upwind, knowing when you’re pinching too high, and when you can stop your turn after the tack. It’s a great way for students to reinforce the wind direction they’re feeling with a way to quantify that with the handy dandy instrument at the top of the mast. If your Windex is setup this way, then the wind vane’s arrowhead will be inside the arms of the “No Go Zone” angle when you point too high. In this case, the arrow would be reversed from the image above. If the arms/tabs are pointed aft to increase visibility from the cockpit, then the image above would indicate the boat is heading directly upwind.
It’s also very common for that angle to not be at 90°. Whether it was installed improperly, got tweaked while trailering the boat, or a seagull has decided to adjust it for you, they’re often not quite right for whatever reason. I often jokingly tell students that most boats tack at 90° and if you spend a million dollars on your boat, you can get that down to 80° or less, but the standard textbook answer is about 90°.
When I finished that article, I thought it was a great discussion about upwind performance, but what about safety? When I teach, I have the following hierarchy of imperatives: Be Safe, Have Fun, Learn to Sail. Without being safe, you can’t have fun, and without having fun, what’s the point of taking a sailing class? With safety being the top priority, what’s the largest source of potential danger on a sailboat? An accidental jibe (aka crash jibe).
The Windex can alternatively be setup as a visual indicator of what we call the “Caution Zone”. Notice we’re not going with “Danger Zone” here. Accidental jibing is definitely a potential hazard to be aware of, but obviously we don’t want to scare the students off in a Sailing 101 type course. The “Caution Zone” is approximately a 60° arc directly downwind where the wind can sneak around the back side of the sail and cause you to accidentally crash jibe, especially if you’re going over any substantial waves that drastically affect the wind’s angle of attack. In this case, with the arms aft, the arrowhead of your wind vane will be inside the arms of the Windex as it point into the apparent wind coming from behind the boat, once again opposite of the image above.
I think this is an important option to consider when rigging your Windex. In all fairness, another very powerful visual indicator that you’ve entered the “Caution Zone” is that the jib dips or “winks” because it’s being shadowed by the mainsail. However, if you’re on a boat without a jib, there would be no indicator, so the Windex would be even more important.
Regardless of how you setup your Windex, I think it’s important to know your options. I always like to know the “Why” behind everything we do on sailboats.
Captain Chris Larsen
Over the years, I’ve made a lot of standing and running rigging for Transpac racers. From sleek little rocket sleds to boats you might expect to see a family cruising the San Juans on, they usually invest in new rigging for the rigors of the 2,200 mile trip from LA to Diamond Head. A lot of the boats that do this kind of long-distance, open ocean racing have adjustable backstays and/or running backstays. This allows the sailor to put more or less tension on the mast to affect the shape of the mainsail and jib, support the mast bend, reduce pumping, etc. In the old days, these might have been made from 7×19 wire rope since they often have to bend over some kind of block. As that wire gets older, the strands break, making nasty little barbs that will tear through anything they encounter (e.g. sails, lines, fingers, etc.). Now, we have the benefit of high tech fiber rigging like AmSteel and its numerous 12 strand single braid brethren. This is in essence an economical way to build PBO rigging yourself.
Some additional benefits of using fiber vs. wire are factors like fatigue (a material’s tendency to get more brittle after it has been bent), weight aloft which reduces the keel’s effectiveness, not to mention the ability for the sailor to splice a new one while underway instead of carrying swaging equipment.
AmSteel has some UV resistance from the colored coating it comes from the factory with, but Spectra has very little unless you coat it with MaxiJacket or similar product. There is a product called VPE – Vectran with a Polyethylene coating (basically heat shrink) that is very popular for making running backs. The coating is there to protect the Vectran fibers from UV damage. You can make your own VPE from AmSteel and heat shrink tubing if needed. Here is the procedure for making your own adjustable backstay bridle or running backs. These are just a length of AmSteel with an eye spliced onto a heavy duty stainless steel thimble on both ends and the whole thing is covered in heat shrink.
We highly recommend being very proficient with the regular AmSteel splices (e.g. Brummel Lock and Modified Brummel Lock) before attempting this procedure. It is considerably more difficult to build the second end with the first eye and the heat shrink complicating matters. We also recommend practicing rolling an eye splice onto a thimble to get the knack for sizing the eye to the thimble and getting the splice onto the thimble.
We’re going to focus on just doing one end first. We’ll deal with the second end later in the procedure. Do not jump ahead and do anything to the second end until directed. We’re also going to leave the AmSteel long before determining where the finished length cut will be because we have to determine the shrinkage factor of the splices. If you’re not splicing off the spool, cut your AmSteel about five feet longer than your finished length. It may seem a bit wasteful, but it’s a cheap insurance policy to make sure your finished product is right. Plus, you can always use a piece of AmSteel for something.
30′ x 12″ = 360″ x 0.46% = 1-5/8″ stretch
Finished length + 1/2 thimble + tail bury – shrinkage
30′ + 2-1/2″ + 9″ -1-5/8″ = 30′ 9-7/8″
NOTE: Do not perform the bury part of the splice. If the finished eye is not the right size, you’ll be able to more easily redo the splice. Make sure you can roll the eye tightly over the thimble before burying the taper. Also, the Brummel lock is also considerably more difficult to do with the heat shrink over the eye. Make sure you dramatically enlarge the inverted part of the splice to wrestle the eye through. Be careful not to damage the heat shrink during the splicing process.
NOTE: When taking the load off the assembled line and transporting it out to the boat, do not bend or coil the line any more than absolutely necessary. This will relax the fibers and cause the line to draw back up, undoing the effect of loading it up overnight and possibly making it more difficult to install.
Congratulations! You’re done. Now you’re ready to install it onto the boat. Remember that since you accounted for the stretch, it might be a tight fit. Please feel free to post comments and/or questions.
Captain Chris Larsen
When you’re on a sailboat delivery, there are long stretches where the crew has plenty of time to discuss all kinds of stuff. Once, on the way up the West Coast, we were talking about developing an app to calculate tacking angles underway. This involves the angle that the individual boat can tack through the wind (around 90°, but each boat is different) and the direction the apparent wind is coming from with respect to the intended course.
The simplest scenario is to assume the boat tacks 90° through the wind and that the wind is coming directly down the course, so you’re trying to make progress directly upwind. For the purposes of the spreadsheet below, that means the Wind Angle = 0°. If we use 1 nautical mile as the unit of measurement to step out the course, that means that you have to sail 0.71 nm on one tack, then 0.71 nm on the other tack, or a total distance of 1.41 nm to accomplish a Distance Made Good (DMG), or progress toward the destination, of 0.87 nm. At a boat speed of 6 knots, that means 7.1 minutes on each tack, so 14.2 min to make up that 0.87 nm. This makes the velocity made good (VMG), or speed toward the goal, 3.7 knots (nautical miles per hour).
To illustrate how the Wind Angle factors into the equation, if the apparent wind is at 45° to the course and your boat tacks 90° through the wind, then you can stay close-hauled directly to the destination. This means you don’t need to tack and can sail 0.71 nm for a DMG of 7.1 nm at 6 knots in 7.1 min.
|Wind||Angle||Tack 1||Tack 2||DMG||Tot Dist||Speed||Time 1||Time 2||Total|
To put the boat tacking angle into perspective, if boat A can tack 85° through the wind and boat B tacks 90°, boat A points much higher and will have to sail 0.5 nm less and arrive at the destination 30 seconds sooner. That’s a huge advantage, which is why there are so many tweaks to a boat to make it point better.
The spreadsheet below will calculate the above scenarios. In addition, it factors in several other tacking angles in 5° increments. The inputs are Wind and Speed. All of the other fields are calculated.
Click here for the Tacking Angle Calculator Spreadsheet.
I never actually got around to making this an app, but the spreadsheet was an interesting exercise in geometery. It could easily be written as a script embedded in a website page that could be accessed with a smartphone. And this is a PHP site. Hmmm…
Captain Chris Larsen
There are a few tools that I keep in my little duffle bag that I take down to the docks with me to make my life easier. You may or may not have seen these or even know they exist. Here’s a few of them. Please note that I’m not endorsing any of the websites listed below (except Go2Marine.com of course), I just wanted to give you a jump start on where to pick them up if you felt so inclined.
When you’re installing hardware up the mast while hanging in a bosun’s chair, the last thing you need to be doing is drilling a hole then manually trying to align the tap square to the mast and doing the tap dance. These bits ingeniously drill the correct sized pilot hole and then immediately tap the hole for you. I infinitely prefer tapping holes for hardware rather than riveting them and this makes the job considerably easier.
We splice a lot of AmSteel, I mean a lot. When doing your taper and you’ve got your 12 strands all splayed out on the table, these guys nip right through ‘em. One word of caution though, the nut on the side of the nippers has to be the exact right tightness otherwise either it won’t cut those tough little fibers or it won’t move at all. Also, they come packaged with a lot of oil on them to keep the steel from rusting. With that being said though, these little nippers will help you blaze through your Dyneema splices like a pro.
Forget American Express, don’t leave home without your Leatherman Wingman. Over the years, I’ve used just about every multi-tool out there. The marine environment is very harsh on these little guys. Any corrosion and either they won’t fold properly or the blades don’t swing out, etc. I’ve had my Wingman for a few years now and there’s not a speck of rust on it. One of the main things I like about this little guy is that the pliers are sprung open. There’s nothing worse while hanging from a bosun’s chair and have to use both hands to open your pliers for every crimp connection you do for installing that masthead light.
The reason I love this particular screwdriver is that it has a triangular handle. What? Have you ever tried to crank down on something with a round handled screwdriver and the grip rotates in your hand before it transfers the torque to the intended recipient? Not with this little guy. I’ll strip the phillips head out of a stainless steel machine screw before my grip slips. I will tell you that the bits are prone to corroding in a marine environment, but it’s easy to take precautions to alleviate that little problem.
Tired of rolling your thumb on that silly little screw to open and close your adjustable wrench? This sweet little wrench has a super-easy sliding mechanism that can go from all the way open to all the way closed in less than a second. Easy-peasy…
What do you do if that old nut won’t come off while you’re trying to install that sweet new furling unit you got at the boat show? Your adjustable wrench is just rounding over the nut and you’ve birdcaged your old forestay. Gotta torch it! Nothing’s more masculine than a blowtorch. To make taking it up a notch that much easier, get one that has a piezo electric ignition. You’ve got one on the grill at home, might as well follow suit out on the dock…
Watching a young rigger climb a mast like a monkey can be quite entertaining, but what if want to go up your own mast and you’re not quite as spry as you once were? It’s also not easy as you would think to find someone that will crank you up the mast with a 12″ winch handle. The answer is “purchase” or mechanical advantage. With a set of these blocks, you only have to pull 25% of your weight to become self-sufficient. To minimize the strain while you’re switching your grip, turn the ratchet on and take a rest. It will securely hold you with minimal effort while you take your time ascending. Make sure to turn the ratchet off so you can come back down. These single blocks can bolt together with nylon lock nuts to get that 4:1. Remember, the drawback to a 4:1 purchase is that you’ll need to buy 4x your mast height in line. The good news is that you’ll recoup that the first time you don’t have to hire a rigger.
Did I mention we splice a lot of AmSteel? These guys make the job much easier. The small needle is for anything less than 1/4″ and the big guy is for 1/4″ and up. They’re very well made and beat the heck out of fashioning one from seizing wire.
If we’re not splicing AmSteel, we’re probably splicing three strand. These PHids are considerably better than any other fid on the market. Most fids are too pointy and pierce the strands. These are nice and blunt, so you can dig between the strands. They’re extremely well made. They come in two sizes and make building your own dock lines a snap.
That’s enough for today. Feel free to post any questions and/or comments and make sure to tell us about your cool tool suggestions.
Captain Chris Larsen
Many years before I became a “Certified Rigging Specialist”, I was a “professional” rigger, meaning that people actually paid me to do splicing for them. My first “job” was to do all of the splicing for Austin Yacht Club on Lake Travis, smack dab in the middle of Texas. My “shop” consisted of my living room and my coffee table and I had to tie the rope to my doorknob to pull the splices together. I taught myself how to splice after a hours of research on the internet. The procedure I used to do my first “successful” splices left my hands bloody and if there was a shackle involved, actually risked breaking bones in my hand. It was a pretty rough way to earn a few extra bucks doing something I supposedly loved.
Fast forward a few years and I took an after hours splicing class at a local chandlery in California. We spent an hour on three strand and an hour on double braid. It was SO much easier than the way I’d been doing it, and it was actually fun. No blood, no bruises, contusions or lacerations. I’m hooked! Why wasn’t this procedure somewhere on the internet? One of the sites I had visited was for Boy Scouts. If a 200 pound guy was having trouble pulling his splices together, what was a 100 pound kid supposed to do?
Fast forward another couple of years and I heard through the grapevine that there was an opening in the rig shop department of that chandlery. I would potentially be working for the guy who had taught me that splicing class. I immediately submitted my resume and bugged the rig shop manager constantly about hiring me since I was in the chandlery all the time as a customer anyway. He eventually acquiesced and I started as the newbie in the rig shop. This is basically the modern day equivalent of being an apprentice. You can’t really do any of the fun stuff because you haven’t had time to learn or practice it yet. It’s the classic conundrum, you don’t get to do any orders because you don’t have any experience and you can’t get experience because you’re not allowed to do any of the orders. That’s when the now infamous Lake Tahoe order came in. I’ve referenced this event numerous times because it was a pivotal point in my rigging career. Because the shop couldn’t afford to not have me working on that many splices (300 mooring pennants times two splices each), I was quickly thrust into the role of double braid eye splice specialist. My manager inspected the first few dozen splices and after that I was good to go.
Keep in mind that if you have that many splices to do, you want to do them in the most efficient way possible without sacrificing quality. This is how we hammered out the procedure that I still use to this day and have documented in the How-To: Splicing category. It is in every way faster and easier than any other splicing procedure out there on the internet. Now you may reasonably suspect that there must be a trade-off if it’s an order of magnitude easier to follow than all of the other procedures, but my splices have been sent off and tested by two major rope manufacturers and they’ve all passed with flying colors. Slight disclaimer: the splicing procedure(s) that I use are not necessarily the exact step-by-step in those manufacturers splicing handbooks, but the proof is definitely in the pudding as they’ve all been tested to well over 100% of the breaking strength of the respective line.
So after the dust settled and the Lake Tahoe order had shipped, it was time for me to do my certification splices. I obviously felt pretty good about my Class I double braid splice, but there were 11 other splices I had to do perfectly times 3 slings each times two splices per sling. This was a pretty daunting task and took me probably almost 40 hours to accomplish over the next few weeks. If one can stop being self-absorbed enough from the task of learning and doing all of those splices, one would realize that this is a pretty hefty investment by the rig shop in the newbie. Years later I became the manager of a rig shop and it was my turn to train the newbies and invest in them so they could return that investment many times over.
To me, the secret to being a good teacher is to always keep in mind what it feels like to not know what you’re trying to teach. Each splice is mystifying when it’s first shown to you. Your brain gets overloaded with this new information and each splice has its own frustrating steps. The friction that will eventually hold the splice together fights you tooth and nail while you’re building the splice. Each finished splice is a small yet satisfying victory. Also, the art and science of splicing harkens back to the sailors of a bygone era. I thrive on these old-school skills, which is why I also taught myself celestial navigation. In addition to teaching my guys how to do all of these splices, we also often do splicing classes for customers during the off-season. It’s very gratifying to see people’s eyes light up when they get it. Their splices have gone from a mess of fibers splayed out on the bench to an actual recognizable eye.
I am often asked by the folks higher up in the corporate ladder why on earth would we teach customers for free how to do something that we charge for. My answer is always the same and is easy because it’s true. For every person that takes the splicing class and gets it and is now free to go off and splice their own dock lines, there are nine folks that walk out of the class and tell me “Now I know why I pay you to do this for me.” They’re very happy to let us do their splicing for them, saving them hours of frustration and biffed splices.
When I teach the double braid splice, the very first thing I tell everyone is to not jump ahead of the demonstration. Some people think they know the next step and they invariably snip off something they’re going to need in a few minutes and I have to give them the “I told you so” eyebrow look. But the best part of the class is when we finish building the splice and I get to say “This is when the magic happens.” This is the step when you actually pull the splice together. We’ve all heard the adage “You can’t push a rope”, but when you pull the double braid splice together that’s precisely what you’re doing. In effect, you’re pushing the rope down inside of itself. It’s actually very non-intuitive. I still get a tiny thrill to this day every time I pull a double braid splice together.
Anyway, my certification splices all came back stamped “PASS” with a little certificate from the factory, which was pretty cool. We hung it up on the wall in the rig shop to assure the customers that they were in good hands. Years later, I started doing all of the splicing for another company that bought their rope from another manufacturer. So guess what? I had to do another whole set of certification splices for them. When I did the first set, I was just a newbie, so there was a reasonable expectation that I would pass. This time, I was actually hired as a rigger so the expectation was that of course I’d pass this round, so the pressure was enormous. To make matters worse, it takes weeks for the results to come back. To make things even more interesting, the new manufacturer had their own procedures for splicing their rope, so I had to swallow my pride and set aside the methods that I’d been using for years and really focus on doing things their way. When they tear your slings apart, they do a post-mortem on them and if your marks aren’t in the right places, you fail. It was once again time to feel that frustration of being the newbie, even if it was self-inflicted.
Now I’m starting a new journey. My background has always been in recreational sailing splices. Now I’m working for a company that also does a ton of splicing for commercial fisherman. Where I was once doing splices on teeny tiny ropes for racers, I’m now doing splices on gigantic lines. I remember the first time I spliced 1-1/4″ Duralon, it was by far the largest line I’d ever spliced. It was like wrestling an anaconda. It even required a new style of fid that I had to learn how to use because when you get up to line of that size, the fid would be the size of an aluminum baseball bat.
Anyway, the moral of this story, if there is one, is that whether you’re learning the three strand splice for the first time, or you’ve been a professional rigger for 10 years and now you’re learning how to splice gigantic polypropylene for commercial fisherman, there’s always something new to learn and there’s always an opportunity to feel like like a newbie again. Enjoy that feeling because it means you’re alive and moving forward, regardless of where you are on the learning curve.
Captain Chris Larsen
Splicing is what they call a perishable skill. Use it or lose it. I remember thinking that after doing those 600 splices for the Lake Tahoe order, I would never forget how to do a Class I double braid splice. After taking a few of life’s turns, I found myself writing software for a few years, then getting back into the rigging game. I remember sitting there staring at that nylon dock line second guessing myself on that first splice. Was it two short fids and one long fid or vice versa? Anyway, I quickly got my groove back and the rest is history.
Learning these splices is definitely a challenge in and of itself. When doing a standard splice, you’re usually building the splice on the tail of the spool, meaning the only pressure to do the splice right is the loss of a few minutes of billable time and a few feet of rope. The real pressure comes when it’s time to cut the splice off the spool. If the line that was built only has a splice on one end, you just throw it on the bench, measure, cut and whip the end. But what if there’s supposed to be a splice on the other end?
Cutting the other end is one of the scariest things a rigger does in the shop (not counting climbing masts and stuff down on the docks). If you biff the location of the cut, you’ve not only wasted the time and rope in the splice, but you’ve generated a possibly unsaleable remnant in the process. In order to figure out where to make the cut, you have to take the finished length of the final desired product, and reverse engineer the rope needed to build the splice. This has to include “shrinkage”, the amount rope contracts inside the splice because it’s now two rope diameters thick at the base of the splice and tapers down to one rope diameter. The only way to determine that is to measure how much the first splice contracted while you built it. That means establishing a reference point somewhere on the standing part, then after the splice is done you measure the new distance to the reference point and subtract the “knowns”, the length of the tail, the length in the eye, etc. There will always be a few inches difference, and that is your “shrinkage”.
When you build the splices that you send off to the factory for testing and hopeful certification, you have to build a bunch of “slings” out of all their different types of rope (e.g. three strand, double braid, single braid, high tech core, polypropylene, etc.). These slings are made to exact specifications because they have to put them on their machine that pulls them apart and measures how hard it had to pull. This is how they test the strength of your eye splices. This is measured against the published breaking strength of the rope. To have your splices pass, your slings must be at least 100% of the breaking strength of the rope. They can even go as high as 113%, which is pretty cool if you think about it. Anyway, the real pressure when building your certification slings is to properly create a finished product that’s exactly the right length with exactly the right sized eyes. Then you get to wait weeks while they put your slings in the queue to be tested and then get back to your (or your boss) with the results.
So here you are with your spliced line, run out on the bench, still attached to the spool. This is the epitome of the measure twice, cut once philosophy. You’ve made your measurements, reverse engineered your splice and accounted for shrinkage. The only way to move forward with the order is to make the leap of faith that you’ve done it correctly and you make the cut. The only way to know if you’ve done it correctly is to go ahead and build the second splice. Keep in mind that during those few minutes that you’re doing the splice, the suspense is killing you. You can almost hear the dramatic music in the background as you lay the finished product on the test bench tape measure. If you’ve done it right, you should be reasonably close, plus or minus a tug on the rope for a little stretch factor.
Take all of that into account, now add to it the fact that I’ve never actually been able to quantify a certain aspect of splicing. The shrinkage is pretty standard, you add 5″ for 3/4″ line and away you go. The thing that still boggles my mind is the relative location of the marks you make on the core. The marks are a standard part of the splicing procedure. However, when it comes time to cut the core off right before you pull the splice together, the location you make your cut never seems to have any relationship to the standardized marks you’ve made previously on the core to build the splice. On those 600 splices I made for the Lake Tahoe order, that all came out exactly the same every time, every single time I lopped the core off, it was in a different spot on the core with respect to the marks. I guess this is what they call Chaos Theory and why splicing will never get boring for me. There’s always new stuff to learn.
Captain Chris Larsen
It struck me as I’ve been writing up all of these articles on how to do all of these splices that even though they all take up the same amount of brain cells, I don’t do them all with the same frequency. I decided to jot down all of the splices that we offer and rank them via the percentage of how often we have to crank them out. It becomes quickly obvious that 75% of our splices we do are just four different procedures. Take a look at the spreadsheet below and keep in mind that even if we only use a splice 1% of the time, we still offer it and we have to train newbies on it eventually. Obviously, we focus on our bread and butter splices and we get really good at them very quickly due to demand.
My first order when I first started in a rig shop in California was to make all 300 mooring pennants for Lake Tahoe. That’s 600 Class I double braid splices onto 600 thimbles, with 600 whips. I got really good at that splice really fast. The mooring pennants came in three different lengths, 15′, 20′, and 25′. We had a joke in the rig shop, especially for the new guys, to make the long pennants first because if you biffed the second splice, you could always make a shorter pennant from the remnant. The reason why the second splice was so critical was that the first splice was done off the spool. If you biffed that one, then you could just cut it off and write off those few feet.
|3 Strand Eye||20|
|Rope to Chain||15|
|Hi Tech Double Braid||8.5|
|End for End||1|
|Wire to Rope||0.5|
Now let’s talk about the splices we don’t do. I had a guy come in who worked for NOAA who wanted to suspend some heavy duty depth-sounding equipment from a tripod made out of AmSteel. Now I’d been working in a rig shop for a few years at this point, and I was pretty sure that ropes usually have two ends. I was a bit flummoxed as to how I was supposed to make a splice with three ends. So I ran over to a 7-Eleven, grabbed the largest Coke Slurpee they offered, and once I got over the massive brain-freeze, started to splice. This is what I came up with:
I spliced a tapered end of AmSteel into another piece so that the taper resided in the eye of the other splice. Does that make sense? I determined what part of the second line would be the eye and spliced the first piece into that. Then when I completed a regular splice on the second piece, all three legs were locked into each other. Whew! Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished. He was so happy with the prototype splice that he ordered six of them. From there on out, I was given all of the “impossible” splices. That’s just about the same time they trained me on the wire to rope splice. UGH!
Captain Chris Larsen