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Learning about the Lines

Posted by Tall Ships America on July 5, 2015

Learning about the Lines
by Anna Sprague

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I have sailed on several ships since I stepped on my first tall ship three years ago. Every ship is different and there is always something new to learn. For the last week, I have sailed onboard Picton Castle. I have sailed on tall ships similar to Picton Castle but one of the things that make her unique to me is the use of natural fiber lines.

Historically, tall ships would have used natural fiber lines such as manila. Some tall ships have switched to using synthetic lines, though, because they last longer and tend to be more durable. This might not seem like a big deal at first but there are things you do differently when working with natural fibers versus synthetic lines. One of the first things I learned was that you have to put slack in some of the lines when it rains. The reason for this is that the line shrinks lengthwise when it is wet. This can cause the line to break if it gets too tight. One also has to be careful when climbing aloft, making sure you keep three points of contact at all times because the ratlines break more easily. In fact, all the lines have to be replaced more often than synthetic lines. There are many advantages of the manila, though. It is easier to splice. It is not as slippery as most synthetic lines so it doesn’t take as many tucks to create a sturdy splice. The natural fiber lines are also better for the environment. The fibers are usually created out of plant materials so it breaks down quickly, unlike synthetic, which is usually a polyester, nylon, or polymer material.

I have enjoyed becoming familiar with the lines on Picton Castle. The feel and the smell make it seem like I have stepped back in time. I can see better now how the lines move and work. It has made me become more aware of what I’m pulling on or climbing. Most importantly, it has made me a better sailor.

Photo Credit: James Rogers

Photo Credit: James Rogers


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