When is a Rope Not a Rope?
When it is a Sheet.
In general terms a rope is not called a rope when on a boat, so what is it called and why does it matter?
It matters because communication is important when sailing on any boat where there are two or more people crewing, using the correct terminology is not about being clever it is about getting it right, essential when racing, and when sailing in heavy weather.
So what are ropes called if not ropes?
Mostly ropes are used in the rigging of a boat and are called sheets or lines.
Rope is the generic term because in days of yore all of the rigging on a sailing ship was made using hemp rope. Hemp rope is made from natural material (Hemp) that is twisted very tightly into cords and then combined with other cords they are further twisted into the end product which may be as thick as your little finger or heavy and strong enough to hold an ocean liner tight into a quay – as thick as a tree in some cases! The raw ends of the rope may be spliced or whipped to prevent fraying and to stop the rope from unravelling. The problem with this traditional product is that it is often quite heavy and when wet it can become much heavier – and it becomes like an iron bar when soaked making handling extremely difficult. There are traditional boats under sail still using hemp rope, but they are usually well crewed and for their safety the crews are well trained and equipped with PPE.
The sheets in a sail boat will usually be made using man-made fibre because of their light weight and extreme strength. Man mad fibres are easier to handle and do not absorb water to the same degree as natural fibres. Boaters are recommended to renew their sheets from time to time as they may become worn or stretched with use. Poor quality sheets are like bald tyres on a car – potentially dangerous.
Rigging is where most’ rope’ of one kind or another is used.
Running Rigging is those movable ropes, lines, or sheets that are used to raise and lower the sail/s. The ‘ropes’ run though blocks or pulleys to keep them from getting tangled and to ensure that they run freely (without jamming). A block and tackle would be used in sailing ships to haul heavy sails into place and is still a very useful piece of kit.
The ‘rope’ that runs up the mast to pull up the mainsail is called the halyard and for lowering the sail the line is called the downhaul.
Each sheet on a sail boat will refer to the sail that it controls. So when trimming the mainsail we use the mainsheet, if trimming the jib, then you will use the jib sheet. There are other lines used for sail trimming such as a cunningham or a kicker. Ask you sail trainer what these are and what they do.
Standing rigging is the lines that support the stationary parts of a sail boat including the mast, these may be steel cables secured by metal shackles mounted on the decking because of the immense stresses placed on them, these are referred to as shrouds or stays, e.g. the line (cable) that runs from the mast to the bow of the boat is called the ‘forestay’, lines that run to the stern of the boat are known as ‘backstays’.
Tying up at a mooring or harbour side the lines used are known as dock lines or warps. Being a sailboat enthusiast is not the same as being a well trained and capable sailor, all boaters especially new starters are strongly recommended to attend a well-run sail school before going to sea, or on an inshore lake or waterway, and learn your craft (pun intended).
Always sail safe and enjoy!
Author: R. Langley