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The Pull on a Sheet

Published on March 2nd, 2016

by John Vigor, boating writer
The modern rope we use for sheets and halyards is a wonderful material, strong almost beyond belief, but it does have its limits, of course, and if your brain demands peace of mind while you’re sailing, maybe you should be quite sure all your running rigging is adequately sized.

You can make a pretty good estimate of the strain your jib imposes on its sheet. You simply square the wind speed in knots and multiply the answer by the sail area in square feet. Then you divide the answer by 232. This gives you the approximate pull on the sheet in pounds.

For example, let’s say you have a 200-square-foot jib, and the wind is blowing 20 knots. Square the wind speed, 20 x 20, and you get 400. Multiply that by the sail area, 200, and you get 80,000. Divide that by 232 and the result is 344.8 pounds, say 345 pounds.

That’s the weight of two big men, which explains why you need the help of a winch to trim the jib when it’s blowing hard. And here’s another thing: wind pressure in the sail rises as a square of wind speed, so the greatest pull you’ll experience on that sheet is likely to be double the 20-knot figure, or in the region of 700 pounds. If you want peace of mind, make sure your gear can handle it.

John Vigor posts his boating columns to his blog on Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

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