Splice of life

Splicing a line
sherry galey
So, we needed to have a line spliced. Two lines joined together as one.

Bob and I had travelled to Florida from eastern Canada this winter with our two Westies to buy a lightly used Hunter 356. Our plan was to spend a few months sailing the turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay while becoming familiar with the boat, equipping her and doing any repairs that were necessary.

We also knew that we would need to find ways to work together harmoniously while living on our new boat. On a sailboat your safety and well-being depend on each other, not to mention your day-to-day happiness. We found that out firsthand two years before when we took our first southern cruise on a smaller Hunter sailboat. And haven't we all heard about couples that had separated after doing what we were about to embark on?

Even though the boat was in excellent condition, there were a few things that needed fixing. For one, the mainsail furling line that had come with the boat had a bad spot in it. We were concerned that it would part while we were under way.

So we needed a splice. Enter Bernard, the master rigger, a puckish man with a lilt that put me in mind of the islands of the French-speaking Caribbean.

We asked Bernard to do an end-to-end splice of our new furling line to form a loop. Our last sailboat didn't have inmast furling so this process of rolling the mainsail in and out of the mast like a window blind was new to me. But I could see that the line needed to be one smooth continuous loop so that it would feed through the winches without jamming.

Splicing a line is quite an art. Like weaving, quilting, sewing and knitting, you can tell when it is done with skilled hands.

Bernard's 30 years of experience showed. His hands knew the line. He worked quickly and deftly. Throughout, he kept up a steady stream of chatter, sharing tales of his sailing adventures all over the world. He was especially proud of having crewed on the famous Whitbread race.

I was fascinated by this art of splicing so I took photographs as Bernard worked and asked Bob to explain to me what he was doing.

Apparently, a double braid line has an inner and outer core. Bernard used a metal fid (a pointed metal rod) to separate the core and outer braid and to feed the line back through itself. Then he 'milked' it (stretched it) to smooth the outer braid, then rolled it to make an even transition, then stitched it for insurance, then burned the ends of the stitching. The result was a strong line, much stronger than if you knotted it.

As I thought about it, I was struck by how much splicing mirrors the process that two individuals undergo when joining together to forge a successful cruising partnership. There’s a bit of stretching and rolling and stitching and even burning that must occur before you can achieve a strong and durable union, one that won't tear part with the stresses and strains that come with life aboard.

For some more help to learn to splice a double-braided rope, watch below: