The Blue View - Replacing a Halyard

up the mast One of the problems we had while crossing the Indian Ocean last year was a head sail halyard that parted. It starts at the deck, enters the mast about six feet up (2m) on the port side, exits the top of the mast and is attached to the head sail. We had last replaced it several years ago in New Zealand, and apparently it had been chafing against the main halyard all these years. Unfortunately, the spot that chafed was inside the mast at a location that never sees the light of day except on the rare occasion the head sail is removed, so we didn't see it coming and it eventually chafed through and parted. Fortunately, we were near the end of our passage and were able to furl the head sail and complete the passage with the staysail and reefed main.

Usually when we replace a halyard, we can use the old halyard as a messenger. We attach the end of the new halyard to the end of the old one, and as the old halyard is pulled out, the new one follows (See the Blue View – Reeving a New Halyard). In this case, however, the old one had parted and pulled out of the top of the mast. We wouldn't have wanted to use the old halyard as a messenger anyway, because if we routed the new halyard along the same path as the old, it too would chafe through in a few years. Better to route a new messenger.

Both the entry and exit points for the halyard were close to the port side, so we wanted the new halyard to lie close to the mast on the port side. If we simply dropped the new messenger down into the mast, it quite likely would foul one of the other halyards inside the mast. To avoid this, we put Nine of Cups on a heel to port. We attached a long line from the spinnaker halyard to a stout cleat on the end of a slip a few boat lengths away and using a cockpit winch, we tensioned the spinnaker halyard until Cups had a definite list to port. Had we been at anchor, we would have swung the boom out to the port side and hoisted the dinghy and engine from the end of it. Together, they weigh about 200 lbs – if this wasn't enough weight, we would have partially filled it with water.

nine of cups at heel

We removed the stainless trim piece from the entry hole for the halyard in the side of the mast, then I rigged up a messenger using 1/8” (3mm) line and a few fishing weights. I attached the opposite end of the messenger to the new halyard, then went up the mast. I lowered the messenger over the masthead block and down into the mast.

reeve messenger wire hook

Marcie positioned herself at the halyard exit point and watched for the end of the messenger to appear. Using a bent wire, she fished the weights on the end of the messenger out of the mast. Then it was a simple matter to pull the remaining messenger and the attached halyard out of the bottom exit point on the mast as I fed the line from the top.


All that was left to do was reattach the trim piece and whip the halyard ends.

The Blue View - Reeving a New Halyard

One of the items on my to-do list was replacing the main halyard. We replaced it last while in New Zealand a few years ago and at the time I thought I would try using a higher quality, lower stretch line than the usual yacht braid.. The cost would be almost the same since I could use a smaller size.

The line was great and I liked it - it ran through the blocks easier and the main came down with less resistance than with the older, larger line. The only problem was that the rope clutch, the clamp that holds the line in place once it is winched to the correct position, chafes the smaller sized line when it is under tension. Once I noticed the four chafe spots corresponding to each of the sail positions, I swapped the line end-for-end a year ago, and now we have 8 chafe spots. It is time to replace it.

We have an internal halyard system. The line starts in the cockpit, goes through the clutch and makes its way to the mast through a couple of blocks. It enters the mast through a small hole, then exits the top of the mast over a block, and is routed back to deck level.

It is easy to reeve a new halyard. Simply attach the cockpit end of the old halyard to the new halyard, then pull the old halyard through the clutch, blocks and mast. As long as the two ends remain attached to each other, it only takes a few minutes to reeve the new halyard. If the lines part, however, the job will take two days instead of a half hour.

The trick is attaching the two ends together without adding any bulk or stiffness. The union must be strong enough to ensure the two lines don't come apart but must not add any bulk or the joint will not pass through the clutch. If it is too stiff, it won't bend around the blocks.

I have a couple of methods for attaching the ends together. The easiest is to simply butt the ends together and use whipping twine to stitch them in place. Then I tape over the union with plastic electrical tape to make the union smooth and add a little strength. This method works well for external halyards and topping lifts that don't pass through a clutch.

method 1

For my internal halyards, especially when the line passes through a clutch, I use a different method. I start by cutting off about 2” (50mm) of the cover of the old halyard. Next, I pull a few inches of core out of the new halyard and cut off 2” (50mm) of it, and tape the ends of the core together. The newly taped core is drawn back into the new halyard until the covers butt together and the union is taped with plastic electrical tape. The I stitch everything together with whipping twine.

method 2

It usually take a little finesse to pull the newly joined ends through the clutch, but once past this obstacle, it is no problem pulling them through the blocks and mast. When the new halyard is in place, I cut the lines apart and either splice an eye in the new halyard or whip the end.

spliced eye