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Getting the sails up faster and easier by 'sweating' the line

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What is the issue?
Turning line around a block with a winch handle is a good way to finish line tension but it can be a slow arduous grind to take a quantity of line in. Never more so than when raising the sails.

Why address this?
To take a line in much faster with less effort. This is most useful when raising large sails.

How to address this?
A line can be taken into a block much quicker with a second person 'sweating' the line. Also known as 'swigging', it is the process of hauling sideways on a line, usually a halyard, to gain more tension than is possible when pulling parallel with the load of the line.

Sweating a halyard at the base of the mast
Image: Michael Harpur

'Sweating up' a sail was the primary method used to raise sails before halyard winches had established themselves on yachts. Historically the tail of a halyard was passed through a belaying hook mounted on the deck, then one crewmember hauled tangentially on the standing part of the halyard whilst another would tail the running part of the line to take the sail up. Used with modern winches and a few members of crew simultaneously, the age-old technique is still the fastest way to raise large sails to this day. Here are the steps:

  • • Position one crewmember at the base of the mast, ready to jump and then sweat the halyard. One in the pit as a 'tailer' taking the tail of the halyard around the winch. But instead of winching the halyard, their primary job is to take in the slack and hold the tension on the tail.

  • • When it is time to raise the sail the crewmember standing next to the mast manually grabs the halyard as high as he can and pulls it down as fast and far as possible.

  • • While this crewperson reaches for the next heave, the 'tailer' in the pit then takes up the slack created by each pull at the mast and holds tension on the winch.

  • • When the crewperson at the mast can no longer pull up the sail, simply by hanging on the halyard, he must then switch to 'sweating' the line. That is heaving laterally from the middle of the line that exists between the block and a sheave at a perpendicular angle - as illustrated above. Once it is drawn out at an angle they let it go creating a momentary new slack that the 'tailer' immediately takes up.

  • • The crew member on the deck then repeats this process of 'sweating the line' in quick succession whilst keeping a close eye on the progress of the sail for any signs of jamming whilst the crewmember at the winch calls tension.

  • • When it becomes too tight to sweat the line anymore, the tailer will alone finish the hoist with the winch.

The same principle can be used by two people to tension any line aboard provided there is a serviceable cleat handy. The process can even be used single-handedly to take up the last bit of slack on any line provided the tension is not too great. Take a single turn around a cleat and alternately heave on the rope above the cleat whilst taking up each snatch of the line the momentary slack releases.

Header photo with thanks to Yacht Rent.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, with thanks to Derek Joyce

Sweating The Line

Raising the sail without 'sweating' - a slow grind

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