Make and Make Do

By Rob Rohde-Szudy - Madison, Wisconsin - USA

 

New and Maybe Improved Sail Ties

Some time ago I published an idea for easy sail ties.

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Gasket in place

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These are quick and easy to use. But they definitely require two hands, since you have to hold the cleat in place while jamming the line.

Recently I was looking at some shock cord tie-downs and thinking about a way to adapt them to make a simpler sail tie. Then I found a version ready-made on the (UK) Hostelers’ Sailing Club (which also contains some other good information for the budget cruiser). It was hard to figure out who developed it, but the site is run by a fellow named John Perry. (If one of you UK sailors reading this knows if this is the right person, please feel free to confirm or correct!) In any case, the system is brilliant.

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Sail ties - British version

The above measurements are in millimeters (which we in the USA should really get used to). These sail ties are meant to be used with 3/16” polyester line, and made of 3/16” plastic that is tough but somewhat flexible. I made mine about 20% smaller to use 1/8” line, and made a whole lot of them from an empty laundry detergent bottle with my pocketknife while talking to a friend. I later punched the holes with a leather punch, and formed the tapered hole with a chisel. Detergent jugs are maybe 1/16” plastic. This is nowhere near enough for a reef tie at the tack or clew, but it will hold the bunt in many cases. And it will certainly hold a great many things under less strain. Probably heavier material is in order for serious reefing use, though.

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Perry sail ties

Mr. Perry’s version outdoes mine in many ways. Mine are faster to set because you don’t have to thread the line through a hole, and they’re lightning-fast to remove. But Perry’s is more secure when things are flapping around in wind and probably win for cheap and easy construction, depending on what plastic you can scrounge. (Think about the cases of all those dead transistors radios.)

There’s another advantage that Mr. Perry doesn’t mention. If you are very dexterous and/or lucky, you can thread a Perry sail tie with one hand. Like this:

First hold the plastic so the line comes out the bottom of your hand.

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One handed - step 1

Then drop the line on the far side and reach under with the hand holding the plastic. You probably need a long line in most cases. Pin the flogging line against the bundle and grab it between your first two fingers, like a cigarette. You’re still holding the plastic part between your third/fourth fingers and your palm. Push away until you are holding the line near the end.

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One handed - step 2

Then guide the end of the line through the tapered hole.

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One handed - step 2

The thumb holds the line in place. (Sorry about the blurry photos in these steps. It is a bit a of a feat of coordination even without photographing anything.)

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One handed - step 3

The index finger releases the line and joins the thumb to hold it.

The plastic is flipped over if necessary, and the palm holds it against the bundle while the thumb and forefinger feed line through to tighten the bundle.

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One handed - step 4

When finally tight, pulling downward jams the line, and a couple turns under the “horn” locks it.

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One handed - step 5

 
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One handed - step 6

 
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One handed - step 7

All this might be easier if you make them longer than normal, like this:

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Long Perry

Obviously this is not a quick or perfectly reliable process, and it does require some dexterity. But I don’t think you need to be a piano player to do it. (Someone who isn’t a musician had better try it before I go shooting my mouth off, though.) I doubt this is possible with my wooden cleat design. I tried.

Perry also doesn’t mention how gracefully his design scales up to larger line. Here’s a version made from a piece of scrap plywood and ¼” line. I think you could tie a boat to a trailer with something like this in ¾” plywood.

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Plywood Perry

Once I saw Perry’s system, I realized it was really nothing new at all. The Norse Vikings used a very similar cleat. I couldn’t find a good photo, so here’s the Norse cleat in plywood. But these aren’t quite what we want, since they are designed to act as either a tackle or a deadeye. A better illustration is available on page 62 of The Ship: An Illustrated History by Björn Landström. You should have this book on your shelf anyway if you are even remotely interested in the history of ships. His blend of academic skepticism with real experience with boats and water make this book a real gem.

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Norse Cleat

However, my wife complained about the Perry design because she didn’t like having to thread the lines through holes. So I came up with this modification in ¼” plywood.

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Wooden modified Perry cleats

This appears to have the benefits of both with none of the failings. But there’s one thing I don’t like here. Going back to one-handed operation, it is pretty hard to cinch these down. The jam slot is too efficient, and it hangs up before the bundle of sail is fully gathered. It’s hard to see in the photo, but there’s plenty of unwanted space there.

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Modified Perry problem

So I tried separating the pull-tight slot and the jam slot – more like my original carved wood cleat. Here are a few versions side-by-side.

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More Perry cleats

The latter two are only a little more effort to make, though you do need a small round file to fair the round slot. A chainsaw file works well. With these you have some chance of pulling the line to gather up the sail.

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Version 3 - step 1

This third version tends to flip over as you wrap the line around it to get to the jam slot.

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Version 3 - step 2

But it fastens quite securely.

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Version 3 - step 3

The fourth version reduces that tendency to flip over, though I’m not sure if it’s really any handier. I think it takes about the same dexterity to jam it. But it might be a little quicker, since there is a half-turn less. It seems to fasten almost as securely as the previous version.

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Version 4 - step 1

 
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Version 4 - step 2

 
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Version 4 - step 3

In any case, there you have a number of different line cleats with different properties. They’re all dirt cheap, so make some of each and see what you find the handiest. You can never have too many of these things. Any time you notice something that could move if you capsized, add some eyebolts or chocks and tie it down.


Rob Rohde-Szudy
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
robrohdeszudy@yahoo.com

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