No matter what kind of boat it is, from a simple dinghy to the U.S.S. Abe Lincoln, all vessels have a need for rope or lines. There is always something that needs to be tied down, tied up, tied to something else, raised, or lowered. You can never have too much rope or line on a vessel.
Note: Rope comes on a spool. Lines are pieces of a rope.
Lines are even more critical on a sailboat. If you look at any typical sailboat like the Fritter you’ll see all sorts of lines hanging and dangling all over the place. To the uninitiated eye, it can be very confusing. But for the sailor of that vessel, each line has a purpose. There are dock lines for tying up while in port, halyards for raising and lowering the sails. Sheets for adjusting the sails. Anchor lines, life lines, and always a bunch of bits and pieces of lines for any number of uses. You can’t operate a sailboat without ’em.
I’m not going to get into the details of which type of line is better or how to choose the correct line for your vessel. It’s a bit more than I care to write about for this series. To help though, here is a handy guide from West Marine to answer some questions.
Costs for lines will vary according to material, strength, and whatever the market will bear. While the wealthier boat owners will get the more expensive lines, us low life pirates will take what we can find.
What I have: The Fritter has a pretty decent inventory of lines on board. All the necessary lines are there, 4 dock lines, halyards for the main and jib, sheets for the sails, and anchor line. There is also some extra lying around. The problem is all the lines are in poor condition. The dock lines in particular are about shot. The halyards were replaced not long ago, according to the previous owner and will probably do fine for some quick sailing, same with the sheets, but I would expect to replace them all if I intend to do any real
pirating cruising. The anchor line at first glance looks to be in the best shape.
What I want: This isn’t a real pricey project and something I can do over time. I would like to rig the Fritter for single handed sailing, meaning all control lines would come back to the cockpit so I can raise/lower/adjust sails without leaving the steering. Although, the wheel has a neat dampener that you can set to keep it from moving while going forward to set sails. Another wish is too have the lines color coded. Many sailboats do this, not just for cosmetics, but so anyone can come on board and immediately know which line goes where and does what. A handy thing to have.
Reality: The dock lines all need replaced and soon. Right now I am in a calm slip where the wind and waves don’t bounce the Fritter around, but if a big storm were to kick up I stand a good chance of snapping a line or two. West Marine always is running a sale and dock lines are a common item that is discounted . I will need to grab some new dock line very soon and get the Fritter tied up proper. As for the halyards and sheets, for now, it’s not a big issue. The mainsail sheet is the worst of the bunch. It’s all weathered and starting to fray. The halyards will probably be okay but if I get some extra cash then I’ll replace them.
The lines I replace won’t just get thrown out. I’ll cut off the worst sections and keep the smaller pieces for whatever needs arise. Lines take a beating, especially dock lines. They are in the sun and salt all day and night. Dock lines will drag on sharp or abrasive surfaces and fray quickly unless you protect them with some sort of covers. It’s probably a good idea to replace lines on a regular basis, maybe even yearly for some if the use is heavy.
Make a habit of always inspecting your lines. Sometimes, just a glance or two every week to make sure there are no frayed spots or potential breakage points. The last thing you want is to go off someplace on land and come back to find that a dock line has snapped and your home has drifted into something that has damaged or been damaged by your vessel. When in doubt, replace the line. And remember, you can never have too much line on a boat.