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How to Splice Your Lines without Special Tools

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Most cruising boats are equipped with some type of high tech, low stretch rope with an inner core as running rigging and working lines. If you choose a standard yacht braid or high tech spectra, here are some things to consider. Ultra violet rays and general wear can bring on the element of surprise. Picture this: you’re about to make landfall in the most amazing anchorage imaginable when your main sail suddenly decides to drop, saving you the bother of going forward. As you gaze aloft stunned, you realize that the halyard has parted and the harsh reality sets in—the closest chandlery is 500 nautical miles away.

On board Meggie, our classic 30’ wooden ketch, I chose to use a high quality three strand from New England Ropes for all running rigging and working lines. I soon realized how practical three strand really is. I liked the feel of it and replaced all of our life lines with ½” as I felt it was a far better handhold than the standard plastic coated lifeline. I spliced in a thimble just short of the stern rail to gradually take up the stretch with a lanyard, along with two gates—one amidships and the other at the cockpit.

We have never had any problems achieving good halyard tension. Meggie is cutter rigged without furling, so with her suit of four sails flying, our running rigging and working lines get a real workout. We have never had a halyard fail or seen any signs of excessive wear after years of sailing. Three strand has a good resistance to abrasion and is also slightly stretchy, which makes it the best choice for anchor rode. Another bonus is the cost, about half the price per foot than of some of the high tech lines available.

The last real advantage to three strand is its ability to be easily spliced without the need for special tools; all you need is your hands, and simple splicing is a skill that every sailor should have. The two most important splices are the eye splice and the short splice. You will always have a need for a loop or a thimble at one end of a docking or mooring line, and here the eye splice comes in handy.

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It is important to have the confidence and ability to re-splice your anchor rode if it becomes damaged in any way. To splice a halyard back together, or to repair a damaged anchor rode, you would choose the short splice. You cannot put spectra or yacht braid back together.

Three strand rope has been around for centuries—think back to the old days of clipper ships when natural fiber three strand was all they had. Those sailors could achieve perfect halyard tension on thousands of square feet of heavy canvas using muscle and traditional methods of heaving and sweating lines. So when the time comes to restring your mast and choose new running rigging, consider what has worked well in the past.

Here are basic steps for two simple and dependable splices, the eye splice or the short splice:

  1. Eye splice, step one: Unwind approx. 8” tails and tape the ends. With the loop towards you, tuck one tail through any standing strand from right to left. Now, insert thimble and pull snug. It may be helpful to tape the thimble in place.
  2. Eye splice, step two: Working counter clockwise, tuck tail #2, passing under from right to left. #2 should exit were #1 entered.
  3. Eye splice, step three: Flip everything over 180 from step #1. Tuck the third tail under the last remaining standing strand working from right to left.
  4. Eye splice, step four: Now flip back to step #1, organize the strands and repeat the steps. Be sure to keep the splice tight and uniform. Six to eight tucks is plenty. If spliced with care, this will handle all normal load applications.
  5. Short Splice steps one and two: For step one, unwind approx. 8” tails and tape all six ends. Bring the two standing parts together. Now temporarily tie or tape one set of tails to the standing part. For step two, simply follow the same steps as the eye splice, working on one half at a time.
  6. Finishing the tails: You can simply whip the three tail ends leaving them aprox. ½”-5/8” long. This will depend upon the size of the rope you use and adds a cosmetic touch. The most effective method is to cut the tails off at approx. ¼” long. Now, melt the ends with a lighter and then press them flat with a knife into the standing stands.

Mike Shaw has been living for two years with his wife Kylie aboard Meggie, a Cheoy Lee Bermuda 30 built of teak wood that they have rebuilt. They sailed their boat from the Great Lakes in Canada and are currently in the Caribbean. 

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