Ropes & Blocks

I must confess that for the past few weeks I’ve been strutting the pontoon gleefully looking at all the boats yet to be lifted and cleaned; knowing I have the boat with probably the smoothest and cleanest bum (below water area) in the marina. We have already had a few very pleasant sojourns out of the marina as the odd warm day has snuck out from a relatively mild winter – and oh my what a difference a smooth, clean bottom makes.

With time on my hands before I can seriously begin cleaning the topsides and redoing the varnish (again!!!) in readiness for the start to the season, I have been looking for a mini project to keep me occupied and below the radar of ‘The Admiral’ (alias Mrs Selsey). Since replacing all the running rigging (halyards, sheets and mooring lines) almost five years ago, my maintenance regime has been non-existent apart from ensuring they were meticulously coiled when not in use. All my best intentions of removing the sheets from the furling headsail and boom when putting the boat to bed have sadly gone by the wayside. The ropes are once again looking very sad as they have been left coiled over the cockpit winches and on the side-deck gathering grime and dirt, turning a rather nasty shade of green.

Mini project identified – wash all running rigging. Yet again – easily said! Once you get started, it’s not really a mini project but another minefield of do’s and don’ts to get my poor old head around. All too aware I could become a ‘rope bore’ I won’t subject you to my reams of research notes, so here is a brief summary.

A few facts: never wash a new rope, they are treated at manufacture with coatings and protectants – washing, even with mild detergents destroys these, thus shortening the life of the rope. Due to its rather soft and lose construction, the inner core of new double-braid dock line washed in a machine can herniate through the outer shell – ouch, sounds rather painful! Quite unbelievably and bearing in mind the abuse they get whilst being used, but in a machine wash rope splices can come loose unless whipped and stitched. Most ropes in one form or another are vulnerable to overly vigorous washing. It will always be preferential to give them a good light scrubbing with a brush if you must and leave it at that. This was all music to the ears of The Admiral as I had been hell bent on getting the instructions out for the washing machine (we’ve only had it 10 years)!

What I gleaned from most of what I read is that if you must wash a rope in a machine, think twice; are you willing to ruin the rope and heaven forbid the machine as well? If so, then take sensible and proven precautions: whip and stitch all the splices or they’ll come loose, whip or thoroughly melt and fuse all rope ends, cover shackles with old socks to protect the machine (damage certainly wouldn’t go down well) and the shackle, always coil tightly or daisy chain the rope, and package the rope in a pillowcase. Skip the pillowcase and expect both rope and machine damage. And certainly, use the gentle cycle. If the gentle cycle doesn’t do, soak first and then scrub a bit by hand.

As for soaps, cleaners and chemicals, ordinary laundry detergents at ordinary doses are fine for older ropes (remember—you shouldn’t be washing new ropes) and an extended soak in a mild detergent really helps soften stains without risking damage. Bleach didn’t do much that the sun won’t do and poses much greater risk. Acid is deadly to ropes; don’t even consider it.

Follow these simple rules, and I’m sure you’ll be as pleased with the condition and cleanliness of your ropes as I am with mine.

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things snowball when you start one ‘small project’ on a boat? With the sheets and halyards all pristine and ready to be re-reeved, my attention was drawn to the state of the hardware (blocks). I never realised how over the years I’ve managed to accrue at least one block or ‘widgety thing’ from virtually every manufacturer. With cap (and roses) in hand it was back to The Admiral to debate the benefits of a(nother) small investment in our my pride and joy! With a limited budget and renewed spring in my step my attention was soon absorbed in the numerous websites of manufacturers and suppliers of blocks and hardware.

It was during a well-earned tea break and scanning the March issue of All at Sea that I stumbled across an advert on page 14 for Sprenger, a range of German manufactured blocks. With over 145 years manufacturing experience; almost 70 years more than most of their competitors; I figure they know best what they’re doing.

Never has such a technical topic like the bearings used in blocks been explained and laid out so well. Within a few minutes of reading the advert, I knew exactly what type of blocks I should be using for the various applications. As Sprenger is new to the UK, not all chandlery outlets have them in stock yet – but thankfully I managed to source what I need and spent many very satisfying hours setting up the various systems to refit to the boat.

When I started this mini project, never in my wildest dreams did I envisage coming across or using daisy chains and pillow cases in my rope maintenance. What next?