Sails

Tension Tool

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Paul Derby of Cadillac, Michigan, asks:

"My 1976 Pearson 30 has a hydraulic backstay tensioner and I am wondering what the optimum backstay tension should be when cruising. I’m also thinking about replacing the hydraulic system with something else. Any suggestions?"

Win Fowler replies:

I can’t give you exact advice on your backstay tension because there are many variables involved. How accurate is your gauge and does it register actual rig tension or pounds per square inch of pressure? If it’s the latter, what’s the conversion factor? Another important variable is the stiffness of the boat. Pearson 30s were solidly built, but they were always a bit flexible and there’s a good chance yours has become more so with age. This problem can be made worse if the backstay has been over tensioned on a regular basis.

That is why I suggest that you observe how much your headstay sags when you sail to windward. As a sailmaker, I assume a cruising headsail will sag off between 0.75 and 1.25 percent of its luff length; on your boat that is roughly 4 to 6 inches of sag when you are sailing hard. If you can keep the amount of headstay sag in that range you should be all right.

Hydraulic adjusters let you adjust backstay tension quickly and easily. If you feel you must replace the hydraulic unit, I recommend you get a mechanical adjuster rather than a simple turnbuckle. For more information on backstay adjusters go to: sailmagazine.com/boatworks/upgrades/adjustable_backstays.

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