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Captain's Blog

An explanation of the rigging on a sailing yacht

At first glance, the ropes and wires that make up the rigging on a sailing boat can be confusing and even daunting.

But like all complex systems, they can be broken down into component parts that make the whole easily understandable.

Standing rigging

The standing rigging is the fixed static rigging that supports the mast and provides structural rigidity to the boat. In modern sailing boats, it is typically made of stainless steel wire, although for centuries it has been made of rope. To support the mast, shrouds and stays run from the masthead or near the top of the mast to the deck. The stays also play a critical role in supporting and tensioning the mast, providing rake (the backwards slope of the mast) and pre-bend (the slight bowing of the mast), both of which improve sailing performance.

The forestay runs to the bow from the top of the mast (in a masthead rig) or from slightly below the top of the mast (in a fractional rig). The forestay is also typically used to support the foresail, either hanked directly onto the forestay, or on a roller reefing system.

The backstay runs from the masthead to the stern of the boat. In boats that are focused on racing, the stay may be divided into two running backstays that can be tightened on one side or the other to put tension on the mast and increase rake or pre-bend

The shrouds run from the masthead to the deck on either side of the mast. They provide lateral stability as well as convenient handholds for crew when moving around the deck.

The jackstay or babystay is not always present and runs from approximately halfway up the mast to the foredeck. Its purpose is to provide pre-bend pulling the mast forward in the centre. In boats where it is not present, the shrouds will be slightly further aft to create equivalent pre-bend in the mast.

Running rigging

The running rigging comprises the flexible ropes that are used for raising sails as well as controlling them when under way.

Halyards are the ropes that raise and lower the sails. Sheets control the angle of the sails to the wind, which determines the speed at which the boat can sail and has a strong influence on the direction as well.

The ropes are further named by the sail which they control. Thus the main halyard will raise the mainsail and a jib sheet would control the jib. Other elements of running rigging include reefing lines for reducing sail in strong weather and kicking straps or vangs to keep the boom down when under sail.

There are endless variations to the rigging of a sailing boat, but with a knowledge of the fundamentals, it becomes much easier to understand the workings of even an unfamiliar boat.

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