21 February 2020

More Rigging Tweaks - The Topingliftectomy

The boom on a sailboat, while attached rigidly (hopefully) to the mast at one end, is balanced with various up and down forces at the other. There are plenty of down forces: The vang, the mainsheet and the weight of the whole thing.  One of the up forces that most boats have is a topping lift. Some boats also have a rigid vang which pushes the boom up. While sailing, the sail itself is holding the boom up, and during this time, the topping lift is superfluous - or worse.

Capt. Bob

Argon was rigged from the factory with a covered stainless wire topping lift. She was also rigged with a Forespar rigid vang which can push the boom up. When Argon was first commissioned, the boom always hung on the topping lift while the sail was down. The Forespar vang didn't have quite enough push to balance it.

The Forespar Rigid Vang - properly adjusted


One day, I was going through the boat manuals and came upon the Forespar manual. In there, they clearly say that you should  adjust it so it does fully support the boom. Ours had two positions of adjustment left so I moved the pin up to the next set of holes and ever since then, our boom balances perfectly without any tension on the topping lift.

So why have a topping lift at all?

With our rigid vang, the lift still comes in handy when the sail is down and we're motoring (or sailing with headsails only) in rolling conditions. In these circumstances, you really need to stabilize the boom and the only way to do that is to apply a bunch of opposing forces to it - typically by pulling down hard on the sheets against the topping lift pulling up. This was about the only situation where there would ever be any tension on our topping lift.

The New Sail

One of the things we did in Grenada over the summer was have a new Doyle Mainsail made. It was a moderately frustrating experience with needing to have it re-cut three times (each time requiring the sail be removed, taken to the loft and re-installed and tested).  The new sail performed much better and was slightly different from the original in a few ways:
  1. It has slightly more roach (at first, it had way too much roach to tack without hitting the backstay - hence one of the trips back to the loft).
  2. It has two sets of Antal Low-friction rings for the slab reefing line to run through. 
  3. It has really heavy duty batten pockets for the round full battens.
Not related to the topping lift, but here was one of the reasons we had the new sail re-cut three times.  The top three battens were sticking out past the backstay!

These are all great improvements from a performance and sail handling standpoint; but a new problem emerged.

The Topping Lift Cries Foul!

During one of the first sails with the new sail, the topping lift got fouled and wedged in one of the leech line cleats.  It was brute force alternately raising and pulling down on the reefing line to finally break it free - but not without shredding the vinyl coating over the stainless wire.
The shredded coating on the topping lift wire caused by getting caught in the leech line cleat.

My clever fix for that was to put some whipping line around the cleat to prevent anything from entering it.


Whipping line around the leech line cleat to try and keep the topping lift out. You can see it still tries to get in there.


That worked for that particular foul point and we were fairly trouble free... for a while. During a few subsequent sails, we noticed the topping lift was getting hung up on the batten pockets on the sail. While this never prevented the sail coming down, it made us nervous to see it caught on anything up there.

Approaching Barbuda

"Not a lot of time before the reefs."
"Okay, I know".
"Let's get the sail down"
"Working on it"
"Really not much time!"
"I know!"
"We really need the sail down now!"
"I'm really trying!"

On our passage to Barbuda, we made a final approach into the wind outside of the more hazardous shallows. I went forward to lower the sail and flake it and noticed that the Topping Lift was very seriously fouled - this time on one of the Antal reefing line rings.  Not only that, but it had gotten caught on the block for our split backstay! So, not only would the sail not come down, but we couldn't really turn off the wind without putting a lateral load on the back stay... and those shallows were not far ahead!

The topping lift caught in front of one of the Antal reefing line rings

Once again, it was extreme brute force and some back and forth tacks that got things to finally shake loose.  We dropped the sail in a heap and navigated in through the coral heads.  Phew!

Having just struggled with lowering the sail (again), I assume my duties as eyeball navigator lookout.

This Thing Has To Go

I made the executive decision right then to get rid of the topping lift. For the few downsides I could think of with not having one, I now had a bigger downside with having it: Sooner or later, we would have a serious problem and not be able to get this huge sail down - and it would probably be offshore, at 2AM in driving rain and 40kts of wind.

The worst thing that will happen if the boom comes too low is we will damage the canvas on the top of the bimini. This is a brand new expensive bimini so that actually is a pretty bad thing that I would like to avoid.  Having a properly adjusted topping lift prevents that from happening for sure.

One More Idea

Before we did it, I wanted to try one more thing. I put a loop of shock cord from the end of the boom up to the shackle at the end of the wire topping lift and put a lot of tension on it.  The idea being that when the sail is up and lifts the boom, that shock cord will still have some tension on it and at least keep the topping lift a little bit tight so it's not as apt to fling around and get caught on stuff.
It didn't work.  I tried a few different adjustments and never got it to apply very much tension to the topping lift at all. Certainly not enough to guarantee we wouldn't have a problem.

Last chance for the Topping Lift.  Will this shock cord keep it taught enough to stay out of trouble while sailing?

Apparently not (and it looks ugly too). You can see it's caught on the antal ring again even though the shock cord is applying some tension to it

Not So Lazy Jacks

So, it's decided for sure - the thing really has to go.  One thing we wanted to double check on was the condition of the main Lazy Jack line. We replaced it with dyneema in Bermuda on the way down but this all made us realize that the lazy jacks might end up with some more tension on them than they used to have (in hindsight, they actually don't) so we wanted to make sure they were in good shape.  Just for fun, we replaced the main line with a new piece of dyneema (44 ft long to be exact).

Proof Of Concept

During those times motoring or sailing without a main in rough conditions, how are we going to stabilize the boom?  Since we can't pull up anymore, we need to think lateral.  We already have a Wichard Boom Brake installed. Part of the solution could be just snugging that up.  When we're at anchor, we typically tie the boom over (to port in the Caribbean) with a dock line to maximize the sun on our solar panels. We decided to make a dedicated line with a snap shackle to be the special line for this purpose.  I made it out of 8mm three strand nylon so it's got a nice amount of elasticity. We figured we would alter our sail dropping protocol slightly by having whoever goes forward to flake, clip this thing to the boom and run it around our midships cleat on the way.  Then as the sail comes down, the traveler is pulled to the opposite side. Between this new line going one way, and the mainsheet going the other, we have some nice lateral stability.

It worked!

We tried this out by completely loosening the topping lift one day (a particularly rolly day actually) and it worked perfectly.  The Boom was quiet and still and in no danger of coming down low enough to touch the bimini.

Getting It Done

We had reserved a week in Simpson Bay Marina in St Maarten coming up, so this was the perfect time to get this and many other pent up boat projects done.

The first job was to replace the lazy jack line.  Unfortunately, I never wrote down the measurement when we replaced it in Bermuda (I had a few other things on my mind at the time) so we had to first pull the existing one through and leave a messenger line in the mast so that we could measure it.  Note to future Bob: it's 44 feet.

Linda ready to go aloft to replace the lazy jack line (new one is coiled in the chair)
The mast sheaves for the lazy jack line. There was no chafing to be seen but we replaced it anyway

I get the easy job of doing a quick Brummel Splice in the new lazy jack line

Running the new lazyjack line

Linda's view from aloft just above the first spreader.
Next, Linda had to go all the way to the top to actually remove the topping lift from the mast crane.

Closeup of the topping lift 65 feet up at the crane.


Successful extraction.

Free At Last

The topping lift is gone.  We kept it just in case, although if I ever did replace it, it would be with dyneema. The old one will make a nice memento along with our old broken headstay.

Will there be times we wish we had it?  Maybe.  But for all the rest of the time, it is one huge thing to not have to worry about anymore.

The rig looks cleaner and more streamlined and as you can see below, there is plenty of safe distance between the bottom of the boom and the top of the bimini when the sail is down. I left a soft shackle on the end of the boom that we can always clip our main halyard to. Between that and the former spin halyard, we can take the boom off the mast to work on it.

After dropping the sail, the boom is quiet with plenty of clearance above the bimini
At rest in an anchorage (even a rolly one which we are very good at finding), the boom is quiet. Between the Wichard Brake, the new line and the mainsheet, there is a nice triangle which applies plenty of lateral support without pulling down enough to compress the vang spring.

The new line on padeye behind the vang. The Wichard Brake and the mainsheet make a nice triangle which stabilizes the boom in the rolliest anchorage.


Under sail, things look so much cleaner up there! No more chance of fouling in the leech line cleat, batten pockets or reefing rings.


No more flailing topping lift banging into the sail and getting caught on stuff.

This is all new.  When I told folks we were going to do this, a few tried to talk me out of it. Others said they had done something similar and had no regrets. To me any downside of not having this lift is outweighed by removing the dangerous situation of not being able to drop this sail. Time will tell...


3 comments:

  1. I also removed my topping lift from my C&C 32 after installing a Garhauer Vang. In your blog you mention sometimes sailing just under Genoa alone the book moves around. I’m sure you thought about this, and most likely already do this, but when I jibsail I keep my main halyard attached to the end of the boom. Simple! My guess is u will never go back to a topping lift.

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  2. PS We have a good friend in common. Lance Ryley.

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  3. We increaesed the spring size in our rigid vang to keep the boom up; the vang is tightended after raising the main to flatten the sail. With sail down, the halyard can be attached to boom end to help water drain. We haven't removed the topping lift, but it caught in at batten AND on the radar last weekend. Watching for now.

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